OPINION

G8 falls short on climate

The goal of the G8 countries outlined at the Hokkaido Toyako summit to reduce by half greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is a woefully inadequate response to a grave environmental crisis. The scientific community has been hoping to see strong action on emissions over the next two decades and its consensus is stated unequivocally in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The data show that the time for pious statements is long past. To avoid tipping points that could produce sudden shifts in climate, the world now expects the major emitters to engage in concrete action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and to fund mitigation and adaptation actions in vulnerable countries. Newly emerging economies including India are responsible for a significant level of current greenhouse gas emissions, but the primary responsibility for carbon dioxide already in the air, which is warming the earth, belongs to the legacy polluters. National carbon emissions travel around the globe in a matter of days, and, as the Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow has pointed out, create an externality that is truly global in scale. If the G8 countries, led by the United States, are indeed serious about mitigating climate change, they must deliver on their promises between now and 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol ends. They need to work with utmost urgency to cut their own emissions from a meaningful baseline.

India is a member of the group of major economies and its emissions, although low per capita, are now globally scrutinised. By credible estimates, the country exceeded absolute annual emissions of Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 2007. Among the top eight emitting nations, it had a significantly high coal fraction in total carbon dioxide. Moreover, automotive emissions are growing steadily. Given the vulnerability of millions of livelihoods, particularly of the poor, to climate change, it would be extremely short-sighted of India to counterpose development and action on reducing GHG emissions. Now that it is part of the Hokkaido Toyako declaration on energy security and climate change, business as usual is not an option and energy intensity of the economy has to be reduced. It is time to kick-start the national action plan on climate change and set quantitative targets for sectors, such as coal-based power plants, that need to be cleaned up. With aid available from the G8 under the UN Nairobi Work Programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, a strong governance structure for adaptation can be set up. But the first priority must be to assess the national and sector-specific options to reduce emissions, and to achieve sustainable growth before the successor to the Kyoto Protocol takes over.

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