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India's options after US-China climate pledge
  • India's options after US-China climate pledge

Copyright: Flickr/UNFCCC

Speed read

  • India cannot be asked to match China’s climate commitments on several counts

  • Equity calls for cumulative assessment as well as considerations of poverty

  • COP 21 must give emission space for all countries to build capabilities that allow climate action

The US-China announcement and the EU commitment on carbon emissions make equity impossible, say Manish K. Shrivastava and Atul Kumar.

The recent joint announcement by the US and China on their climate commitments appears to have given licence to commentators and media in the West to believe that it is only fair to ask India to fall in line and announce a similar commitment as China. This licence, apparently, does not require application of reason. A fair assessment would show that if the commitments made by the US and China along with that of EU are taken together the emission space left for all other countries is so small that they may even need to go for negative emissions. According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, to achieve the two degree target, total global emissions of CO2 during 2011—2050 should not exceed 550—1,030 billion tonnes. The US, EU and China may collectively consume 66—124 per cent of this carbon budget till 2050. How could this be fair? Equity is simply not possible if the US-China announcement and the EU commitment remain in their current spirit and intensity.

At this point, there are two major equity questions before India. First, what should India do in the light of the joint US-China announcement? India has always stood with fellow developing countries in their faith and defence of the principles of the UNFCCC, particularly on the principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability. India is far behind China not only in terms of capability but also in terms of historical, current as well as per capita emissions.  Hence, the equity considerations would suggest that India’s announcement should also be comparably behind China. Hence, answer to the first question is that India should not announce a peaking year as China has. The Indian minister of environment and forest & climate change has rightly asserted so in the bilateral meeting with the US climate envoy Todd Stern on the sidelines of COP20, which is currently underway in Lima.

What should India do?

India must persuade the US, EU and China to reconsider their pledges so that India and other fellow developing and least developed countries have enough emission space left till at least 2050. Building capabilities call for active support from developed countries. India’s announcement, therefore, should be such that it builds capabilities to accept increasingly ambitious climate actions in near future.

The second question is: what type of equitable agreement should India advocate in Paris? The answer is simple. India should argue for an agreement that complies with UNFCCC principles and ensure enough emission space for all countries to allow them to build their capabilities to take increasingly ambitious climate actions.

There are two options available for equitable allocation of emissions space. First, historical emissions are allocated on an equal per capita per year basis and historical responsibilities are settled through financial transfers. Subsequently, the remaining budget too is allocated on an equal per capita per year basis. Historical responsibility is calculated as difference between carbon budget for a historical period determined on an equal per capita per year basis and actual emissions during the same period. Those who have emitted more than their budget compensate those who have underutilised their budget.

Developed countries have always been reluctant to engage with their historical responsibility which is more than 70 per cent even if the historical responsibility is calculated over the period 1970-2010. Recently, their emphasis has been on apparent increased capacities of major emerging economies like China and India. Their capacities have no doubt increased over last decade, but how do we account for it in deciding upon equal burden sharing?

Assuming that developed countries would not agree to the first allocation option, we propose an alternative option of using three allocation criteria: equal per capita per year, respective capability measured as share in cumulative GDP over a historical period, and share of number of people living below global poverty line to total number of people living below poverty line worldwide. Justification to these criteria is as follows:
Equal per capita per year is at par with inter- and intra-generational equity. Capabilities are built over time, hence should be measured in cumulative terms rather than current levels of GDP. Implicitly, due to the relationship between emissions and GDP, share of cumulative GDP also ensures that historical responsibility of all countries is accounted for in calculation. Overriding priority to poverty eradication is an established principle of the UNFCCC and it is most reasonable to consider that the primary claim over remaining global emission space lies with global poor.

The two options

Under the first option, even if historical responsibility is considered from 1990—2010, India would be entitled to receive more than US$ one trillion as financial transfers at the price of US$ 10 per tonne of CO2. For the period 2011—2050 India will have a carbon budget of 99—185 billion tonnes of CO2. According to estimates arrived at by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi, these financial and CO2 emission entitlements are substantially lower than what India needs to meet its developmental priorities in an emission efficient manner. However, if such allocation criteria are agreed upon in Paris, asking India to fall in line along with other countries would be reasonable.

Under the second option, assuming that one-third of the global poor live in India and respective capabilities are calculated over 1990—2010 in terms of share in cumulative GDP in PPP terms at 2005 prices (US$), India’s carbon budget would be in the range of 265—497 billion tonne CO2 for 2011—2050.  This certainly is a better option from India’s perspective. The message is clear: the commentators, media and the negotiators in the West have not been true to reason when it comes to India.

Of course, there are other options as well as opportunities. After COP20, the first major international platform will be the TERI’s flagship event, the ‘Delhi Sustainable Development Summit’ 5—7 February 2015. The summit, with its theme ‘Sustainable Development Goals and Dealing with Climate Change’ offers a less contested environment for collective reasoning.

Manish K. Shrivastava and Atul Kumar are fellows at The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, India.

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