APRIL 26, 2014

Deepening Challenge in Climate Change
There is no more denying the fact of global warming; can India respond with appropriate policies?
ver the preceding months the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the fifth version of its assessment report (AR5), covering science, impacts and mitigation. In election season, there is a real risk that the messages of the IPCC will be crowded out by more immediate concerns. This would be a pity, because the report signals an opportunity, even a necessity, to productively reorient national thinking on the climate problem. The science report (Working Group I of the IPCC) bluntly says climate change is a reality, which should silence any efforts by organised climate sceptics. Observed concentrations of greenhouse gases are higher now than they have been in the last 8,00,000 years, with documented changes in the atmosphere, oceans, and ice sheets “unprecedented over decades to millennia”. The report concludes it is “extremely likely” that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming”. The scientists also put a number to the total greenhouse gases humanity can emit and still keep temperature increase below 2oC – a “carbon budget” of about 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. By 2012, we had already used up more than half. This finding strongly buttresses arguments that considerations of equity in allocating this budget, implicitly or explicitly, are central to climate politics. The results of the impacts and adaptation report (Working Group II) suggest India is likely to be among the front-line nations facing harm from climate change: “climate hazards exacerbate other stressors…especially for people living in poverty” making the job of reducing vulnerability much harder. For example, wheat yields are projected to decline by 2% per decade; surface and groundwater availability is likely to reduce in dry subtropical regions; drought frequency may increase; and greater undernutrition may result from food shortages and waterborne diseases. For reasons such as these, limiting the effects of climate change is necessary to achieve sustainable development. Working Group III on mitigation released earlier this month reinforces the urgency of the problem and highlights the magnitude of the task. To have a chance of keeping temperatures below 2oC, global emissions must reduce by 40% to 70% by 2050 and fall to near zero by 2100. The pledges made by governments in Cancun in 2010 are not consistent with this trajectory. Moreover, delaying action is likely to reduce the range of future options available and increases their costs. In the context of the ongoing
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climate negotiations intended to forge agreement on a new round of global cooperation by the end of 2015, discussions over the required reductions have been politically charged. Many developing countries, including India, particularly objected to and successfully won deletion of figures in the IPCC report showing country emissions in income groupings, arguing that these categorisations could be used in a negotiation context. However, the mitigation report also includes a message with deep salience for India: “sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies”. The implication is that climate change policies should not be allowed to undermine sustainable development – as Indian policymakers fear they might – but should actually be viewed as an opportunity to make development pathways more robust, including by adapting to avoid the adverse effects of climate change. While the principle of sustainable development has long been referenced in climate talks, the IPCC also explores how this might be operationalised through the pursuit of “co-benefits” – actions that simultaneously achieve both development and climate benefits (also the stated basis of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change). From this perspective, mitigation policy need not be limited to carbon-focused policies such as carbon taxes and cap and trade systems but should also include more nuanced discussion on how to achieve the multiple objectives of development, equity and environmental outcomes on a sector by sector basis. This latter framing is far more useful and productive in an Indian context than a carbon-first approach. These three messages – climate change is real, its impacts pose a considerable threat to efforts at sustainable development in the poorest countries, and the path forward legitimately includes co-benefits-based sustainable development policies – provide a powerful mission for Indian policymakers. Domestically, these messages suggest a need to step up efforts to better integrate climate change considerations into both central and state government efforts to address climate change, based on an understanding that these should not be considered distractions from development but instead complement efforts to make development approaches more robust. Internationally, the IPCC results reinforce some elements of India’s approach but in other areas suggest the need for a rethink. The message that climate change can be a zero-sum game because there is a finite carbon budget strongly reinforces India’s 7

APRIL 26, 2014

vol xlix no 17

and therefore an outcome with weak or no obligations for all countries better suits Indian interests than a strong agreement with some obligations for India as well. 2014 vol xlix no 17 EPW Economic & Political Weekly . The message of the IPCC report suggests this approach is counter-productive and will get increasingly so. in recent negotiations India has stood with a blocking coalition of oil producers and others seeking to downplay the risks of climate change and play up the uncertainties. This strategy appears premised on the assumption that the realpolitik of climate change is unlikely to result in an equitable outcome. In practice. 8 APRIL 26. rather than leading the coalition of vulnerable and poor countries.EDITORIALS championing of equity considerations in climate negotiations. But the message that climate change is real and is likely to have an impact on India implies that the country should be a champion of early and strong global action on climate change.