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COP26 pledges can help cap global warming at 1.8 degrees Celsius at best – Livemint

NEW DELHI: All the pledges to cut carbon emissions at the two-week long Glasgow climate change summit, also known as Conference of Parties (COP) 26, that ended on 14 November, will only help cap global warming at 1.8 degrees Celsius, says Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of the New Delhi-based think tank, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). 

He indicated that developed countries putting a date to by when they could give $100 billion for mitigation and adaptation would have been one of the ways of winning the confidence of developing countries. 

Edited excerpts from an interview:

1. What did COP 26 achieve?

We have signalled that we can achieve it based on some of the announcements that were made although the actual formal submission of all of that will only happen in 2022 – the upgraded NDCs (nationally determined contributions). As long as the countries do come forward with what they have announced as formal NDCs and then it is ratcheted up, the best case scenario brings us to 1.8 degrees (capping global warming at 1.8 degrees) which is not 1.5 degrees Celsius but it is certainly better than 2.7 degrees Celsius where we were a week before COP (Conference of Parties climate) meeting began.

2. Could developed and developing countries have done more to reach an accord?

Yes, certainly the divides can be narrowed otherwise why enter a negotiation? I believe that countries have underestimated the trust deficit that exists because of the lack of fulfillment of past pledges. And this is not at all to suggest that we all don’t have a responsibility going into the future. But the reason why we have a limited carbon budget, the reason why we are facing a climate crisis already is because not just a century and a century and a half of or two centuries of burning fossil fuel but 30 years since we negotiated the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) there has been a failure to meet commitments. 

Since 2008, when the Kyoto commitment period began, until 2020, developed countries as a whole emitted 25 billion tonnes extra of carbon dioxide than they had themselves committed or were permitted under various provisions of the negotiated treaties. Even now, the net zero commitments from the US, China and the EU (European Union) end up in a situation where they consume 90% of the remaining global carbon space that would keep us to 1.5 degrees. 

Could there have been a way to bridge the gap between the developed and developing countries?  Yes, if developed countries plus China had come forward and proposed more aggressive plans of getting to net zero it would have demonstrated their sense of responsibility that they have to open up carbon space for other countries. The second thing that could have bridged the divide a little bit is the actual delivery of $ 100 billion dollars (annually for mitigation and adaptation.) Instead what we saw a week before COP was a proposal to deliver that by 2023. If you look at the final text, even that is not mentioned. 

So, it is a non COP decision that 2023 might be the year when $100 billion will come up to, what COP says, 2025. What comes after that again there is no decision. The third way would have been to say we have delayed in providing $100 billion, in return we now commit to a bigger number. That has not been decided. All that has happened is that another dialogue has opened up which will determine by 2027 what will be the long term climate finance ambition. 

The fourth thing that could have bridged the divide was real money on loss and damage. Loss and damage has been discussed since 2007. Indeed in COP 26, it came to the fore and there was a lot of discussion. But that discussion has led to more discussion. A formal dialogue or the Glasgow dialogue has been established which will look into how to find the resources to pay for loss and damage. So in each of these you can see there is the gap between the cup and the lip – of commitments but not of delivery. Whether about the past or about the future. I think in Glasgow we have seen what are the elements that get us to a proper deal. Earlier it used to be primarily mitigation focused. What Glasgow has managed to do is brought adaptation, brought loss and damage, brought ambition, all to the fore. So we know what the brickwork should look like, the bricks are hollow.

4. The NDCs are not legally binding. So how can one be sure that the commitments made at Glasgow will be fulfilled?

That is the fundamental problem with the climate regime, that it has very weak accountability mechanisms. And there is no real opprobrium or punishment or compensation that you have to provide for not meeting your commitments. However, one progress that the COP has made is the finalisation of the Paris rulebook. Part of that is the enhanced transparency framework. So now countries have to provide the information in common formats. Providing information in common format allows you to compare, allows you to do more periodic reporting. But I call it de minimus transparency. Without transparency there cannot be any accountability. 

At the same time you need to have accountability over transparency as well. What can you do if a country chooses not to submit information? So you need to hold them accountable, there has to be peer review systems. On top of that we will need other ways to hold countries accountable on their NDCs. That includes in some cases their national parliaments, if there is climate change law. That includes boardrooms of companies. That includes what shareholders demand. That’s includes what courts say in various jurisdictions. And of course pressure from people at large and civil society. But we have to keep looking for alternate ways to keep the pressure on and ensure accountability in the absence of a robust accountability mechanism.

4. What are the takeways for India? One is that the final document said “phase down” of coal instead of “phase out” of coal as fuel.

I think the most important takeaway is that we put a 2070 net zero target. And its very important that day 13 of the negotiations do not overshadow day one of the negotiations. India changed the game for itself and negotiations by putting out a net zero target. It’s the most bold statement in climate negotiations that India has ever made and it’s a statement of economic transformation not merely of an energy transition. On top of that India has put forward very clear near term targets which are not always matched by other countries that have targets for 2035, 2040. We have put targets for 2030 well above what our original NDCs were which includes absolute emissions reductions of a 1 billion tonnes. 

Here, I would urge your readers to understand that India is sending a political signal that while we will stick with matters of climate justice, that is why the 2070 target, India is also sending a signal that the metrics of comparison now will be similar. Earlier we used to talk only talk about per capita emissions. Now we are saying that in absolute terms we will reduce emissions. In that it is important to understand that the developed world managed to reduce emissions by 3.7% over 30 years. And India is committing to reducing emissions by 3% in just one decade.

5. What will the near term and long term goals be for India to reach these targets that we have committed to?

We should have a climate change law which make sure that all these commitments are embedded in a legislative basis. On top if that, we must have institutional reform ie a climate change commission  because obviously not all action will come from the Centre. The states have to act and there has to be coordination between the Centre and the states so that this path towards net zero is done in coordination. So a climate change commission that draws its authority from statute will give that sense of confidence that not only do we have the commitments enshrined in law but we have an institutional mechanism that can monitor periodically how the country as a whole is making progress. Second is that there have to be some regulatory reforms particularly in the power sector. We will need reforms in the power markets. The third thing we have to do in the immediate term is to start thinking about a carbon pricing system in the country. Evidence shows that even small doses of carbon pricing can be ratcheted up because what small or big business and consumers will want is a price signal that allows you to see where investment will go. As long as there is confusion in the economy as a whole as to who will really pay for this, that requires clarity and we need to start thinking about this fairly quickly.

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