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COP 24: The main issues involved, and where does India stand

With the US pulling out of the Paris Accord, and China's increasing consumption of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions, India could lead climate change dialogue by example

 |  8-minute read |   03-12-2018
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The world leaders have come together, yet again, like every year, for the annual UN climate change conference (COP24). This time, the conference is being held in Katowice, ironically, the important coal mining town in Poland.

The talks have opened with the goal of finalising the implementation guidelines for the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

What is COP 24 all about?

To understand COP 24, we need to rewind to COP 21 — the Paris Agreement of 2015.

At the UN Climate Conference in Paris, known as COP21, in 2015, 196 countries joined together in the Paris Agreement — a universal pact that sets the world on a course to a zero-carbon, resilient, prosperous and fair future.

While the Agreement is not enough by itself to solve the problem, it places us clearly on the path to a global solution. The Paris Agreement requests each country to outline and communicate their post-2020 climate actions — known as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). According to Article 4, Paragraph 2 of the Agreement, each Party is required to prepare, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that it intends to achieve.

Parties were required to pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions. In Paris, all Parties agreed to either communicate their current NDCs or submit new or updated NDCs by 2020, and do so every five years thereafter.

It was at COP21 that the world leaders committed to making sure global warming stayed "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Discussions in Katowice are especially crucial because of the US — the world’s second most polluting nation after China —  pulling out of the Paris Agreement, thanks to the biggest climate change denier — Donald Trump.

This means that the remaining stakeholders will have to strive to meet the climate goals by themselves.

main_kat1-copy_120318065030.jpegWhere exactly are we headed? With climate change talks underway in Katowice, Poland, how much will parties even adhere to the 2015 Paris Agreement? (Photo: Reuters)

Agenda:

The Paris Agreement will loom large over Katowice COP because 2018 marks the deadline year agreed by signatories of the Agreement to adopt a "work program for the implementation" of the commitments they made in 2015. Other commitments made in Paris include increasing financing for climate action and the development of "national climate plans" by 2020. "The upcoming climate talks are the most important round of negotiations since the Paris Agreement was reached three years ago," Lou Leonard, the World Wildlife Fund's senior vice president for climate change and energy, told CNBC.

COP24 takes place in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5°C degrees, which delivered an unequivocal message that the countries will need dramatic changes across multiple sectors in the coming decade to limit global temperature rise to the thresholds laid out in the Paris Agreement. 

At COP24, countries have to demonstrate their commitment to achieving the vision of the Paris Agreement by delivering three things:

1) the detailed guidelines for how the Agreement will be implemented, referred to as the “Paris Rulebook”

2) a clear signal that nations will strengthen their climate commitments by 2020

3) confidence that enough finance will be available to support a zero-carbon and climate-resilient transition.

Talanoa Dialogue:

COP24 will also conclude the year-long Fiji-led Talanoa Dialogue — the first-ever international conversation of its kind to assess progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement — including the goal of limiting global temperature increases. One of the dialogue's aims is to find practical and local solutions for how countries can increase their ambition in the next round of NDCs. 

The stakes in moving the Paris Agreement forward have never been higher.

India’s promise in Paris:

India ratified the Paris Agreement a year after the submission of its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), on 2 October 2016. Since India did not submit an NDC prior to ratification, the INDC became its first NDC. 

It includes the following main elements:

1) To reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33 per cent-35 per cent by 2030 below 2005 levels (that is, holding 2005 levels as a benchmark)

2) To increase the share of non-fossil-based energy resources to 40 per cent of installed electric power capacity by 2030, with the help of transfer of technology and low-cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund (GCF)

3) To create an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 gigatonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) through additional forest and tree cover by 2030

India does not specify the coverage and metrics of the emissions intensity target in its NDC. Achieving its 40 per cent non-fossil capacity target would result in an emissions level of 4.8 GtCO2e by 2030. The emissions reduction implied by the NDC non-fossil capacity target are based on developments reflected in the Climate Action Tracker’s (CAT) current policy pathway.

Where do we stand now

Under current policy projections, India's greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are projected to reach a level of 3.2 to 3.3 GtCO2e in 2020 and 4.5 to 4.6 GtCO2e in 2030 — this is a 53 to 57 per cent increase in emissions from 2010 levels by 2020 and a more than doubling of 2010 levels by 2030.

While this growth is in line with both the 2020 and 2030 intensity pledges, the achievement of India’s targets depends on actual economic growth levels. Population growth is one of the main drivers of India’s projected greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. By 2028, India is projected to overtake China as the largest country in the world in terms of population.

Forestry:

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) developed a new draft National Forest Policy 2018, calling for a minimum of one-third of India’s total geographical area to be under forest or tree cover.

At 21.54 per cent currently, we are not very close to touching the NDC. 

Although not stated in the NDC, one could safely assume that the target to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 is cumulative. However, with up to 25,000 hectares of forests — 250 sq km (more than twice Chandigarh’s area) being handed over by the government every year for “non-forestry activities”, including defence projects, dams, mining, power plants, industries and roads, the second NDC is a question mark. This diversion of forest resources to industry was recently confirmed by the government to Parliament.

Transport:

In 2017, Power Minister Piyush Goyal announced a target of selling only electric vehicles by 2030, which would translate into Indian EV sales of over 10 million per year by 2030. This target would have been consistent with estimates that to reach full decarbonisation in the road transport sector globally by mid-century, it is necessary that the last fossil fuel car is sold before 2035.

However, there are conflicting signals on the actual ambition and likelihood of India adopting such an ambitious target.

For instance, in response to the Prime Minister’s ambitious announcement, the state-owned Energy Efficiency Services (EESL) announced its plans to replace 5,00,000 government cars with electric cars — but reports claim that government employees are refusing to use electric vehicles procured through EESL, citing concerns over mileage and performance.

 

delhi-cars_main_120318072801.jpgIt doesn't look like they're going anywhere in a hurry (Photo: Reuters)

Energy supply:

The power sector accounted for 34 per cent of India’s total emissions in 2015. Given the fuel mix is dominated by coal-fired generation which was 75 per cent in 2015, the emissions intensity of electricity supply in India is high.

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Energy Access 2017 report, 18 per cent of the population still had no access to electricity in 2017, meaning reaching 100 per cent electricity access in 2019 is likely to be out of the question. However, universal access should be achieved before 2030, according to the IEA. It is a scary thought to think of emissions when the entire population is brought under the grid at current levels of fossil fuel usage.

However, speaking at International Solar Alliance’s (ISA) first assembly meeting in October 2018, Prime Minister Modi claimed the government is targeting 40 per cent of electricity generation from non-fossil fuel-based resources by 2030.

One can only hope.

What lies ahead?

If the government manages to stick to the commitments it has made in the international arena, we have some hope of achieving the NDCs by 2030.

However, it requires policy changes at a macro level.

Though the leadership mantle has been forced onto India, the country has a chance in the global arena to show its commitment to climate change action, as it had claimed in 2015. However, if we keep the ‘development’ agenda in the fore, we need to question who are we even developing for — the current levels of emissions are predicting an apocalypse sooner than one had thought.

Also read: I don't believe you: Donald Trump, world's biggest climate change denier

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