22nd APRIL 2016
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
GS III : CLIMATE CHANGE
1. Discuss the major provisions of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. How far will it be effective in responding to the threats posed by climate change? How does it affect India?
(Repeat Question from 13 Dec Question Bank)
The Paris Agreement could be a turning point in the struggle to contain global warming. Some highlights of the agreement are:
1. It calls for "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levelsand to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change." This language recognizes the scientific conclusions that an increase in atmospheric temperatures of more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, would lock the planet into a future of catastrophic impacts, including rising sea levels, more devastating floods and droughts, widespread food and water shortages and more powerful storms. But it also recognizes the scientific conclusions that warming of just 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, could present an existential threat to low-lying island nations that would be inundated by sea level rise at that rate of increase. But while those nations celebrated the inclusion of that 1.5 degree target, it is more aspirational than practical. The national plans submitted for the conference would probably result in an increase above 3 degrees Celsius.
2. To achieve that goal, countries should "reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter." Advocates say this wording sends a clear message to the fossil-fuel industry that much of the world's remaining reserves of coal, oil and gas must stay in the ground and cannot be burned. But the agreement does not call, as a previous version did, for "reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century," a provision that oil producers fiercely resisted. OPEC states lobbied for language that suggests that at least some fossil fuels can continue to burn, as long as the greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by a larger number of "greenhouse sinks" such as new forests.
3. The agreement acknowledges "the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change." This was deemed crucial by poor and small-island countries that suffer the most from extreme weather and from long-term impacts like droughts. However, this provision "does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation," a point that wealthy nations, which did not want to be held financially liable for climate change, insisted on.
4. Ahead of the agreement, 186 countries submitted plans detailing how they reduce their greenhouse gas pollution through 2025 or 2030. The agreement requires all countries to submit updated plans that would ratchet up the stringency of emissions by 2020 and every five years thereafter, a time frame that the United States and the European Union urged. India had initially sought a 10-year review cycle.
5. The deal requires a global "stocktake" - an overall assessment of how countries are doing in cutting their emissions compared to their national plans - starting in 2023, every five years.
6. The deal requires countries to monitor, verify and report their greenhouse gas emissions using the same global system. The United States has insisted that an aggressive system of counting and verifying each nation's emissions is crucial to the success of any plan. The United States had also pushed for the creation of an outside panel of experts - a sort of "carbon auditor" to verify nations' emissions reductions. Developing countries, including China and India, had pushed for two separate accounting systems - a more stringent one for rich countries, a more lenient one for poor countries. The United States scored a victory with the inclusion of the single accounting system, but all the details of how it would work, including the creation of the outside verifying body, have been punted to the future.
7. The agreement sets up something called a "Capacity-Building Initiative for Transparency" to help developing countries meet a new requirement that they regularly provide a national "inventory report" of human-caused emissions, by source, and track their progress in meeting their national goals.
8. The agreement, which takes effect in 2020, calls on nations to establish "a new collective quantified goal" of at least $100 billion a year in climate-related financing by 2020. It avoids a specific number, and even the $100 billion-a-year aspiration is mentioned in the "decision" part of the document, not the "action" section, to avoid triggering a review by the United States Senate. But it makes clear that the $100 billion - promised in 2009 in Copenhagen - is the bare minimum going forward.
9. When countries update their commitments, they will commit to the"highest possible ambition," but the agreement does not set a numeric target. It acknowledges "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances." This language is essential to a country like India, which believes it will need some time before it can reach peak emissions, given the need to provide 300 million people with electricity. The agreement calls on rich countries to engage in "absolute" reductions in emissions, while calling on developing ones to "continue enhancing their mitigation efforts."
1. TEMPERATURE INCREASE
"Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change."
This agreement adopts a more ambitious target for limiting global warming than in the past by mentioning 1.5 degrees Celsius as part of the concrete goal to stay well below 2 degrees. If that were to be actually achieved, it would likely ward off some of the most severe effects of climate change. For example, although we don't know the exact temperature, there is a trigger point at which the whole Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet will melt. There is a chance that staying below 2 degrees Celsius would avoid that trigger point, and an even better chance if we stay below 1.5 degrees.
But this is just rhetoric. My own research and the only peer-reviewed published assessment of the Paris agreement measured the impact of every nation fulfilling every major carbon-cutting promise in the treaty between now and 2030. I found that the total temperature reduction will be just 0.048°C by 2100.
Even if these promises were extended for another 70 years, all the promises will reduce temperature rise by 0.17°C by 2100. This is very similar to a finding by economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is feeble.
