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Challenges at Copenhagen

(Ashok Handoo)

Copenhagen meet in December this year is an important event as on its outcome depends the prospect of a new pact to replace the Kyoto protocol which expires in 2012. The new pact must be in place by the end of 2010 to leave 2 years for nations to ratify it before it comes into force from January 1, 2013.

Despite international meets during the last one month, one after the other, like the one organized by the UN Secretary General in New York, the G- 20 at Pittsburgh and now the Bangkok meet, a clear picture is yet to emerge.

The crux of the matter is that the developed and the developing countries are at odds with each other on the issue of climate change. While the developed countries want the developing countries to put caps on Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GGE), the emerging economies want the advanced countries to accept deeper cuts in GGE and also provide technology transfer besides financial help for adaptation and mitigation programmes. The advanced countries have so far failed on both the counts.

India has made it very clear that it cannot accept binding caps on GGE even as it is prepared to cooperate with other countries to deal with climate change. In fact it has already put in place the National Action Plan on Climate Change on June 30 last year. It identifies 8 core national missions to run through 2017, for promoting solar energy for power generation as compared to fossil based energy options. It envisages a goal of at least 1000 MW of solar thermal power generation. Another 10, 000 MW would be saved by 2012 through the Enhanced Energy Efficiency mission. The goals include afforestation of 6 million hectares of degraded forest lands and expanding forest cover from the present 23 to 33 percent. Creation of a new Climate Science Research Fund, biodiversity, improvement in water use efficiency and sustainable agriculture will go a long way to check climate change. What is more important is that the plan makes a commitment that India’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions will “at no point exceed that of developed countries even as we pursue our development objectives.” It is thus a blend of overriding priority of maintaining high economic growth and do something to deal with climate change issues.

India also has a target of producing 4,70,000 MW of power through nuclear energy by 2050.

The effects of climate change are so horrifying that no country can remain immune from it. The Himalayas are melting, sea levels are rising, and earth’s temperature is increasing. So are the threats of floods, droughts, disease, malnutrition and famines. Children would be the worst affected due to Ozone depletion as they are vulnerable to harmful exposure of ultraviolet radiation.

In this backdrop failure to reach an agreement at Copenhagen would be catastrophic.

Right now India’s per capita greenhouse gas emission is 1.1 tonnes per annum compared to 20 tonnes in the US and 10 tonnes of EU. China and US each account for 20 per cent of the worlds GGE followed by EU at 14 per cent. India and Russia contribute only 5 per cent each.

The UN Climate panel says that emission cuts need to be in the range of 25 to 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels to limit global warming. This is much more than the developed countries are contemplating right now.

Scientists say that increase in global temperature should not exceed 2 per cent by 2021 over pre- industrial times, if the effects of climate change have to be mitigated. For this very reason the challenges at the Copenhagen meet need to be squarely met.

The developed countries have a historic responsibility to do the needful after having reaped the fruits for over two centuries of industrialization and development. At the same time the developing countries have to share the burden because global warming knows no geographical boundaries. Rich countries must provide about $ 150 billion every year that the developing countries need for adaptation and mitigation actions. They must also accept quantifiable major emission reductions keeping in view the development needs of the poor countries.

It is encouraging to note that China is moving forward by accepting to cooperate with rest of the world in dealing with the challenge though it has not quantified the reduction levels. The US is yet to make any financial commitments for the poor countries or come out with specifics regarding legal provisions at home. The new Japanese Prime Minister has expressed willingness to reduce emissions by 25% provided other countries also do it.

As the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh pointed out at the time of launching the National Action Plan last year “Climate change is a global challenge; it can only be successfully overcome through a global, collaborative and cooperative effort.” The time is running out and we need to move fast to protect the present and the future generations. The Danish capital Copenhagen can offer an opportunity for us, our children and the future generations. All that we require is wisdom in the interest of humanity at large.

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