Acting together on climate change

On Friday in New York, the countries of the world, including India, will sign the Paris Accord on Climate Change, to which all had agreed during the climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015. The signing underlines the intention of countries to adhere to the negotiated accord. Each country will also have to carry out a separate formal process to ratify the accord; that is, to legally adopt it at a national level to enable implementation.

The Paris Accord is a huge step forward in international climate change diplomacy. At its core, is the process of universal, self-proposed “ratcheted” pledges—each country will pledge national actions which address climate change over an agreed time period (in the first instance from 2020 to 2030, and then every five years after that), and then pledge to do more over the next time period.

This is important because the first set of pledges is inadequate for the world to accomplish the agreed goal of limiting global temperature rise to much less than 2 degree C. Consequently, national pledging, achieving the pledges, and then pledging more is the mantra of the accord.

Like most others involved in the process, I believe that countries have a reputational interest in ensuring that they achieve the pledges that they have themselves put forward. As countries achieve their pledges, they will also be able to build confidence in their abilities to achieve their pledges and trust in other countries to deliver on their pledges as well. This virtuous cycle of trust and confidence will, we hope, move the world towards a less-than- 2 degrees C temperature-rise future.

However, the accord also recognizes that countries and their citizens need to be constantly nudged and reminded of their commitment to achieve their pledges. Another key element of the accord, which facilitates this nudging, is the transparency mechanism through which all countries will periodically report on their actions to achieve their pledges, and on the impact of these actions.

This reporting will, hopefully, create an environment for citizens to know what they and their government are doing, and whether their actions are adequate. This will allow, for example, think tanks and civil society organizations in the US to take their government to task for inadequate action if the reports so indicate; the reporting system has the potential to turn what has been, till now, a negotiating game between countries into bundles of citizen-driven action, facilitated by governments.

The recent past has shown that such demand-based action, which is in our self-interest, and reduces carbon dioxide emissions, can spread like wildfire when supported by appropriate government action. An example is UJALA (Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All)—the national programme to promote LED lighting.

Electricity consumption and carbon dioxide emissions due to the use of LED bulbs is half as much compared to CFLs, and one-tenth as much compared to incandescent bulbs—for the same amount of light. Yet, their adoption had been very limited, largely because of their high price tag—a high-quality LED bulb cost about Rs.500 in the market in 2013.

The UJALA programme has enabled homes to purchase LED bulbs at Rs.10 per month, charged through their electricity bills, together with a no-questions-asked guarantee for replacement of failed bulbs. And since, lakhs of homes are buying these bulbs, their competitive bulk procurement by a special-purpose government-directed company, has enabled the procurement price to drop from Rs.310 for a 7-watt LED bulb in January 2014 to Rs.55 for a 9-watt bulb in March 2016.

Over 100 million LED bulbs have already been sold under this programme, reflecting how quickly we can adopt low-carbon technologies if it is made convenient, and if the business model is right.

UJALA is a great example of how we can align our actions to address climate change by piggybacking them on our daily concerns. All of us—industry, agriculture, the financial sector, and each one of us in our homes—has to find a way in which we can take sensible, climate-friendly actions.

And municipalities and ministries of the central and state governments also need to take action, both to make it easy and convenient for us to follow up on our sensible, climate-friendly actions, as well as to ensure that the livelihood of the poorest Indian is protected from droughts, floods and other climatic events, and that he, too, has access to adequate electricity, hopefully from solar energy.