What next for climate change?

One of the key outcomes of the 18th conference of the Parties to Climate Change (COP) held in Doha in 2012, was around the timelines for further action. It was agreed that governments would "speedily work towards a universal climate change agreement covering all countries from 2020, to be adopted by 2015" and "find ways to scale up efforts before 2020 beyond the existing pledges to curb emissions". At COP 19, held in Warsaw in November 2013, parties to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) decided 'to invite all Parties to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions, towards achieving the objective of the Convention … and to communicate them well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended contributions"

As the world is heading to COP 20 to be held shortly in Lima, Peru, two significant developments have emerged. The first is the release of the various working group reports of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) culminating in the release of the synthesis report, endorsed by all member governments, in early November 2014. This report underlined once again the contributions of human action to climate change, as well as the need for urgent action to address the challenge.

While bringing out in stark terms the increasing risks of inaction and the vulnerability from climate change, the report also highlighted the fact that we do have the "means to limit climate change" and that a variety of solutions exist which would allow economic growth and human development.

Positive signs

The second key development was the response of stakeholders at a UN summit in September where several governments, multi-lateral organisations, corporates and others made announcements that gave a sense of renewed purpose reinforced street outpourings in support of action to address climate change. As such, both science and a range of stakeholders have, in their own ways, provided an indisputable platform on which governments can make strong commitments if they so desire.

On the political side, the European Union announced its commitment to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases by 40 per cent by 2030 over 1990 levels. This was followed by commitments by the US and China to take positive action on reducing their contributions.

And finally, we have the G 20 countries' statement calling for "strong and effective action to address climate change". All this augurs well for the likelihood of an agreement in Paris, with Lima helping to define mechanisms and processes further. However, challenges still remain. The two most critical of these are: Will the agreement reached be ambitious enough to ensure that global temperature increases do not cross the 2 degrees Celsius ceiling but remains, hopefully, at levels that will limit temperature increase to about 1.5 degrees? Will there be enough support for an accelerated mitigation effort by developing countries as also the need to build adaptive capacity in these countries, given that the levels of committed climate change have increased in the last two decades of negotiations?

Irrespective of the answers, India is already under pressure to come up with a credible commitment of its own.

India under pressure

China, in its commitment of peaking its greenhouse gases by 2030 and increasing the share of non-fossil energy to 20 per cent in the same period, has revealed its willingness to show leadership and commitment and also kept some flexibility by taking a longer term perspective. China's per capita carbon emission is about four times larger than India's. At the domestic level, India has taken steps towards increasing renewable energy capacities, bringing about efficiency improvements and inviting investments in public transport systems.

However, we display a lack of confidence in seeking international acknowledgement. If we intend to increase the renewable energy capacity in the country to 100,000 MW in five years, we can make an international commitment to achieve this at least by 2025 or 2030. India needs to unambiguously articulate what it is planning to do - conditionally and unconditionally!