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The climate agreement expected in Paris this year must also have a global goal on adaptation to climate change effects, not just mitigating global warming, say Indian officials

UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction pegs global economic losses by the end 2100 at $25 trillion, much of it to be borne by developing countries unless strong measures for climate change adaptation, mitigation and disaster risk reduction are taken. (Image by Manipadma Jena)

UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction pegs global economic losses by the end 2100 at $25 trillion, much of it to be borne by developing countries unless strong measures to tackle climate change and reduce disaster risks are taken. (Image by Manipadma Jena)

Forty-eight year-old Sushila Majhi exhales in relief as she places aside the hollow bamboo funnel she has been blowing into the fire, as it flares up in the three-stone firewood cook stove. But then she starts to cough uncontrollably, once again. The windowless one-room thatched hut is already thick with grey smoke. Majhi and her toddler grandson who is around her all day breathe in amounts of smoke equivalent to consuming two packs of cigarettes per day, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) study.

WHO 2014 data finds over four million people – mostly in low and middle income countries and 1.69 million out of them in South and South East Asia alone – die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels like wood, cow dung and biomass Majhi is one of the 800 million Indians still dependent on traditional biomass for cooking, according to The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2014. Globally, there are 2.7 billion people in the same state.

Similarly, of the 1.2 billion people globally without access to electricity, nearly a third or 400 million are in India. For many in India’s rural region who have access, supply is often unreliable and insufficient. India ranks 137 out of 187 countries in UNDP’s Human Development Report 2014.

Keeping these numbers in mind, out of the eight missions under India’s 2008 National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), six are about adaptation to climate change impacts, focusing on water, agriculture and other areas.

“Should there not be a global goal on adaptation, same as there is one on mitigation, based on which the vulnerability of each country can be assessed?” Susheel Kumar, Additional Secretary in India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change asked ministers from a number of counties gathered at the recent Delhi Sustainable Development Summit DSDS convened by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI). “There must be a balance between mitigation and adaptation. There is a tendency on the part of some countries to focus only on mitigation,” he added.

He underscored India’s stand, saying, “There should be harmonious co-existence of climate change agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), assured, sustainable availability of finance for both adaptation and mitigation and clear, quicker and cheaper flow of technology, including renewable energy technology.”

The cost of adapting to climate change in developing countries is likely to reach two to three times the previous estimates of $70-100 billion per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, even if global greenhouse gas emissions are cut to the level required to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius this century, says UN Environment Programme’s Adaptation Gap Report 2014.

“Whether it is achieving the human development index or the sustainable development goals – these which are meant to bridge the development deficit in developing countries, for instance, the right to energy or the right to clean drinking water, there are a large number of basic necessities the country has been striving for and for which we need to deploy our resources,” said Ashok Lavasa, Secretary in the environment ministry.

“The world must deepen its understanding and recognition of where the difficulty for developing countries arises from in formulating ‘a fair and ambitious INDC’, a term used in the Lima agreement,” Lavasa added.

In their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), countries will propose the steps they will take to reduce emissions. They might also address other issues, such as how they will adapt to climate change impacts, and what support they need from – or will provide to – other countries to address climate change. INDCs indicate a country’s seriousness to address climate impacts and are required to be submitted before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Paris this December.

“We (India) are looking at global action, what each country can contribute. Let there be action, but not equal action – this needs to be the core and guiding principle. India and most developing countries are looking for retention and reiteration of the principle of differentiated responsibility. There should be transparency on all pillars – not only on emission, but on finance and technology as well,” Kumar added.

“We see the INDCs not as a tabulation of targets but an instrument of trust. We can make the INDC very comprehensive and those who have apprehensions can do away with them. We can together make the climate action happen harmoniously,” Lavasa said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that in order to limit global temperature increase to 2 degree Celsius – the internationally agreed goal to avert the most severe and widespread implications of climate change – the world cannot emit more than around 1000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from 2014 onwards.

Some of the experts attending DSDS felt India and other developing countries should have first right of use over the remaining carbon dioxide budget in order catch up on economic growth and improve human development indices. Rich countries need to change their high consumption lifestyles for more sustainable ones, they felt.

“The remaining 1,000 gigatonne carbon dioxide budget has to be fought for, and India does not want to compromise its right to the remaining budget, so that they do not have to take difficult decisions,” said one expert, speaking on condition of anonymity. He felt that the 100 GW of solar energy capacity India has decided to setup by 2020 “is a laudable but certainly a daunting target”. If it succeeds, it will save 145 million tones of carbon dioxide emissions.

Although developing countries have collectively surpassed developed countries in current emissions since 2000, their cumulative emissions are still far lower than that of developed countries who account for 74% of emission between 1850 and 2010. According to UNEP’s Emission Gap Report 2014, North America’s per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emission is 20 tonnes per year whereas India has a per capita GHG emission of less than two tonnes per year.

The 2014 World Environment Outlook (WEO) predicts the global budget 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will probably be used up by 2040 in a business as usual scenario.  The International Energy Agency estimates the planet is on the path of a long term average temperature increase by 3.6 degrees Celsius. Investment in renewables needs to quadruple to an average of $1.6 trillion every year through 2040 to meet the two-degree target, it adds.

If business remains as usual, global emissions are projected to climb to 87 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050, a 70% increase from 2010, the Emission Gap Report. In this scenario, average temperature would be four degrees higher and sea level rise slightly less than one metre by the year 2100.

Consistent with India’s huge demand for energy – and much of it may come from its abundant and secure supply of coal – India overtakes the United States as the world’s second- biggest coal consumer before 2020, WEO 2014 says. However, adoption of high-efficiency coal-fired generation technologies and of carbon capture and storage in the longer term may lower current levels of GHG emission from the thermal power sector.

India has pledged in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP growth by 20 to 25% in 2020 compared to 2005 levels, which is equivalent to 3.3 to 4.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions being saved. However, this target does not cover emissions from the agricultural sector, the third highest emission source after power generation and transport.

Regretting that the global community was following an energy intensive mono-culture path of development, Rajendra K Pachauri, Director General of TERI and Chairperson, IPCC told that to follow a sustainable development pathway, “India must assess each project’s impact on environment and its natural resources; ensure that upcoming infrastructure do not damage the ecology. Environmental concerns must necessarily be included in the very project designs and not added on later.”

Pachauri emphasized the urgency for India to stay within the global carbon dioxide emission budget and consider the co-benefits of adopting low carbon pathways of economic growth such as energy cost savings, avoiding economic and security risks associated with fossil fuel imports, but importantly also reducing serious air pollution health problems that wreck the lives of many people like Sushila Majhi.


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