The winds of change are a blowin'

Coldest winter, hottest summer, untimely rain, floods and droughts are impacting economic growth across the globe. And with increased freak weather events and changing weather patterns, countries are becoming attentive to the environmental impact of industrialisation. The level of awareness and scientific knowledge on the subject is unprecedented and this awareness will translate into action. I believe the discussions in 2015 hold the potential to result in concrete steps to limit global temperature increase at 2oC and also help developing nations like India finance carbon emission-reducing technologies.

Significance Of 2015

The climate change talks to be held in Paris in 2015 are significant on many counts, given that it was the deadline set for all countries to reach a sort of consensus on how to limit global temperatures. I believe they will. By now, there is more than enough scientific evidence to show the need and urgency to act.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report shows, the need for collective as well as individual action is a must if the aspirational target of limiting increase in temperature to 2oC by 2100 is to be achieved. IPCC's report suggests the only way we can meet this target is by reducing emissions by 40 to 70 per cent over the 2010 figures. In order to do so, adaptation and mitigation are both required. If we want a chance to limit the global rise in temperature, global emissions should peak by 2020 or earlier. If we carry on with business as usual, our opportunity to remain below the said limit will slip away well before mid-century. The report is clear about the path that countries need to take to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The action to reduce impact of climate change began almost 20 years ago with the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under the aegis of the convention, the first meeting was held between different countries in March 1995. The talks dubbed the Conference of Parties (COP) is expected to cross a milestone in Paris in 2015.

Sustainable Energy

In India, there is intent, but not enough action to curtail climate change impact. India needs to overhaul its energy policy. As a recent The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) study shows, if India is to continue on the trend of growing fossil fuel dependence, its economy will be confronted with reduced energy security. At present, we need to import close to 200 million tonnes of coal. If we keep going at our pace, by 2030, we will need to import close to 900 million tonnes. Where is that coal going to come from? How will we pay for it?

We need to move to cleaner fuels and improve energy efficiency. With a new government and a commitment to renewable energy, this is an achievable goal.

Does India Need A Change In Stance?

While India maintains its position based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, there are internal actions required of India as well. These are essentially measures for enhancing supply and security of energy. It is time India takes proactive steps. And I believe, as Prakash Javadekar, minister of state for environment, forests and climate change, has already highlighted, India is taking several steps, including upgrading its Solar Energy Mission to reach 1,00,000 MW of installed capacity.

To tackle climate change, it is important to remember that we need to work on adaptation alongside mitigation. The biggest challenge for India in 2015 is the fact that India is not doing enough on adaptation. This requires sophisticated research to project the nature and extent of future impacts of climate change and then find sustainable means to adapt to these impacts. Authorities need to shift focus and support to such R&D activities. For India, 2015 should mark the beginning of concrete work on adaptation.

India's Gains Post 2015

It is expected that the carbon market will grow again after an agreement is reached in Paris. This will help with financing and support available for actions to be taken by developing countries to fight climate change.

It is extremely important that any agreement that is arrived at in Paris should also have, built into it, a process of review of commitments - a clause absent in the Kyoto Protocol, which gave birth to the clean development mechanism and helped countries like India adopt green technologies. In the case of the Kyoto Protocol, there was really no provision for review of actual achievements against commitments made by countries. Nor was there any incentive or disincentive for compliance or otherwise. Therefore, a review of commitments needs to be built into the agreement against the pathway by which mitigation would be required to keep the 2oC goal valid and within the overall budget permissible for CO2 emissions.

One important development in the run-up to the Paris talks is the creation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), to which over $10 billion has already been pledged. It is expected that any incremental cost incurred by developing countries for mitigation measures will be provided by the GCF in keeping with the spirit of the UNFCCC.

The international agreement in Paris is important in itself, but the world would require the involvement of all stakeholders if we wish to stick to the 2oC limit of temperature increase by the end of the century. That would involve actions at the international, national, sub-national and local levels. In fact, individuals will have to be part of the solution as well. I believe lifestyle and behavioural changes will also help mitigation and that would involve actions by individuals apart from other entities.