India dithers as China and the US ratify Paris pact

The battle against climate change received a fillip when China and the US ratified the Paris Climate Agreement this week even as India holds on to its bargaining chip
<p>China and the US have ratified the Paris pact [image by US Embassy, the Hague]</p>

China and the US have ratified the Paris pact [image by US Embassy, the Hague]

As the world’s two worst greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters announced ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement during the recent G20 summit, the third was conspicuous by its silence. The government of India has decided to use ratification of the agreement as a bargaining chip as it attempts to enter the Nuclear Supplies Group (NSG).

Indian officials are justifying the move by saying the country cannot meet its Paris commitments without using nuclear power. It is a debatable contention. But be that as it may, it was clear to observers in India that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not announce ratification of the Paris agreement at a summit hosted by China, the country that stymied India’s recent attempt to enter the NSG.

Now that China and the US have announced ratification, the failure by India to do so is not likely to hold up the Paris Agreement. The agreement enters into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global GHG emissions deposit their instruments of ratification to the United Nations. The US and China account for 38% of global emissions. Twenty-four other countries have ratified already, and it is likely that many more will follow before the next UN climate summit is held in Morocco in November.

Indian climate negotiators know this and are talking informally about possible ratification by the end of October. But they may still have to battle their foreign ministry colleagues who continue to see the ratification as a bargaining chip for NSG membership. At the closed door meetings to draft the G20 summit resolutions, Indian diplomats fought hard to keep the ratification section vague. They will not take kindly to ratification without a quid pro quo, so the whole issue may stay in limbo. The situation is not helped by the fact that Anil Dave, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, is new to the job.

Ratification not enough

UN officials and green NGOs welcomed the announcement by China and the US. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) thanked China and the US “for ratifying this landmark agreement, on which rests the opportunity for a sustainable future for every nation and every person.”

UN Environment Programme head Erik Solheim said the announcement brought “significant additional momentum to keeping global warming under 2 degrees C. And by putting the well-being of our planet at the top of the agenda, the two largest economies in the world are also showing that our economic future is low-carbon and green.”

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, said, “The world finally has a global climate agreement with both the US and China as formal Parties. This signals a new era in global efforts to address climate change. Both countries now need to scale and speed up their efforts in charting a future that avoids the worst impacts of climate change.”

But ratifying the Paris Agreement is one thing; working towards its fulfilment quite another. This is where hardly any big economy comes out clean. Climate Transparency, a consortium of researchers from around the world, has found that GHG emissions of G20 countries are continuing to increase. Between 1990 and 2013, the absolute carbon dioxide emissions of G20 countries, which account for three-fourths of global CO2 emissions, went up by 56%.

Analysing key indicators, including carbon intensity and share of coal in total electricity produced, to assess the performance of G20 countries, the researchers found half of them are “inadequate” as regards actions taken to curb climate change.

India received a “medium” rating with good scores for emissions, share of renewables in total primary energy supply (TPES) and climate policy, but poor scores in carbon intensity, share of coal in TPES and electricity emissions.

Separately, the data journalism group India Spend has just calculated that meeting India’s 2020 coal production target will cost four times the country’s annual defence budget.

Climate Transparency said the worst overall performers among G20 countries were Australia, Argentina, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

“Most of the G20 countries rely heavily on coal in their primary energy supply,” the report notes, pointing out that these countries are planning a large number of new coal-fired power plants. If these plans fructify, it would almost double coal capacity in G20 countries, making it virtually impossible to keep the temperature increase to below 2°C, let alone 1.5˚C.

Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the US have the highest per capita energy-related CO2 emissions. Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan show an increase between 2008 and 2013. Argentina and South Africa have declining per capita emissions, as do Germany, France, Italy and Britain. China’s per capita emissions were found to be above the G20 average.

The coal share of China, India, South Africa and Turkey will remain clearly above the maximum 2˚C benchmark in the time period until 2030, the report notes.

To be in line with a 2°C-compatible trajectory by 2035, G20 countries face an investment gap of almost $340 billion per year in the power sector. At the same time, governments in G20 countries provided, on average, almost $70 billion in subsidies for fossil fuel production between 2013 and 2014, the report points out.

The next battlefields

The next climate battlefields are going to be in the areas of emissions due to aviation and due to the use of refrigerants. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is meeting on this subject yet again this month. The European Union continues to seek a strong market-based mechanism to control aviation emissions. It means all flights will have emission charges added to them, and the longer the flight the higher the charge. Since airlines are not likely to pay this out of their pockets, air travel is slated to get costlier if this decision is adopted.

China and the US have said they plan to be early participants in a voluntary pilot phase if this is the decision taken at the ICAO conference. India has kept relatively quiet, but climate negotiators say in private that the government continues to be opposed to the idea.

See: Flights on emission control radar

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners are powerful greenhouse gases. Earlier generation coolants were phased out under the Montreal Protocol, and now the issue is to amend the Protocol to phase out HFCs.

India wants 2030 as the phase-out year, while the US wants 2020. This is likely to be the big point of contention when signatories to the Protocol meet in Rwanda next month.

See: Hurdles remain for global clampdown on hazardous refrigerants

One reason why climate change has been described as a “wicked problem” is that it impacts so many sectors of the economy. The next few weeks will show the world if a start can be made in tackling at least some of the sectors.