The Big Climate Meet At the UN And Where India Stands On It

Published: September 23, 2019 14:20 IST

The Climate Strike on Friday, September 20 by school children and many others was the biggest climate protest ever, with over four million participating. The focus shifts Monday onwards to governments and top organisations and what they say and promise in New York. There is already much attention, along with a few others, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India, which is not only one of the most polluting large nations but also one of the most vulnerable. 

The youth are demanding climate justice, which essentially means that those in charge start taking immediate action to cut emissions. As the new icon and force of nature Greta Thunberg says, leaders should act like their house is on fire, because it is. The UN Secretary General has managed to get global leaders to attend a Climate Action Summit.

Here is a ready reckoner to navigate just what is happening. 

What's the big fuss right now?

The race is to limit global warming to 1.5ºC over pre-industrial times, which is about 150 years ago. At the current rate of emissions that's a losing battle, and the effect on humans and thousands of other species will be devastating. In fact, climate change is already affecting millions.

Didn't many nations promise at that famous Paris Agreement in 2015 to target the 1.5ºC goal and not exceed it? 

Correct. What's changed is the urgency. Nations, including the US, China and India, three top polluters, need to rapidly step up the pace of emission cuts. The promises made at Paris aren't enough as they are likely to lead to a rise of at least 3ºC, the UN estimates. The effects will be exponentially worse.

What does the UN chief want?

He has four demands of world leaders and CEOs

1) No new coal - No new funding or construction of coal facilities from 2020

2) No fossil fuel subsidies - Stop spending trillions of dollars per year on fossil fuel subsidies

3) Make polluters pay - Tax polluters, cut taxes for people

4) Net zero by 2050 - Commit to carbon neutrality, i.e. net zero emissions by 2050 

India has all but ruled out the UN chief's demand for 'net zero emissions' saying "it cannot be a goal for developing countries as the technologies have not progressed and aren't all available yet for these countries." India has also made it clear coal will remain the main source of electricity for the next few decades at least, even though fewer new coal plants are being cleared.

What's the difference between the effects of a 1.5ºC rise in global warming and 3º? What's the worst that could happen to India? 

Top agencies like the IPCC and NASA have studied this extensively. 

Worse and more frequent heatwaves: At 2 degrees Celsius warming, the deadly heatwaves India and Pakistan saw in 2015 may occur annually.

Forget 3º, a 2ºC rise will expose over 400 million to extreme heatwaves. 

In mid-latitudes (where Delhi lies, along with much of China, Europe and US), temperatures on 'extreme hot days' could be about 3º higher, according to the world's top climate change body

Water scarcity: Upto 270 more people could be exposed to water scarcity in 2050 at 2ºC warming. About 61 million more people in Earth's urban areas would be exposed to severe drought.

Worse tropical cyclones: More heavy rainfall is projected from tropical cyclones. The unusual cyclone, Fani, which hit India in April, 2019 is already being linked to climate change. 

Fires, extreme weather, invasive species: The report finds risks from forest fires, extreme weather events and invasive species are higher at 2 degrees warming than at 1.5 degrees warming.

Rising sea levels: The risks are projected to be highest in South and Southeast Asia. If warming reaches a 2 degree-increase, more than 70% of Earth's coastlines will see sea-levels rise by more than 0.66 feet (0.2 meters), resulting in increased coastal flooding, beach erosion, salinization of water supplies and other impacts on humans and ecological systems, according to a Nasa report.

What is India's stand on climate change?

At Paris, India's promises and proactive policies, for example to ramp up renewable energy, were admirable. But can it promise more emission cuts? A Finance Ministry paper ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit argues:

1) Electricity is needed to pull millions more out of poverty

2) 53% of India's population did not have access to clean cooking in 2017 

3) India's promises at Paris were on a "best effort" basis, keeping in mind the developmental imperatives of the country.

4) India needs to balance sustainable development and poverty eradication. 

5) India needs "unencumbered" access to clean tech, and finance from the developed nations. 

6) Simply put, to do more than what India promised in 2015 and is delivering, rich, developed nations have to step up and help. 

So India wants more money and free or cheap, clean tech - is that really reasonable? 

Actually, India has a strong moral argument. It's essentially this - "poverty eradication is the overriding priority for India". And much of the global emissions have been caused by rich nations that started developing over a century ago. America's CO2 emissions per person is 15 tonnes, about 8.9 tonnes in Germany, 6.4 in China (but which has grown rapidly in recent decades) and India is in stark comparison at 1.7 tonnes in India. But why there's so much attention on India is because it's the third biggest polluter - the total US emissions were 5.3 gigatonnes, China's were 9.8, and India about 2.5 in 2017, according to The Economist. 

Does the US back India over climate change policies?

America has over the years put pressure on India to do more to cut emissions. Already defensive and belligerent on climate change, President Donald Trump isn't likely to change that approach and 'snubbed' the UN Climate Action Summit by choosing to attend another UN meeting. In fact on trade he has attacked India and China saying they are 'no longer developing nations'. Extend that argument to climate change and it challenges India's entire premise for more finance and affordable clean tech, which is based on developed nations like the US and EU helping developing nations like India. 

Whatever happened to that $100 billion a year UN Green Climate Fund that started in 2010?

This was pledged by developed countries to help developing countries like India mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt.

It has all but flopped.

By now there should have been over $800 billion in the kitty, but there's just $10.3 billion as of last July. India received "only" $177 million.

The Indian government estimates the country alone needs $206 billion a year till 2030 for climate change adaptation programmes.


The colour scale represents the change in global temperatures covering 1.35°C

India's point is that it is delivering on its promises, from renewable energy to the Ujjwala cooking gas scheme, to tackle lethal air pollution. In 2009, in Copenhagen, India had promised to reduce its emission intensity of GDP, by the year 2020, by 20 to 25% from 2005 levels. This is already down 21% and India "is on track" on delivering on this promise.

But the bottomline is money, India argues. It can't do much more than it's already promised four years ago. It wants the same urgency being shown now, for action on climate change needs to be shown in "scope, scale and speed of climate finance", without which ambitious goals against global warming cannot be met. 

Unfortunately, global warming won't pause for geo-political and financial negotiations. Neither will the suffering of hundreds of millions already feeling the effects of the changing climate.

(Chetan Bhattacharji is Managing Editor at NDTV)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Get Breaking news, live coverage, and Latest News from India and around the world on Catch all the Live TV action on NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for latest news and live news updates.

NDTV Beeps - your daily newsletter

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................