Understanding climate change

Understanding climate change

Climate change is a complex problem, which although environmental in nature, has consequences for all spheres of existence on our planet. It either impacts on –or is impacted by –global issues including poverty, economic development, health and safety, food production, security, sustainable development and resource management.

The earth, the air, the land and the water are not inheritance from our fore fathers, but on loan from our children. so we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.”- Mahatma Gandhi

Climate change is a complex problem, which although environmental in nature, has consequences for all spheres of existence on our planet. It either impacts on –or is impacted by –global issues including poverty, economic development, health and safety, food production, security, sustainable development and resource management.

At the very heart of the response to climate change, however, lies the need to reduce emissions. With the second commitment period of Kyoto protocol to be lapsed by 2020, all the countries are putting forward their intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) ,which will form a key input to negotiate at the cop-21 Paris climate change conference.

Brief history of global action against climate change :-
United Nations conference on the human environment (UNCHE) or “Stockholm conference” is the first United Nations conference that focused on international environmental issues.

The conference held in Stockholm, Sweden from june 5 to 16, 1972 reflected a growing interest in conservation issues worldwide, laid the foundation for global environmental governance [The beginning day of UNCHE- 5th june, every year is celebrated as world’s environment day(WES)- which is the united nations principle vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment.

The WED theme for year 2015 is “Seven Billion Dreams, One Planet, Consume with Care”]. The conference was attended by delegations from 114 governments; the final decleration of the Stockholm conference was a statement of the finite nature of earth’s resources and the necessity for humanity to safeguard them.

The meeting agreed upon decleration containing 26 principles conversing the environment and development. It also produced the “framework for Environmental Action”, an action plan containing 109 recommendations related to human settlements, natural –resource management, pollution, educational and social aspects of the environment, development and international organizations.

The Stockholm conference also led to the creation of the United Nations environment programme (UNEP) in December 1972 to coordinate global efforts to promote sustainability and safeguard the natural environment. The then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her seminal speech in the conference brought forward the connection between ecological management and poverty alleviation.

“We do not wish to impoverish the environment any further and yet we cannot for a moment forget the grim poverty of large numbers of people…………. the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty.” –Indira Gandhi said.

Ten years after the 1972 Stockholm conference most of the global environmental challenges had adequately not been addressed. In several ways, these challenges had grown. In 1983, the world commission on environment and development (WCED) convened by the United Nations was created to address growing concern about the consequences of the accelerating of the human environment and the natural resources.

The outcome of the work by WCED was the report called “Our Common Future”. The report is also called Brundtland report in recognition of the chairman of WCED, Gro Harlem Brundtland. The report was published in 1987 and was the first to focus on global sustainability. It addressed governments, Business and above all, people whose welfare should be a key element for environmental and development policies.

The Brundtland commissions report defined sustainable development as the “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The publication of ‘our common future’ laid the ground work to earth summit in 1992.

The United Nations conference on environment and Development(UNCED) or The Earth summit was held in Rio de Janeiro from june 3rd – 14th ,1992. The Earth summit was unprecedented for a UN conference, in terms of both its size and the scope of its concerns.Twenty years after the first global environment conference, the UN sought to help governments rethink economic development and find ways to halt the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and pollution of the planet.

The summit’s message – that nothing less than a transformation of our attitudes and behaviour would bring about the necessary changes- was transmitted by almost 10,000 on-site journalists and heard by millions around the world. The two week summit was the climax of a process, begun in December 1989, of planning, education and negotiations among all member states of the United Nations, leading to the adoption of Agenda 21, a wide ranging blue print for action to achieve sustainable development worldwide.

The Rio deceleration on Environment and Development- a series of principles defining the rights and responsibilities of states: and the statement of forest principles- a set of principles to underlie the sustainable management of forests worldwide were the other two agreements made at Earth summit. In addition two legally binding conventions aimed at preventing global climate change and the eradication of the diversity of biological species was opened for signature at the summit:

i)United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and
ii)The Convention on Biological Diversity.

It was realized in 1987, that climate change indeed is happening, and human activities are to large extent responsible for such change. The backdrop of such realization was Brundtland report. Some strategy needed to be worked out to save our earth that will be adversely affected by climate change.

This led to the formation of forum that guides decision making on issue of climate change. Thus UNEP and WMO in 1988 established the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC). It provides the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

The IPCC is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.

The Kyoto protocol is an international agreement linked to UNFCCC, which commits its parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR)” [CBDR was formalized in international law at the 1992 earth summit]

The Kyoto protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11th December 1997 and entered into force on 16th February 2005. The detailed rules for the implementation of the protocol were adopted at Cop 7, Marakkesh, Morocco in 2005 and are referred to as the “Marakkesh Accords”. Its first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012.

During the first commitment period,37 industrialized countries and European community committed to reduce GHG emissions to an average of 5% against 1990 levels.

In Doha, Qatar, on 8th December 2012, the “Doha amendment to the kyoto protocol” was adopted to extend the protocol from 1st jan 2013 to 1st Dec 2020 called second commitment period.

