Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Will last week’s climate parley finally yield results?

The past week shall go down in climate history as the most active period in climate parley, punctuated with a frenzy of debates and compromises on the international table.

The UN Summit on Climate Change hosted by the Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon at New York on Tuesday, was to effect a push in the right direction, in the run-up to Copenhagen talks. While Obama’s verbose speech espoused all the politically correct stuff, it was more in the manner of broad outlines. The Chinese President Hu Jintao in his address to the General Assembly, mentioned the mandatory targets included in their National Climate Change Programme for reduction of energy intensity and discharge of major pollutants. However, it was India’s own Jairam Ramesh who came up with a more comprehensive and forceful mitigation proposal.

Continuing along the aggressive lines set out by India during Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s visit to India, the Minister reiterated the need for the developed world to dish out the funding and technology to combat global warming.

Some definite targets laid down by India at the UN General Assembly were:

▪ a mandatory fuel efficiency target by 2011

▪ an increased energy efficient building code to come into effect in 2012

▪ an increase in renewable energy to 20% by 2020

▪ raising tree cover to 15% by 2020

These measures were designed to reduce India's energy intensity by a further 5 to 10%.

Pointing out how the average carbon footprint in India was 1/20th of an American and 1/10th of a Briton, he reminded that India needed to grow at its targeted 8 % in order to provide electricity to its 400 million poor people.

His initiative of a "national communication" charting the progress of its green action plan, took the international climate community by surprise, as was intended by a suave and politically savvy Jairam Ramesh. For under the Kyoto protocol, only the rich countries are required to submit national declaration on climate change once in six years.

Thus by submitting an annual report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India would leave itself open to tighter global monitoring regulations of its climate policies. However, it seems that Mr. Ramesh is keen to declare India’s climate readiness in a scenario where “the international community is trying to paint India as a recalcitrant or an intransigent player”. Perhaps he hoped this would further bring pressure upon U.S. for quick, concrete commitments.

He added,

We want to be transparent to the international community, but domestically accountable to our voters

It was Japan that came up with the greatest emissions cut in carbon, around 25% from 1990 through 2020.

All in all a meeting with no tangible solutions, albeit India’s compromising stand definitely induced a re-think for U.S., as was visible in the Pittsburgh meet three days hence.

On 25th September, world leaders of the G 20 countries gathered at Pittsburgh to pledge the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

About $300 a year is spend worldwide on subsidising fuel prices by keeping the prices low vide manipulative economics, thus keeping up a continual high demand for fossil fuel in many nations. According to the Environment Law Institute, the U.S. Govt. alone provided $72 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry between 2002 and 2008, a fact that is conveniently ignored when accusing China, India and other developing nations for their dependence on fossil fuel.

This is the only somewhat unequivocal picture that emerged from the series of climate talks, though it remains to be seen how the U.S. proposes to go about implementing the same, if at all. For such a decision would impose an additional tax burden on the Amercians, an unwanted political gaffe by the Obama Government surely, in an already dismal picture of recessive economy.

As Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said, the administration and Congress

"now face many difficult choices if they choose to comply with the G-20 commitment to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies."

The final summit statement was fairly vague, without going into the specifics of how the funding gap would be met or how the larger defaulters, the developed nations, proposed to finance the transfer to clean technologies.

Britain's Gordon Brown called for a $100 billion a year commitment but we are yet to have anything from President Obama. With India firming up its commitment with visibly concrete proposals at the international forum last week, the U.S. has been backed up against the wall.

On the positive side, the promise of a boost in the green job sector in the near future and increased shift of private finance to clean energy, were some highlights we can be upbeat about. Minister Ramesh in an interview, laid out the Indian role in bare terms.

We want a fair and equitable agreement. We are conscious of our responsibilities. India is contemplating taking unilateral mitigation cuts over the next fifteen to twenty years as a part of its development process, without jeopardizing economic growth. [India is considering making such cuts] part of a domestic legislative framework."

