NEW DELHI: India will have a crucial role to play in the years ahead regarding climate change as countries gather in Poland for the annual UN climate conference.
India will likely achieve key goals that were set at the Paris Climate Accord 10 years before the intended deadline; this, according to an estimate by the US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). India’s 2nd Biennial update report is due at the conference.
The historic agreement that was signed at Paris in 2015 cannot be negotiated said Environment, Forests and Climate Change Secretary C.K. Mishra, “India won’t create obstacles…however, we want that the Conference of Parties-24 (discussions) be balanced, inclusive and consistent with the Paris Agreement”. This was echoed by Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan who said in part, “We will achieve all our targets ahead of our schedule. There is no question about that. We are doing much more than we were expected to do”. The United States under President Trump announced its withdrawal from the historic agreement last year and reiterated this stance at the recent G20 summit.
India and China, two of the fastest growing economies in the world have committed to making sure that emissions do not cross a certain threshold. However, both countries have argued that all countries cannot be held to the same standards. The Indian Express editorial points out the importance of the 24th Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – “If the two-week long CoP accomplishes all that is on its table, it will have put together guidelines to operationalise the Paris Climate Change Agreement”.
The way in which this will happen is through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). However, there still isn’t an agreement within the UNFCCC on whether there should be different data points to track NDC’s; something that India and China have argued for. Part of the Paris agreement was an ambition cycle which includes provisions where countries will provide contributions every five years and information that accompanies it should be comprehensible and transparent.
China, in the past 5 years or so has been relatively aggressive in tackling air pollution, particularly in its major cities. Some of the steps China has taken are – requiring thousands of coal plants to upload data on emissions and data collection through Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems. Kaushik Basu, professor of Economics, Cornell University and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in a column for Livemint gives a broader view of China’s efforts – “At the national level, China’s government has been doing impressive work to improve its pollution data in order to guide its environmental strategy, which includes, among other things, the world’s largest carbon-pricing system, covering seven provinces”.
A week before the Poland conference, a Lancet Countdown 2018 on Health and Climate Change report published outlined how India would be the worst hit by climate change and global warming, particularly heat stress. “What we saw in the data shared is that the number, duration and intensity of heat waves has been increasing in India, particularly in the last decade” according to Dr Poornima Prabhakaran, associate professor and deputy director of the Centre for Environmental Health at PHFI, who co-authored the report.
Scientists and reports are clear on the message – climate change will only get worse. India will be one of the worst affected and being the second most populous country in the world, it needs to ramp up efforts to tackle it. One step the government is taking is the National Clean Air Action Plan (NCAP) which is being finalised. The air quality targets set by this aren’t necessarily legally binding on states though. For the Indian government to tackle climate change, bi-partisan efforts and coordination with states is a must. Climate communication is essential for all parties to be on the same page.