Saturday, July 4, 2009

India's position on climate change

There is a misunderstanding that India is resisting calls by developed countries to take on specific targets for the reduction of its Greenhouse Gas (GHG)* emissions despite the fact that its total GHG emissions are the 3rd largest in volume after the US and China. How can an accord be possible, if India and other “major emitters” refuse to accept responsibility in this regard? India has done in this direction more than it requires to do.

Firstly, Climate Change is taking place not due to current level of GHG emissions, but as a result of the cumulative impact of accumulated GHGs in the planetary atmosphere. Current emissions are, of course, adding to the problem incrementally. Even if current emissions were, by some miracle, reduced to zero tomorrow, Climate Change will continue to take place. The accumulated stock of GHGs in the atmosphere is mainly the result of carbon-based industrial activity in developed countries over the past two centuries and more. It is for this reason that the UNFCCC stipulates deep and significant cuts in the emissions of the industrialized countries as fulfillment of their historic responsibility.

Secondly, the UNFCCC itself does not require developing countries to take on any commitments on reducing their GHG emissions. This was also recognized in the subsequent Kyoto Protocol which only set targets for developed countries, the so-called Annex I** countries. It is inevitable that the pursuit of social and economic development by developing countries will result in an increase in their GHG emissions, for the foreseeable future. This is recognized in the UNFCCC itself. Despite this, India has already declared that even as it pursues its social and economic development objectives, it will not allow its per capita GHG emissions to exceed the average per capita emissions of the developed countries. This effectively puts a cap on our emission, which will be lower if our developed country partners choose to be more ambitious in reducing their own emissions.

Thirdly, India can, by no stretch of imagination, be described as a so-called “major emitter”. Our per capita CO2 emissions are currently only 1.1 tonnes, when compared to over 20 tonnes for the US and in excess of 10 tonnes for most OECD countries. Furthermore, even if we are No. 3 in terms of total volume of emissions, the gap with the first and second-ranking countries is very large. The US and China account for over 16% each of the total global emissions, while India trails with just 4%, despite its very large population and its rapidly growing economy.

Fourthly, for developing countries like India, the focus of Climate change action cannot just be current emissions. There is the equally important issue of Adaptation to Climate Change that has already taken place and will continue to take place in the foreseeable future even in the most favorable Mitigation scenarios. India is already subject to high degree of climate variability resulting in droughts, floods and other extreme weather events which compels India to spend over 2% of its GDP on adaptation and this figure is likely to go up significantly. Therefore, the Copenhagen package must include global action on Adaptation in addition to action to GHG abatement and reduction.


* In order,Earth's most abundant greenhouse gases are water vapor,carbondioxide,methane, nitrous oxide , ozone and CFCs. When these gases are ranked by their contribution to the greenhouse effect, the most important are water vapor, which contributes 36–72%, carbon dioxide, which contributes 9–26% , methane, which contributes 4–9% and ozone, which contributes 3–7% .

**Annex I countries

Annex I countries (industrialized countries): Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America.

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