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Indian government distances itself from Chinese climate position following pledge to peak emissions in 2030

The China-US deal will take the world towards 3C, says Sunita Narain (Image by Bret Arnett)

The China-US deal will take the world towards 3C, says Sunita Narain (Image by Bret Arnett)

India will not be able to follow China into a firm commitment on peaking emissions, a senior Indian negotiator has said in the wake of a major Sino-US announcement on climate change today.

At the close of the Asia-Pacific Economic (APEC) summit in Beijing, China pledged to peak emissions around 2030 and to increase non-fossil fuel energy to around 20% by the same year. The statement was coordinated with the US announcement that it would cut emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Reacting to the Chinese government announcement, Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, said: “Now it will not be rhetoric as usual at Lima. We are going to talk about not only per-capita emission, but also per-capita consumption.” The Peruvian capital Lima is scheduled to host the next global climate summit from December 1.

Javadekar was referring to the concept that developed countries are responsible not only for their own emissions, but also the emissions in developing countries for goods that are used in rich nations. With this statement, India has clearly distanced itself from the Chinese position. China and India have previously coordinated their positions in global climate negotiations.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Indian negotiator said: “We cannot make the same commitment, or even a similar one. India and China are not in the same stage of economic development. If developed countries are willing to listen to us in the matter of providing finance and free-of-copyright technology transfer to help us transition to a greener economy, we may be able to peak sometime in the 2030s, perhaps by 2040.”

New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) was critical of the US-China deal. Sunita Narain, CSE Director General, said it was “neither historic nor ambitious, but just a self-serving agreement between the world’s two biggest polluters. The deal will actually take the world towards a catastrophic beyond 3OC temperature increase pathway.”

She said that, according to these targets, US and Chinese per-capita emissions would converge at around 12 tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent in 2030, a level of emissions “not in line with meeting the 2C temperature target mandated by the IPCC.”

Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of CSE and the head of its climate change team, said, “If India were to follow the principles of this deal, then we need not do anything till 2040 and beyond. Our per capita emissions in 2030 will be less than 4 tonne CO2e compared to 12 tonne of the US and China.”

Narain said, “India should now work harder with developing countries and push for an ambitious global deal which is equitable and saves the world from catastrophic climate impacts. India should push for a principal-based emissions reduction target for all countries. This is the only way we can force the US and China to reduce their emissions which are in line with the planetary limits.”

Others, however, found some cause for optimism in today’s announcement. Navroz Dubash of the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research and a lead author of IPCC Working Group III, said: “This is smart politics by the G2. The US target and the Chinese peaking year will certainly require some effort, but are probably not stretch targets. And it allows both countries to claim leadership in breathing life into climate talks.

“The reason for hope is that this move really infuses energy into the only global process we have. The reason for scepticism is that this is well short of what is needed from the two biggest polluters to limit warming to 2 degrees. The only way to square this circle is to create conditions to deliver more emission restrictions than countries actually promise and push for tighter limits.

“Smart politics for India requires us to support this process, to be in the negotiating room, and help create conditions for over-compliance and for tighter limits. To do this, we need to put our weight forcefully behind our national actions and develop our own contribution to place on the table.”

Both Chinese and US governments flagged the joint statement as a major step forward. But only last week, climate scientist Kevin Anderson had said that China needed to peak emissions by the mid-2020s to give the world a “reasonable” chance of staying within two degrees Celsius of warming and avoiding dangerous climate change. The US meanwhile must have “eliminated fossil fuel use from their energy system early in the 2030s”, he said.

Guan Dabo, professor in climate change and international development, University of East Anglia in UK, said, “The joint commitments to curb carbon emissions by China and the US are a good start for a possible global deal in Paris next year. The most important and positive part is that such a pledge renews the hope for a global climate change mitigation agreement in the post-Kyoto era. The US has chosen to be back where it stood in 1997. Since America’s annual carbon emissions have kept almost constant (with a slight decrease during the recession) at 6,000 million tonnes per year over the last decade, a 26-28% of reduction by 2025 is easy to achieve in the next 10 years. It sets an example for other developed countries, namely Japan, Australia and Canada, who have not shown themselves motivated to cut emissions in recent years.”

“But it is not ambitious enough. I would welcome a stronger commitment in Paris. Such efforts from the developed world will help, but will not be sufficient to meet the 2 degree target. And without substantial emission reduction in the global south, a 2 degree target will be hopeless. China plans to peak at 2030 and extend its zero emission energy sources targets from 15% in 2020 to 20% in 2030. This can only be a part of its overall commitment for curbing CO2 emissions. Chinese emissions will be about three times the US level in 2030. China’s efforts will therefore determine the outcome of global climate-change mitigation. I also hope to see a more ambitious plan announced by China in Paris. Indeed, China can afford to set a cap for emissions, at least in wealthy cities like Beijing and Shanghai and coastal provinces. China has undergone an experiment in emission trading in seven provinces, which can pave the pathway for a national emission cap in the near future.”

“An emission peak in China is not the end of climate change mitigation, but only the start. The most important and challenging task will be working out how to prevent further emission leakages from China to other global south countries. Our planet cannot afford to have another emission giant, such as India, Latin American or Africa, and to wait another 20-30 years for it to peak. Equal and fair access to green technologies, global emission control policies and economic mechanisms as well as sustainable consumption will be crucial.”

Joanna Lewis, associate professor, Georgetown University, US, said, “The joint climate announcement by the US and China could mark a turning point in bilateral relations, and is certainly a sign that climate has become the cornerstone issue of US-China cooperation. China’s announcement that its emissions will peak by 2030 or earlier is on the earlier side of when recent modelling studies out of both the US and China have demonstrated that an emissions peak could occur. If you review recent studies by Chinese and US researchers, their baseline scenarios put a CO2 peak year in the 2035-2040 timeframe, and their most ambitious scenarios in the 2025-2030 timeframe. Therefore the announcement of a peak year of 2030 or earlier would fall into the ambitious range.”

Li Shuo, climate campaigner for Greenpeace China, said, “From a political and diplomatic perspective, this is very important and positive signal from two major leaders in the world. They are doing this ahead of the UN timetable and it’s always good to have big emitters providing clarity on their emissions. For us, this is really game-changing. What they put on paper today, I have the confidence they will deliver, not only because we see on the same paper the names of Obama and Xi Jinping but also because on the China side we already have coal consumption going down in absolute terms. That really inspires confidence – if that’s already happening in 2014, how much more might we hope for? But these targets should be the floor rather than the ceiling of ambition. We would call for China to peak much earlier than 2030.”

Sam Geall, research fellow at University of Sussex and chinadialogue’s executive editor, said, “Today’s US-China joint announcement on climate will not only attract praise for its ambition, but also some recurring questions – not least about China’s record of transparency on its emissions. Recognising this, it’s a discouraging signal that during the APEC Summit in Beijing, the US Embassy’s air quality readings in the capital have been censored. Data quality has long been a controversial issue in China, where researchers recently calculated that air pollution caused 670,000 deaths in 2012.”

“China has shown admirable commitment to low-carbon development in its national plans, targets and policies, but an official culture of secrecy remains one of the major domestic constraints on its capacity to enforce and implement such regulations at a local level. Thanks to sustained pressure from concerned residents, China has seen encouraging breakthroughs in the realtime disclosure of environmental information, it would be a shame if China were to pollute this legacy with a needlessly censorious response to citizens’ demands for accurate information about the environment.”

Andrew Steer, president, World Resources Institute, said, “The US and China should be commended for putting their initial pledges on the table so early. This should inject a jolt of momentum in the lead up to a global climate agreement in Paris.”

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