During the second commitment period, parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18 % below 1990 levels in the eight year period from 2013 to 2020; however, the composition of parties in the second commitment period is different from the first.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) :
The UN climate change conference in Durban was a turning point in the climate change negotiations. In Durban, governments clearly recognized the need to draw up the blue print for a fresh universal, legal agreement to deal with climate change beyond 2020, where all will play their part to the best of their ability and all will be able to reap the benefits of success together.

The adhoc working group on the Durban platform for enhanced action (ADP) is subsidiary body that was established in Durban summit in December 2011.The mandate of ADP is to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties, which is to be completed no later than 2015 in order for it to be adopted at the twenty first session of conference of parties (CoP) and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.

The concept of country offers (INDC) and the invitation to countries to submit offers was first formally established by UNFCCC, at CoP 19 in Warsaw, 2013. In Warsaw decision,parties who were “Ready to do so” were invited to develop and submit an “Intended nationally determined contribution”. The vague wording left countries at odds over what INDCs should include.

In Cop 20 in Lima, 2014.Countries agreed that INDCs must include information on emissions reductions. It also invited countries to consider including an adaptation component in their submission .it is also agreed that the least developed countries and small island developing states may communicate information on strategies, plans and actions for low greenhouse gas emissions development reflecting their special circumstances in the context of INDCs.The party should also explain how the INDC is fair and ambitious.

India submitted its INDC on October 2nd, 2015 which coincides with birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi- an ardent environmentalist himself.

“India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution is balanced and comprehensive” says Union minister of Environmental, Forest and Climate change, Shri Prakash javadekar. India submits INDC for the period 2021 to 2030. The INDC include among others:

1)To reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 levels.
2)To achieve about 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030
3)To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tones of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
4)To better adapt to climate change by enhancing investments in development programs in sectors vulnerable to climate change, particularly agriculture, water resources, Himalayan region, coastal regions, health and disaster management.

India’s contribution takes into account its commitment to conservation of nature as well as imperatives of meeting the competing demand of resources for addressing diverse challenges ranging from poverty, food security, health to employment and urbanization. India aims to achieve the goal of sustainable development for its 1.2 billion people .We represent a culture that calls our planet Mother earth. As our ancient text says; “Keep pure! For the earth is our mother! And we are her children!”.

India accounts for 2.4% of the world surface area, but supports around 17.5% of the world population. The average annual energy consumption in India in 2011 was only 0.6 tons of oil equivalent (toe) per capita as compared to global average of 1.88 toe per capita per ton.

No country in the world has been able to achieve a Human Development Index of 0.9 or more without an annual energy availability of at least 4 toe per capita. With a HDI of 0.586 India has a lot to do to provide a dignified life to its population and meet their rightful aspirations.

The genuine requirements of developing countries like India for an equitable carbon and development space to achieve sustainable development and eradication of poverty needs to be safeguarded. We should speak of ‘climate justice’-which demonstrates our sensitivity and resolve to secure the future the poor from the perils of natural disasters.

India voluntarily declared a goal of reducing the emission intensity of its GDP by 20-25% over 2005 levels by 2020, despite having no binding mitigation obligations at Copenhagen. With a number of policy measures, the emission intensity of our GDP has decreased by 12% between 2005 and 2010. The UNEP in its emission gap report (2014) recognized India as one of the the countries on course to achieving its voluntary goal. In this background our target to reduce emission intensity of its GDP by to 5% by 2030 seems achievable.

India is running one of the largest renewable capacity expansion programs in the world.Between 2002 and 2015, the share of renewable grid capacity has increased over 6 times from 2%( 3.9GW) to around 13% (36GW). Under Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, which is a part of National Action Plan on Climate Change,the target of 20GW has been scaled up to 100gw by 2022.

India targets to achieve 175 GW of installed capacity renewable energy(Solar and Wind) .For India to achieve 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030,she needs the transfer of technology and low cost internationally financing.

The INDC,to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover seen in light of our achievement in realizing long term goal to bring 33% of geographical area under forest cover seems challenging. As per the India State of Forest report 2013, total forest and tree cover is 24% of total geographical area of the country.

The carbon stock in India’s forests improved by about 5% from 6621.5 million tons in 2005 to 6941 million tons in 2013. Initiatives in this direction include Green India Mission- which aims to increase the forest/tree cover to the extent of 5 million hectares area (mha) and improve quality of forest/tree cover on another 5 mha.

The recent Fourteenth Finance Commission’s recommendation to accord a 7.5% weightage to area under forest cover in transfer of funds to states would be a massive boost to afforestation .In order to achieve our goal it is imperative to fully implement Green India Mission and other programs of afforestation.

A preliminary estimate suggests that at least USD 2.5 trillion ( at 2014-15 prices) will be required for meeting India’s climate change actions between now and 2030. India emphasises on equity, Common But Differentiated Responsibility and climate justice.We must promote sustainable production processes and also sustainable lifestyles across the globe.Habbit and attitude are as much a part of the solution as technology and finance.

“Unto Heaven be Peace, Unto the sky and the Earth be Peace, Peace be unto the Water, Unto the Herbs and Trees be Peace.” -Yajur veda.

By:Balalatha Mallavarapu

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