Let’s talk about the weather

ByRK Pachauri
Oct 22, 2014 08:51 AM IST

Rising sea levels pose a significant risk to India’s economic growth given our extensive coastline, writes RK Pachauri.

Diplomacy in the 21st century promises to take on a very different character and content from what has been practised in the past. Issues like energy security and climate change would have an important part in determining tensions as well as modes of cooperation among countries.

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This was clear in the joint statement at the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful visit to the United States, where both countries agreed to “a new and enhanced strategic partnership on energy security, clean energy, and climate change” while highlighting “the critical importance of increasing energy access, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving resilience in the face of climate change”.

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The joint statement also referred to “a new program to scale up renewable energy integration into India’s power grid” and “accelerate the deployment of cost-effective, super-efficient appliances; and the formation of a new Clean Energy Finance Forum to promote investment and trade in clean energy projects”.

Cooperation in the field of energy, particularly in the development and spread of clean and renewable energy, is very much in India’s interests.

There are very few countries, if any, which face such a huge challenge in the security of energy supply as India. A detailed modelling of India’s energy future by TERI reveals that India would be importing 900 million tonnes of coal annually by 2031-32 if India were to remain on a business-as-usual path of development and energy use.

That would be a staggering quantity, which is unlikely to be available in the international market, and,more importantly, would impose huge costs in the form of building port capacity and inland transport infrastructure, quite apart from serious environmental impacts of burning at various locations.

The Obama-Modi statement also stated that both leaders were committed to working towards a successful outcome in Paris in 2015 of the conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including the creation of a new global agreement on climate change. Why is such an agreement important to the two countries and to the world?

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly found that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and the sea level has risen.

Yet, despite a growing number of climate change mitigation policies, annual total anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have continued to increase — and were the highest in human history from 2000 to 2010. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of GHG emissions.

India as a developing country and with a large part of its population living in poverty cannot be expected to reduce its emissions of GHGs. But it would be total folly for the country to pursue the pattern and mix of energy use followed in the developed countries.

In general, mitigation of GHG emissions results in a range of substantial co-benefits, such as higher energy security, improved air quality with health benefits and a possible increase in employment opportunities.

Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe and irreversible impacts. In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems across the globe. People who are socially, economically and politically marginalised are especially vulnerable to climate change.

Climate-related hazards affect poor people through impacts on livelihoods, reductions in crop yields, destruction of homes, increased food prices and food insecurity. The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change, involving both adaptation as well as mitigation measures.

Climate change is projected to intensify competition for water among sectors. Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and create new poverty traps — the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.

Prospects for climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development are related fundamentally to what the world accomplishes with climate-change mitigation. Since mitigation reduces the rate as well as the magnitude of warming, it also increases the time available for adaptation to a particular level of climate change, potentially by several decades.

Climate policy intersects with other societal goals, creating the possibility of co-benefits such as those related to human health, food security, biodiversity, local environmental quality, energy access, livelihoods and equitable sustainable development.

India is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The sea level rise (SLR) in the period 1900 to 2010 was 19 cm, and if the world moves along a path with no additional mitigation, SLR by the end of this century could be as high as 98 cm. Can India as a country with an extensive coastline face such a widespread risk?

Also climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme events, particularly heat waves and extreme precipitation events.

While singular events such as the heavy flooding of Mumbai in 2005 and the recent cloudbursts in Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir cannot be attributed to human-induced climate change, an aggregate increase in these as an impact of climate change can be foreseen if the world does not act to reduce GHG emissions adequately and early.

Over time a country would be seen worthy of respect if it is active in global and national efforts at dealing with climate change.

RK Pachauri is Director-General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)

The views expressed by the author are personal

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