Other than the shocking reactions to the gory images of civilian killings in Ukraine’s Bucha, which surfaced last Saturday, the world has been busy deliberating on its other massive failure—controlling carbon emissions and delaying, if not saving, the planet from disasters coming out of it. The new flagship climate change report released by United Nations on April 4 is heavy-duty work—running into 2,913 pages and 17 chapters put together by 278 authors from 65 countries—capturing the magnitude of the challenge, assessing mitigation efforts so far, counting roadblocks, and pitching new ideas.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that from 2010 to 2019, average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed. Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach, it says.
The ‘IPCC Working Group III report, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change’ also recognises the increasing climate action, sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries since 2010. “An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy,” it adds.
However, such efforts are clearly not enough to save the planet.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his speech insisted that unless governments everywhere reassess their energy policies, the world will be uninhabitable. Calling for substantial fossil-fuel reduction across countries, improvement in energy efficiency and increasing the use of alternative fuels like hydrogen, Guterres in his message said, “the lack of immediate action may lead major global cities to underwater.”
Cascading, Irreversible Climate Effects
The amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by the world needs to at most peak by 2025 followed by a 43% reduction over the next 10 years to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the year 2100. Scientists have demanded prompt action with a warning that policies implemented by the end of 2020 will add more emissions and lead to a rise of 3.2°C by the end of the century.
The report warned that average annual GHG emissions in the past decade were higher than any previous decade—emissions between 2010-19 were around 12% and 54% higher than in 2010 and 1990, respectively, despite the IPCC’s repeated warnings that the time to limit dangerous global warming is running
An increasing share of emissions can be attributed to towns and cities, says the report, from rising global activity levels in the industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture, and buildings.
Right to Development versus Right Development
The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group III report was approved on April 4, 2022, by 195 member governments of the IPCC through a virtual approval session that started on March 21. The launch of the report was delayed by six hours after the governments assigned to approve its policy summary argued over equity, finance, and other taxing issues. The report, like previous editions, saw climate change coming in the way of the right to development of major emerging economies.
The experts behind the report suggest a development model that links mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development as the way forward. They believe that mitigation actions can be adaptive and vice versa. In particular, many nature-based solutions (NBS) for climate mitigation are adaptive. An example of this would be a shift to more sustainable diets through guidelines, carbon taxes, or investment in R&D of animal product substitutes, which could reduce pressure on land and allow for the implementation of multiple NBS. Many of these solutions are consistent with meeting other societal goals, including biodiversity conservation and sustainable development goals (SDGs). However, there can be synergies and trade-offs in meeting a complex set of sustainability goals, for example, biodiversity, the report says.
The scientists insist policymakers look at development differently and surely begin with the poor and vulnerable. The impact of climate change on limiting well-being is most acutely felt by the world’s poorest people, communities, and nations, who have the smallest carbon footprint, constrained capacity to respond and limited voice in important decision-making circles.
The authors emphasise on poverty eradication and creation of jobs in lower-carbon sectors, taxing governments, polluting industries, corporations, and those who can pay for transition costs, and providing a welfare safety net and adequate compensation for people, communities, places, and regions most impacted.
The experts hope to see the promotion of policies based on ‘just transition’, which preserves people’s right to social and economic justice, while society transitions to cleaner fuels, as poor and marginalised communities, often bear the brunt of climate change and government policies to counter it. India must also avoid the risk of placing politically favourable climate goals over the welfare of its poor.
The authors emphasise poverty eradication and creation of jobs in lower-carbon sectors, taxing governments, polluting industries, corporations, and those who can pay for transition costs, and providing a welfare safety net and adequate compensation for people, communities, places, and regions most impacted.
An international focal point today, the just transition concept ties together social movements, trade unions, and other key stakeholders to ensure equity is better accounted for in low-carbon transitions and seeks to protect workers and communities. The concept supports the growing movement for a ‘Green New Deal’, which is a roadmap for a broad spectrum of policies, programmes and legislation that aims to rapidly decarbonise the economy, while significantly reducing economic inequality.
While the US and the UK already have such deals, similar national-level new green deals with strong just transition components have been proposed in South Korea, Australia, Spain, the UK, Puerto Rico, Canada, and regional proposals across Latin America and the Caribbean, the experts point out.
The authors propose theories much like sustainable development, such as low-carbon development, climate-compatible development and, more importantly, climate-resilient development, to bring together the goals of climate mitigation and the SDGs, and development as a whole.
The direction of innovation also matters, say, experts, suggesting concepts of more responsible innovation, open innovation, mission-oriented innovation, holistic innovation, next-generation innovation policy or transformative innovation, so that innovation patterns and processes are commensurate to growing sustainability challenges.
The researchers accept that it is challenging to determine ‘fair shares,’ and address fairness and equity in a world of voluntary climate contributions. However, there are ways to assess or introduce fairness. They recommend adopting differentiation in financing rather than in mitigation and following a carbon budget approach, quantifying national emissions allocations through different equity approaches, combining equity concepts in a bottom-up manner, adopting common metrics for policy assessment, and developing a template for organising metrics on mitigation effort—emission reductions, implicit prices, costs, etc—among other solutions
A person in the bottom 50 percent is responsible for, on average, five times lower emissions than the average person in the bottom 50% in the European Union and 10 times lower than the average person in the bottom 50 percent in the US, notes WIR 2022.
Where does India stand?
India is a low carbon emitter, according to the World Inequality Report 2022 (WIR 2022).
