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BRP Bhaskar: Towards climate justice
October 11, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

With India’s ratification of the Paris climate accord on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, the world has moved closer to the goal of climate justice which appeared so distant only a few years ago. But there is still a long way to go and there are many hurdles to cross.

The accord, adopted last December at a conference attended by leaders of 185 countries, requires governments to draw up national plans to reduce gas emissions with a view to holding the rise in global temperatures below two degrees Centigrade.

India is set to replace China as the world’s most populous country shortly. Currently it is the fastest growing economy. It is already the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases and accounts for about 4.5 per cent of global emissions.

The Paris accord will take effect only when 55 nations which together account for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse emissions ratify it. The number threshold has been crossed already. In fact, India was the 62nd country to ratify the pact.

However, those who have ratified it so far account for less than 51.89 per cent of the emissions. The active promoters of the pact are keen to ensure that the second threshold is also crossed before the US elections in November as Republican candidate Donald Trump has threatened to pull his country out of the pact if he becomes the President.

Nepal, Canada and seven European Union countries are expected to submit instruments of ratification to the UN this week. When they do, the second threshold of 52 per cent emission will be crossed.

The climate change issue had posed a big challenge to India, which had to strike a balance between its immediate developmental requirements and the need to limit gas emissions in the interest of humanity.

It agreed to the terms of the Paris pact even though it was not fully satisfied with the provisions as it realised that it has a big stake in the issue in view of its high vulnerability to climate change impacts. A majority of Indians still depend on agriculture and related activities, and erratic monsoon often plays havoc in their lives.

Initially, India, along with China, had placed more emphasis on its developmental requirements than on the need to check global warming, and insisted that it was the primary responsibility of the industrialised countries to bring down rising temperatures.

Many factors contributed to the Indian government’s decision to moderate its position. One of them was the sustained pressure mounted by the industrialised countries, particularly the US. It also came under increasing pressure from the less developed countries, which bear little responsibility for the deteriorating global situation but will suffer the most if things get worse.

Studies, which revealed how melting glaciers and rising sea levels resulting from global warming, can impact India’s huge population led to a better understanding of the situation and the need to act quickly.

Ahead of the Paris meet, along with other countries, India had submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change a list of contributions it intends to make during the 2021-2030 decade. In it the government committed itself to taking steps to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP to 30 to 35 per cent of the 2005 level.

It also undertook to raise its renewable energy capacity to 175 GW by 2022, aided by transfer of technology and low-cost international finance from the Green Climate Fund and other sources. It agreed to provide for generation of at least 40 per cent of its electricity requirements from non-fossil sources by 2030.

Now the time has come or the country to take concrete steps to achieve the goals it has set for itself. The government has made plans to constitute eight sectoral missions for this purpose.

Three missions will aim at reducing gas emissions by raising production of solar energy, enhancing energy efficiency and developing sustainable habitat. Three others will take up the task of adapting new techniques with regard to water, environment protection and the Himalayan ecosystem. The remaining two will be designed to disseminate knowledge on sustainable agriculture and climate change strategy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hailed the Paris pact as a victory for climate justice. But all do not see it the same way.

India has sought $2.5 trillion in finance to implement the proposals it outlined in its report to the UN commission. But the chances of obtaining funds of that order do not appear bright at the moment.

The funds the developed countries have committed so far to the Green Climate Fund add up to only $100 billion. Unless they step up contributions to the fund India will find it hard to fulfil the commitments it has made.
The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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