Nudged into action by the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change, many countries (though not all) have begun to work on preparing initial plans to achieve carbon neutrality to limit global warming. While India was late to get off the block, it has sought to demonstrate its seriousness in reversing global warming by making public its roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality.
In November 2022, six years after the Paris agreement, India became the 57th country out of the 198 who signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to submit its ‘Long-Term Low Carbon Development Strategy (LTLCDS)’ — a 121-page document — at the COP27 summit held at Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt. Nepal is the only other South Asian country to have submit-ted a report. This was in accordance with the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change that called on all parties to “strive to formulate” and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission strategies. India is committed to achieving net zero carbon emission by 2070.
But, consistent with its long-standing stance on climate change, the Indian government was again at pains to point out that historically the developing countries were not responsible for emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and should not, therefore, be forced to bear a dis-proportionate burden of financing measures to cut down emissions. This, in its view, would be tantamount to jeopardising the development successes of the past couple of decades. Environment, Forests and Climate Change (EFCC) Minister Bhupender Yadav therefore reiterated at Sharm-El-Sheikh in November last year that India’s contribution to the one-degree rise in world temperature since the industrial revolution (1850) was minimal.
The minister said that the key to equity and climate justice lay in fair and equitable access to the global carbon budget, which is the to-tal amount of CO₂ that can be emitted to keep global warming within acceptable limits. Within these parameters India would continue with action to limit its carbon footprint. Of course, it would be desirable for the developed countries to honour their commitments to cli-mate finance made at Paris—to provide financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation. The agreement fixed a floor of mobilising $100 billion per year for this purpose till 2025 in accordance with the new collective quantitative goal (NCQG).
The Indian government pointed out that historically the developing countries were not responsible for emission of GHGs
This approach was first outlined in the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) issued by the Indian government in 2008 which began with the statement: “India is faced with the challenge of sustaining its rapid economic growth while dealing with the global threat of climate change. This threat emanates from accumulated greenhouse gases emissions in the atmosphere, anthropogenically generated through long-term and intensive industrial growth and high consumption lifestyles in developed countries.”
The NAPCC therefore called upon the developed countries to acknowledge their responsibility for accumulated GHGs and fulfil their commitments made in 1994 under the UNFCCC to transfer financial resources and new and additional climate-friendly technologies to support both adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. The document also takes an indirect dig at the western world by saying that while India wanted to become more prosperous it was not aiming to become a “wasteful society”. The Indian plan, the document explained, was to simultaneously advance India’s development and climate objectives of adaptation and GHG mitigation.
Few question the science underlying global warming and its causes and the need for urgent steps to keep it within check. But serious differences have surfaced between the developing world and the rich countries over how exactly the burden of checking carbon emissions is to be shared. While developing countries have all along emphasised that developed countries must recognise their historical responsibility and help finance the former’s efforts at reducing emissions, the latter have constantly tried to wriggle out of their commitments by laying stress on current emissions. Developing countries point out that most of the carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere till date is the result of emissions by the developed world during the 1960s and ’70s when developing countries’ emissions were lower by a factor of 10. The other argument that developing countries advance is that, while determining responsibility, what needs to be taken into account is per capita rather than absolute emissions of carbon dioxide.
It must be recalled at this point that the UNFCCC (convention) came into force in 1994 when as many as 198 countries ratified it and were
It must be recalled that the UNFCCC came into force in 1994 when as many as 198 countries ratified it and were called ‘Parties to the Convention’
called ‘Parties to the Convention’. That was the genesis of COP, or Conference of Parties, which has held 27 meetings till date, the latest being in Sharm-El-Sheikh late last year. The original 1994 Convention “bound the member states to act in the interests of human safety even in the face of scientific uncertainty”. It plainly stated, “…as they are the source of most past and current greenhouse gas emis-sions, industrialised countries are expected to do the most to cut emissions on home ground.” The Convention expected these countries to reduce their emissions to 1990 levels by 2000, an expectation that was not met. Initially, though, industrialised countries agreed to “support climate change activities in developing countries by providing financial support for action on climate change… above and beyond any financial assistance they already provide to these countries”. India has all along expressed the opinion that the pragmatic way towards a solution lies in the adoption globally of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities (CBDR-RC).
To get an idea of the dimensions of the problem, data released recently by Global Carbon Project, a UK-based non-governmental oranisation, shows that the concentration of CO₂ in the atmosphere has increased from 277 parts per million (ppm) in 1750 to 417 ppm in 2022. From 1750 till now a total of 2,616 gigatonnes of CO₂ have been emitted. But science is as yet uncertain about how long carbon di-oxide remains in the atmosphere before it is absorbed by the various carbon sinks. Therefore, it is difficult to accurately quantify the GHG problem. But the UNFCCC has mentioned that action needs to be taken despite scientific uncertainty.
