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Updated: August 1, 2011 23:14 IST

Issues of climate mitigation and adaptation

U. Sankar
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SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Edited by Sunjoy Joshi and Marlies Linke; Academic Foundation, 4772-73/23, Bharat Ram Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 795.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Edited by Sunjoy Joshi and Marlies Linke; Academic Foundation, 4772-73/23, Bharat Ram Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 795.

Analyses the differing perspectives of the developed and developing countries on climate mitigation and adaptation

The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) defines sustainable development “as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations.” This definition stresses inter-generational equity. Now, sustainable development is articulated in terms of its three pillars — economic, social, and environmental.

Global warming is caused by an excess of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides. They prevent the sun's energy from radiating back into space after it has reached the surface of the earth, much like the glass of a greenhouse. In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted as the basis for a global response to the problem.

The objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. It endorsed the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of states according to their respective capabilities.

The Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gases by an average of 5 per cent against the 1990 levels over the period 2008-12. The United States did not ratify the Protocol. The fourth assessment report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change says that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and India is vulnerable to the rise in global temperature and sea level.

It was expected that, before the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol, a new international agreement would be reached to limit the temperature increase to below 2{+0}C. Developments during the Copenhagen Conference in 2010 and the Cancun conference in 2011 raise doubts about the possibility of reaching a globally binding equitable solution soon.

Some developed countries, which oppose any type of Kyoto Protocol, demand that developing countries also must undertake nationally appropriate mitigation action plans. The anticipated levels of financial and technical assistance to developing countries have not materialised.

This book, which contains 12 papers presented at a seminar organised by the Observer Research Foundation and the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, examines the progression of two dominant discourses of GDP-led development and growth and the counter discourse on the sustainability of development. The papers cover climate negotiation strategy, climate change mitigation and adaptation, energy, and the perspectives of Brazil, the European Union, and India.

Sanwal, who was involved in climate negotiations, says the context of international cooperation has changed and new questions are being raised about the formulation and enforcement of the rules designed to address the common concern of mankind. In his view, global sustainability requires a new framework that will modify consumption patterns and support technological development and transfer as the most powerful form of international cooperation.

Proposals

Discussing various proposals for generating and transferring resources to the poor countries, Bladh argues that international negotiations on climate change should be focussed on global justice and historical responsibility. Caldecott lays emphasis on the role of forests and peat lands in climate change mitigation and adaptation. He goes on to evaluate the costs and benefits of avoided deforestation.

Gupta, Shankar and Joshi look at India's energy security in the context of the anticipated increase in power generation so as to maintain 8-10 per cent annual GDP growth and the realistic options available for climate mitigation and adaptation. Spangenberg argues that the most effective and cost-efficient use of biomass seems to be carbon sequestration by biological fixation and the second best option for dealing with climate impact is using bio-waste to meet local energy needs.

He concludes that a biofuelled world is fata morgana, a mirage created on the theory that technological development can solve all problems and there is no need for any basic change in economic structures and consumption behaviour.

In his essay, Kumar goes into climate change adaptation issues such as who needs adaptation assistance, what one should adapt to, and how future negotiations should proceed.

Overall, while the book analyses the differing perspectives of the developed and developing countries on issues related to climate mitigation and adaptation, it throws no new light on the ‘growth versus sustainability' debate. Nor do the papers offer any concrete solution to the problem of ensuring high and sustainable growth.

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