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It’s time to rescue our planet

The global economic crisis has underlined the urgent necessity for a large-scale and coordinated global response to ensure early economic revival and stability, writes Shyam Saran.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2008 21:34 IST

The global economic crisis has dramatically exposed the intimate interconnectedness of the world’s financial and commodity markets. It has underlined the urgent necessity for a large-scale and coordinated global response to ensure early economic revival and stability. This will be the agenda for the G-20 Summit in Washington on November 15. There is another looming global crisis, whose full impact may not be immediately apparent, but which represents an elemental threat to humanity itself — the threat of climate change.

Thanks to compelling scientific evidence, there is now consensus that climate change, and specifically, global warming, is taking place as a result of accumulated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the planetary atmosphere. This cumulative process has been the result of carbon and fossil-fuel based industrial activity in the developed world over the past couple of centuries. The growing emissions of newly industrialising countries like India will add, though marginally, to the bank of GHG in the atmosphere. But the overwhelming responsibility for our dilemma lies with the Western industrialised states. Countries like India have to shoulder the burden of adapting to climate change that has already taken place and is likely to continue even if emissions worldwide could be drastically reduced.

The impact of global warming means greater water-stress, shorter crop cycles and the accelerated melting of Himalayan glaciers that could turn our perennial, life-sustaining rivers into seasonal flows. The impact on the livelihood of millions inhabiting the Indo-Gangetic plains can well be imagined. We have, therefore, a critical stake in the success of the ongoing multilateral negotiations on climate change, which should culminate in a negotiated package at the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Copenhagen in 2009.

The negotiations have proved to be complex and difficult because developed countries are reluctant to fulfil their solemn commitments enshrined in the UNFCCC, concluded at the historic Rio Summit in 1992. Firstly, they are nowhere near meeting their targets for reductions in their emissions. Secondly, no progress has been made in fulfiling their commitments to transfer financial and technological resources to developing countries to enable them to adapt to climate change and to pursue development strategies. Now, with the deepening economic crisis, expectations of more ambitious action on both these counts are beginning to recede.

It is our view that the current economic crisis could, in fact, prove an opportunity to fashion a truly ambitious global response to the challenge of climate change. Affected states have demonstrated the political will and capability to mobilise hundreds of billions of dollars to rescue their economies. Even a modest fraction of these amounts could contribute significantly to rescuing our planet. Some of the massive public funds being used to shore up markets could be better spent on renewable energy projects or on creating infrastructure to build climate resilience worldwide. This would create new industries and new jobs while spurring technological innovation. A statesman like vision is required to turn a crisis into an opportunity.

It is now evident that the solution to the global economic crisis requires a collaborative response. The same lesson needs to be applied in dealing with climate change. The current negotiations are likely to lead to a modest, least-common denominator compromise among the conflicting perspectives and narrowly defined national or group interests of the negotiating partners. What we need is a collaborative vision that transcends the usual adversarial negotiating process, and delivers the outcome essential to safeguard the planet.

India has articulated a clear vision of how we look at the challenge of climate change. We believe that the planetary atmosphere is a common resource of humanity, to which every citizen of the globe has equal entitlement. The only fair and equitable climate change regime should, therefore, be based on the eventual convergence of per capita emissions. As its own contribution, India’s Prime Minister has declared that India’s per capita GHG emissions will at no time exceed the average per capita emissions of developed countries. This not only puts a self-imposed limit on our emissions but also encourages our developed countries partners to be more ambitious in reducing their own emissions.

Irrespective of what happens in multilateral negotiations, India has already announced its own National Action Plan on Climate Change. The plan constitutes India’s strategy for sustainable development. It seeks to bring a graduated shift from an economy based on fossil fuels and non-renewable sources of energy to one based on non-fossil fuels and renewable sources of energy. This would promote our energy security as well as help us meet the challenge of climate change. There are eight National Missions, ranging from Solar Energy to Energy Efficiency and including Sustainable Agriculture and Water Conservation. These missions are being elaborated into actionable projects. If, as we hope, the world moves to a truly collaborative approach, our efforts could be expanded.

If the economic crisis is converted into an opportunity, there is a good chance that the world could bring about a historic transformation. A 200-year pattern of carbon-based growth would yield to a new world based on clean and renewable energy. That is the future we should bequeath to our children.

First Published: Nov 13, 2008 21:43 IST