Reminding all that

In the United Staets and the devloped world, emissions are lifestyle emissions. For us, emissions are developmental emissions.”

His punch

Change your lifestyle. You're asking us to compromise on development. You change your lifestyle and then we'll think of compromising on development.”

A timely reminder to Indians, to pursue a sustainable lifestyle, while working towards a carbon free economy.

While the meeting at Bangkok this week, with 1,500 delegates from 180 countries, is intended to reduce the 200-page draft agreement to something more explicit and manageable, it is also hoped to break the climate deadlock which the meetings of last week failed to break. Albeit, the green stoics and climate skeptics are doubtful about an agreement on issues related to technology and fund transfers, it is hoped that the talks would push U.S. towards a final chapter of resolution on time for the Copenhagen talks.

At the time of the post being uploaded, the latest news from Washington is that of John Kerry filing a Climate Change Bill in the Senate tomorrow, the 30th, with the support of Barbara Boxer. So perhaps we can still be optimistic that the week long official and informal dialogues will not pare down to zilch, if U.S. legislators indeed go ahead with reforms that correct the anomaly between clean energy investments and fossil fuel subsidies.
Summary cross posted with INDIA WATER PORTAL

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

India’s effort at breaking the stalemate in climate commitments, needs to be applauded

Last week’s strategically timed declaration by India’s Jairam Ramesh, to set numerical targets for emissions, is a coup of sorts. Coming on the heels of U.S. administration’s shelving of the much hyped Climate and Energy Bill that the world was waiting for, this not only proves that India’s commitments on the climate front are more than honourable, but also places pressure on U.S. to perform on its climate commitments.

Continuing with my stance on why India should not leave itself open to Geo-political blackmail, I applaud Minister Ramesh’s ability to rise to the situation and break the stalemate in the series of the pre-Copenhagen talks. With his agreement to set numerical targets for curbing emissions, Mr. Ramesh has scored several points in this climate econdrum. This has not only temporized the debate whether emission curbs ought to extend to developing nations as well, but has also effectively pre-empted any further allegations against India’s seemingly nonchalant attitude to standardizing emissions.

India has historically refused to be pressurized on climate change. The Indian Govt. has repeatedly reiterated its stand of refusing to kowtow to climate requirements of curbs laid down by the U.S., based on the paradigm that its per capita emissions much lower than those of the developed nations, in no way called for internationally binding cuts.

As Mr Ramesh said:
This notion that India is intransigent on mitigation is crap. We are mitigating and mitigating considerably to save our forests and our rivers. But for an international agreement, the developed world has to demonstrate its seriousness much more credibly than it has done so far.”

This also brings to the fore the mercurial disposition of the Obama administration, whose Climate and Energy legislation had been one of the prime factors for levering it to power. Even as I write this, flash mobs are barraging Obama and thousands of eco- activists are sending climate action wake-up calls to world leaders.

On the Indian front, whether the avowal to set emissions standards was devised as a sheet anchor or an eleventh hour soft option, it cannot be ignored that the Environment Ministry has put together an ambitious plan on the green and energy front, supporting its political stance.

While the details of the missions under its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) are being finalised, many other initiatives are being undertaken by the Government of India to address the issue of climate change. These are in the fields of forestry, energy efficiency, research agenda and CDM capacities vide increased budget outlays, efficiency and fuel economy standardization, research on glacial movements as well as focus on technology transfer as a core area.

Recognising the role of forests as a major carbon sink and the impact of the Himalayan glacier retreat, action has already begun on these fronts, for study and assessment of changes, besides monitoring the same and providing for offsets.

While U.S. dithers on the eve of the Copenhagen meet, efforts at damage control over the climate imbroglio continue through a series of 20-nation climate summits at Brussels, New York and later, Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen whether the initiative taken by India goads other nations to change their stiff-necked approach to emissions or coerces the Obama Governance to finally shake off its feet of clay and get to act.

Summary cross posted with INDIA WATER PORTAL