The national average per capita consumption of greenhouse gas in the country is about 2.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2)—at levels comparable with carbon footprints in sub-Saharan African countries, finds the report. The bottom 50%, middle 40% and top 10%, respectively, consume 1, 2 and about 9 tCO2e/capita in 2019. A person in the bottom 50 percent is responsible for, on average, five times lower emissions than the average person in the bottom 50% in the European Union and 10 times lower than the average person in the bottom 50% in the US, notes WIR 2022.
While the pattern of the rich being more damaging than the poor is not unique to India, its impact on equality is huge. The WIR 2022 found that India and Brazil face ‘extreme’ inequality among low and middle-income group countries. India is also one of the countries experiencing a ‘spectacular’ increase in inequality along with the US and Russia. In South and Southeast Asia countries, the ratio of the income of the top 10% to the bottom 50% is 22 for India. Globally, the decline in growth in the share of income going to the bottom 50% of the population due to COVID-19 in 2020 was due to these countries, especially India. When India was taken out from the data set, the share of income going to the bottom 50% was found to increase slightly in the first pandemic year.
As far as the IPCC report goes, the Centre has welcomed the account, suggesting it to be justifying India’s emphasis on equity at all scales in climate action and sustainable development. For years, the country has upheld the principle of equity between countries at various multilateral climate-negotiating platforms.
However, delivering on the emission targets the country assigned itself at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in 2021 in Glasgow is not an easy task. India has to be ready to retire its existing fossil-fuel infrastructure earlier than historically, useless, or retrofit it with carbon capture and storage, to stay within the remaining carbon budgets of limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. After coal, electricity production based on gas is also projected to be phased out, with some capacity remaining as backup, says the IPCC report. “USD 541 billion worth of stranded fossil-fuel power plants could be created by 2060, with China and India the most exposed. If the existing units would continue to be operated as historically, they would entail CO2 emissions exceeding the carbon budget for 1.5O C,” it adds.
This calls for concrete action since there already exists a substantial and growing carbon lock-in today. Carbon lock-in occurs when fossil fuel-intensive systems propagate, delay, or prevent the transition to low-carbon alternatives, imperilling climate action.
A challenge, for now, energy transition away from coal will not take place in India in the “foreseeable future”, the coal ministry said in the Rajya Sabha recently. On March 29, 2022, union coal minister Pralhad Joshi informed the Parliament that the Centre will invest ₹12,500 crore for 35 first-mile connectivity projects on a priority basis.
Mitigation Needs Money
Finance is another mega challenge, duly recognised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech at the Glasgow climate summit on November 1, 2021. The leader committed that India would accomplish the net-zero target by 2070 and called rich countries to make $1 trillion available as climate finance “as soon as possible.”
While global financial flows from developed countries are a factor of three to six times lower than levels needed by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming under 2°C, the IPCC insists that there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close investment gaps. Access to global capital will depend on clear signalling from governments on their efforts to transition to a low-carbon economy, the report says.
In the chapter on Investment and Finance, the experts list three priorities. First, putting in place measures to accelerate a mix of equitable financial grants, low-interest loans, guarantees, and workable business models across countries and borders, from developed countries to low-income countries. Second, accelerate the implementation of the $100 billion a year (and likely more given growing financing gaps) in climate finance commitments expressed in the Copenhagen Agreement Accord (and reiterated since) from developed to developing countries. Third, expedite the operational definition of blended finance and promote the use of public guarantee instruments.
IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair, Priyadarshi Shukla, insisted that the right policies, infrastructure, and technology will enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour, which can result in a 40% to 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”
Falling demand, including technology and behavioural changes and cultural change, can cut all emissions in key sectors by 40% to 70% by 2050, compared with national policies and commitments made through 2020. These approaches will lead to better well-being, reduce air pollution, improve access to water and redistribute wealth.
The IPCC experts call for ambitious global climate agreements to maximise cooperative arrangements with greater financing support from developed to developing regions for ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,’ and a greater ethical sense of climate justice. They cite the example of drought in Africa, which over the past three decades has caused more climate-related mortality than all climate-related events combined in the rest of the world.
Researchers are hopeful that we can halve emissions by 2030 if we behave well. Like, we must rethink how cities and other urban areas can function in future with lower energy consumption (such as by creating compact, walkable cities), electrification of transport, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature.
Individual actions are equally important. A new chapter explores how much progress can be made in lowering the demand for carbon-heavy lifestyles. Ten percent of households responsible for the most carbon output are responsible for about 40% of the world’s total. The bottom 50% of emitters put out only 14% of the total. Emissions track wealth very closely, which is why, for example, the least developed countries put out just 0.4% of historical emissions from fossil-fuel use and 41% of the world’s population emit less than 3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year or roughly half the global average.
BOX: Interesting Observations
- Reduced working hours are increasingly discussed as an approach to improve well-being and decrease emissions.
- In the US, social norms can not only help in reducing a household’s absolute level of electricity use but also shift the time of use to periods when more renewable electricity is in the system.
- Analysis from Sweden shows that the adoption of sustainable innovations like solar panels is influenced by perceived behaviour and others’ expectations. In the Netherlands, similar conclusions emerge from an analysis of the adoption of electric vehicles and smart energy systems.
- Evidence from millennials in the OECD shows that fewer younger people have driving licenses compared to older generations.
- Analysis for France shows that baby boomers are higher emitters than other generations.