The only global treaty to cut carbon -the Kyoto Protocol - famously failed when it was never ratified by the U.S., and eventually abandoned by Canada, Russia and Japan. Even before that, the treaty had holes in it so big that it was never destined to achieve anything.
By the United Nations' own reckoning, this treaty will only achieve less than 1 per cent of the emission cuts needed to meet target temperatures. Ninety-nine per cent of the problem is left for tomorrow's leaders to deal with.
2. PRESERVATION OF FORESTS
"Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches."
This provision is the most significant recognition given in one of these agreements to the role forests play in offsetting human actions. It is meant as a political signal that countries should enact policies that have been developed over the last decade to save the world's remaining intact forests. Tropical countries would likely be paid with both public and private money if they succeed in reducing or limiting destruction of their forests due to logging, or clearance for food production.
3. BEARING THE COST
"As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties. Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts."
Many developing and smaller countries are disappointed that the agreement does not name a specific number - a goal of at least $100 billion a year in contributions from rich countries is mentioned only in the preamble, which is not legally binding. Developing nations maintain that even that sum would not be enough to help them build up a power system quickly or cheaply enough based on renewable energy sources rather than coal and oil.
Models show that the total cost by 2030 will possibly rise to $2 trillion annually - more than India's total GDP. It is likely to be the most expensive treaty in the history of the world.
"In order to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation, an enhanced transparency framework for action and support, with built-in flexibility which takes into account Parties' different capacities and builds upon collective experience is hereby established."
The issue of transparency was a hard red line for the United States, which argued for a single system through which the carbon reductions of all countries, whether industrialized or developing, could be evaluated. Establishing this system constitutes a success for the United States, and represents a key to establishing trust among all countries.
5. ABSENCE OF "GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS NEUTRALITY"
"In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty."
Advocates say this wording sends a clear message to the fossil-fuel industry that much of the world's remaining reserves of coal, oil and gas must stay in the ground and cannot be burned. But the agreement does not call, as a previous version did, for "reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century," a provision that oil-producing countries fiercely resisted. The current language suggests that at least some fossil fuels can continue to burn, as long as the greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by a larger number of "greenhouse sinks," like new forests.
6. LOSS AND DAMAGE
"Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage."
This is the first time the term "loss and damage" has been included in an international agreement, meeting a demand from smaller, island countries for acknowledgement of their suffering from the effects of climate change. Although the language stops short of mentioning liability - opposed by more heavily polluted industrialized nations - it is still considered a significant step toward recognition of the damage that results from rising global temperatures.
7. FIVE-YEAR CONTRIBUTIONS
"Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP.21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14."
This legally requires countries to come back every five years with new reduction targets for emissions that will be evaluated. Bringing the number down to five-year limits constitutes a tightening of the accord, as some countries, India in particular, had demanded 10-year cycles.
Effect on India
India highlights the need to make a sensible transition. More than almost any other nation, India knows that cheap and plentiful power is crucial. Like China, which over the past 30 years has lifted 680 million people out of poverty, a number greater than any nation has ever managed in the history of the world, India's growth has been mostly powered by cheap, if polluting, coal.
Prime Minister Modi has suggested that he wants 100GW of solar power by 2022 and 60 GW of wind. This is highly ambitious; the International Energy Agency does not expect it to be achieved.
Moreover, the International Energy Agency shows that the electricity cost of both wind and solar will remain higher than the average generation cost in India, even in 2040. That is why solar in 2020 is expected to produce just 7 per cent of electricity in India, and provide just 1 per cent of India's energy.
India has proposed 455 new coal plants. As India sees its energy consumption increase by 150 per cent over the next 25 years, a larger proportion, almost half, will be serviced by coal.
And the fact is that this focus makes sense. Four hundred million people - almost one-third of India's total population - lack reliable access to electricity. Since we know that power is one of the most crucial inputs to get out of poverty, it is crucial for India to focus on getting more power at low costs.
Eventually, that power will have to come from green energy, which will have to become cheaper. If it were truly economically advantageous to quit our fossil fuel addiction right now, we wouldn't need a treaty. Every right-thinking nation on the planet would stampede to cut CO. Instead, we need green innovation.
A new green energy innovation coalition backed by the philanthropist Bill Gates, business leaders, and around 20 governments including India to double global green energy research and development is an excellent global initiative, and is likely to achieve far more than the Paris Treaty.
But the Gates fund is just a start. A panel of Nobel laureates for the project Copenhagen Consensus on Climate found that we shouldn't just double R&D but make a 10-fold increase, to reach at least $100 billion per year.