If there is an area of policy-making that just involves hot air, it has to be climate change. The amount of rhetoric that is expended by countries on this issue would be amusing if it were not for the seriousness of the threat of climate change and the geopolitical manoeuvring behind the scenes to disadvantage other countries. Under a recent agreement, the US will reduce its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level by 2025 and China has agreed to the peaking of its CO2 emissions around 2030.
There is nothing earth-shattering here. For example, in the case of China’s goal, it was clear almost two years ago that it was anyway going to peak emissions around 2030. Except for the fact that President Xi Jinping declared it formally, it is not as if China has altered any of its plans dramatically to suddenly become environment conscious. As far as the US is concerned, the situation is slightly complex as the economics and politics of reductions is thoroughly mixed. At the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, the US had committed to reducing emissions by 17% below its 2020 level. Michael A. Levi, a senior fellow for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, “If the United States hits its current target—17% below 2005 levels by 2020—on the head, it will need to cut emissions by 2.3-2.8% annually between 2020 and 2025, a much faster pace than what’s being targeted through 2020. That is a mighty demanding goal. It will be particularly challenging to meet using existing legal authority—which the administration says can be done.” With a political upheaval underway in Washington—Republican ascendency can now be clearly seen in the senate and the congress—these targets may yet be ambitious.
The chief impact of the deal will be political. In the run-up to the global climate change meeting in Paris next year, the pressure on countries such as India to agree to a defined emissions cutback target will now become immense. India is the world’s third largest emitter but is far behind China and the US both in absolute and per capita terms. China accounts for 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions; the US around 15% and India around 6%. In per capita terms, too, India is behind these countries.
Data for 2010 (the latest year for which information compiled by the World Bank is available) show that China emitted 6.2 tonnes of CO2 per capita, the US 17.6 tonnes and India was a distant third at 1.7 tonners per capita. With China and the US deciding on one side of the climate change political equation, the unity between different developing countries in resisting imposition of forced carbon emission cutbacks has now been finally broken. Until now, this block of countries was always united, even if their unity was superficial. If one looks at the map of the developing world, there are three kinds of countries. One, the island and low-sea level nations from Kiribati to the Maldives to Bangladesh, which have much to fear from climate change. They were natural allies of those who called for a reduction in carbon emissions.
The second set comprises the vast majority of countries from Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. These countries want economic help to meet the challenges of limiting climate change. Finally, in the third set lay countries such as India and China, which were fast growing or had the potential to grow fast. Until the Copenhagen summit, these countries were together. That is when the first cracks appeared: China and the US tried to cut a deal even then. A week before the deal between the US and China, India distanced itself from Bejing’s position on climate change. India’s interlocutor to the Group of Twenty (G-20) countries and now minister for railways, Suresh Prabhu, has stated that being bracketed with China harmed India. As mentioned above, because India was classed in the set of fast-growing developing countries along with China, it was only natural that when China agreed to cutbacks, India, too, would be subjected to similar treatment. India has reacted late but a start has been made.
In the emerging scenario, the most vocal proponents of a climate change treaty, the Europeans, are likely to use every possible tool to get to a deal. India, which has only begun embarking on a path to industrialization—global economic conditions and its domestic situation now permit faster industrialization—will have to contend with external pressures now.
Guess which country would most want to stifle Indian growth?
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>