At first, the protests by some of India’s climate change negotiators about the alleged capitulation by the Prime Minister at the Major Economies Forum & G8 summit in Italy may seem an over-reaction. By endorsing the Forum’s climate declaration, which refers to capping a global rise in temperatures to 20C above pre-industrial levels, the dissenting negotiators allege that India was agreeing to abide by this figure, which it has all along refused to do in the absence of prior commitments by industrial countries to drastically reduce their emissions.
Britain’s Climate Change Minister said that the meetings “produced real breakthroughs in negotiations when global leaders pledged for the first time to agree to keep a global temperature rise within 20C. This means from now on, both developed and developing countries will have to demonstrate that their actions and commitments are consistent with this scientific framework.” The British government added: “For the first time, developing countries have committed to undertaking low-carbon development plans; agreed to take action to deliver ‘meaningful deviation’ from their projected Business as Usual emissions; and have committed to their emissions peaking as soon as possible.”
Industrial countries conceded that financial resources for both mitigation and adaptation to climate change had to be scaled up dramatically, and although they stopped short of specifying amounts, they did agree to consider a ‘green’ fund. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has pointed out that the cuts in emissions they proposed “while welcome, are not sufficient, the time for delays and half-measures is over”.
There are two factors that underpin any agreement to cap greenhouse gas emissions by 20C (the average temperature is already up by 0.8 per cent). One is the amount by which emissions will have to be reduced by countries under the Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012. At an earlier meeting of the Forum, India and China had refused to accept emission cuts and an Indian negotiator had called for the 40 industrial countries, which account for 80 per cent of the world’s emissions, to cut theirs by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels, while the G8 has only agreed to 10-14 per cent. The G8 wants developing countries to halve their emissions by 2050.
At present, each person emits, on average, almost 4.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, emissions should be cut by 85 per cent by 2050, capping per capita emissions at an average of 0.67 tonnes by then. By accepting the 20C-cap, the Indian negotiators argue, Indians, who now emit 1.2 tonnes per capita, will only be able to treble their emissions before caps set in. By contrast, the average American now emits 20 tonnes per capita and a Briton half as much. China, which already emits 6 tonnes per capita, will be able to reach 10 tonnes, which is the developed country current average.
The second factor is the period under discussion. The G8 declaration, astonishingly, leaves it to individual countries to determine the baselines from which emission levels have to be reduced: 1990 “or later years”. Germany, Britain and other European countries, which are the most proactive in this regard, want to cut theirs by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. The US, which accounts for a fifth of all emissions, and Japan want to reduce theirs from current levels. It doesn’t require much maths to calculate that shifting the baseline by 19 years make a huge difference to commitments. Industrial countries’ emissions have grown both in absolute and per capita terms till 2007. This was precisely at a period when President George Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that China and India weren’t agreeing to cut emissions.
While there is a consensus even in the US that 2050 is the ultimate deadline for the world to get its climate in order, the intermediate goals are by no means settled. As Dinesh Patnaik, a Ministry of External Affairs negotiator, says, “For any long-term goals, there have to be credible mid-term goals.” If major industrial countries intensify their efforts only as this date looms near, it will be impossible to prevent temperatures from rising beyond 20C, the “tipping point”. The much-vaunted Waxman-Markey Bill in the US, which seeks to cap emissions by the world’s biggest polluter, kicks in only towards the end. By some calculations, to keep within 20C, global emissions must reduce by 10 per cent from 2010 itself and 25 per cent by 2012, which no country will accept.
As Hillary Clinton’s pitch for India to accept cuts makes clear, Washington and other major capitals will put a great deal of pressure on India and China, as major polluters in absolute but not per capita terms, to fall in line. But industrial countries have to put their own house in order and also commit to paying developing countries to cope with climate change. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has cited $100 billion a year by 2020, which is the quantum required.
Darryl D’Monte is Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India.