Endorsing the approach of the developing countries, the Chennai-based Climate Change Group (CCG), which in 2021 started the online dashboard and data tracker ‘Climate Equity Monitor’ (CEM), said that the annual flow-based approaches favoured by experts in developed countries allocate targets to countries based on the annual flow of emissions rather than cumulative stock of emissions. The biggest drawback of the annual flow-based approach is that it does not include historical emissions. “This may mean that flow-based tar-gets of the developed nations allow them to capture more carbon space into the future even though they have exceeded their fair share in the past. This is unfair to historically low emitting nations.”
That there is a good deal of bias in the Western approach is clear from data presented by organisations like the Global Carbon Project, which is supported, among others, by the governments of Australia and Japan, and Stanford University. While its graphics on per capita emissions in its 2022 report show that the graphs of India and China remained more or less horizontal between 1960 and 2000 at less than two tonnes of CO₂ each, well below the world average, the US was consistently emitting in excess of 20 tonnes. Paradoxically, another graphic in the same document titled “Historical Cumulative Fossil CO₂ Emissions” has an interesting sub-text—The US and EU have the highest accumulated fossil CO₂ emissions since 1850, but China is not far behind. This appears to be a suggestive statement that overlooks the fact that the industrial revolution occurred first in Europe and then in the US and that Chinese manufacturing and CO₂ emissions in-creased rapidly well after 2000.
The CEM dashboard, on the other hand, presents quite a contrasting picture and graphically gives a comparison of CO₂ emissions of major developed and developing countries from 1990 to 2019 in both per capita terms and total emissions. From the CEM graphic it appears that between 1990 and 2004 the US remained the largest emitter of CO₂ with annual emissions of 7.46 gigatonnes in 2000 alone, which was more than the combined emissions of India (1.64 gigatonnes) and China (4.92 gigatonnes). CEM obtained its data from the open access PRIMAP-Hist National Historical Emissions Time Series (1750-2019), a project run and supported by CERN (European Council for Nu-clear Research) and the European Union. It was only in 2005 that annual emissions from China (7.81 GtCO₂) started to exceed that of the US (7.55 GtCO₂).
But the picture changes completely when per capita emissions are considered in which Australia emerges at the top with emission of 21.6 tonnes of CO₂ (tCO₂) in 2019, closely followed by the US at 20.2 tCO₂. China is at just 9.6 tCO₂, virtually level with Japan and a shade lower than Germany.
India, on the other hand, is being increasingly blamed for high emissions along with China but it had much lower CO₂ emissions and has increased merely by one tonne from 1990 to 2019 — from 1.3 tCO₂ to 1.4 tCO₂.
The adoption of a cumulative emissions-based approach takes into account cumulative emissions as well as historical emissions. The carbon budget approach takes this line. In this approach, the world’s total global carbon budget is calculated by adding up estimated past and future emissions. Past emissions are considered to be emissions that occurred between 1850 and 2019. Future emissions refer to what is left to be emitted from the current year till net zero emissions are achieved. It is the future emissions that are divided among various countries in accordance with their past emissions—the more the past emissions, the lower the share of the future budget. Given the entitlements of each nation, the nations which have exceeded their share must find ways to remove carbon and nations which have been low emitters can use their share to develop and choose the most convenient path to net zero.
India’s plan to reduce emissions includes a greater shift towards renewable energy power generation and reducing coal consumption
But that argument has not been satisfactorily settled yet. Which means that most countries have to chart their own paths to a carbon neutral future, and the earlier the better. As a developing country, India has outlined a five-pronged plan to reduce carbon emissions since in absolute terms it is already the third largest emitter of CO₂, behind China and the US, though in per capita terms its emissions are less than half the world average. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), India will see the largest increase in energy demand in the world in the period upto 2040 as well as a 50% increase in carbon emissions for the same period. As of now about 70% of India’s energy requirements are still being met by coal, which is the biggest emitter of GHGs. Solar energy accounts for only four percent.
India’s plan to reduce carbon emissions includes, first, a greater shift towards renewable energy power generation to reduce the share of coal. This will involve hydro, solar and nuclear and a plan to increase battery storage systems for grid stabilisation that currently is heavily dependent on coal- and oil-fired plants. Secondly, in transport a conscious shift is being made towards encouraging the manufacture of electric vehicles — reducing dependence on fossil fuels and carbon emissions.
According to IEA estimates, there will be an additional 25 million trucks by 2040 while 300 million vehicles of all types will be added to the Indian fleet. Third, as India is expected to double its building space over the next two decades, new energy-efficient building codes are to be formulated to ensure energy and material efficiency in buildings. Fourth, it will develop an efficient and low-emission industrial system. Fifth, forest and vegetation cover will be increased to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tCO₂ by 2030.
The writer has been a media professional for 38 years. He was the former HoD of the Amity School of Communication, Amity University.