Lip-Service? Tongue-in-Cheek? Trust-Gap? All in One

Lip-Service? Tongue-in-Cheek? Trust-Gap? All in One

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India under the leadership of PM Modi and China under President Xi , gave up their long practiced hard negotiating stand for the benefit of the world community.Where as President Obama lost many opportunities to evoke actions on climate change. After leaving the office, surprisingly, he has not been the torch bearer of climate change

Recently, Rajendra Shende was interviewed by the students of the Symbiosis University in Pune, in the margins of the international workshop on . Here are the excerpts.

Q: How the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 is different than earlier Kyoto Protocol and why it is called historic agreement?

Rewinding fast backward reveals that when the Kyoto Protocol was opened for signature 18 years ago, on March 16, 1998, only six countries signed it on the opening day. Four of them were small island countries. When the Paris climate deal was opened for signature at UN headquarters on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, a whopping 175 countries lined up and inked the deal. Never before in history have so many countries signed an international accord in one single day in one ceremony.

It certainly was “historic moment” that signaled hope for mankind in addressing climate change, a defining challenge for mankind.

The Paris climate deal is unique in the sense that never before has every country given commitment for reducing Green House Gases (GHGs).

India under the leadership of PM Modi and China under President Xi gave up their hard negotiating stand for the benefit of the world community. They took lead role in agreeing to take legally binding commitment along with the developed countries. They how ever did not give up on the key principle of ‘ Common but Differentiated Responsibility’. They prevailed upon the developed countries to provide finances and technologies to developing countries, as agreed before in Kyoto Protocol.

The most welcoming and encouraging fact is that 15 of the signatories – all of them in the developing world – have already ratified the Paris agreement at the time of signing in 2015. No country had ratified the Kyoto Protocol when it was opened for the signature.

Q: Many sceptics say that inking a signature is one thing and executing the plans is another. One cannot dismiss these scoffers, given the experience of the past two decades of fatally flawed global efforts to reduce GHGs and control global warming. What is your opinion?

I agree. Enthusiasm in demonstrating the commitment to the agreement by signing it is only one part. Let us look at the historical mile stones:
The seven years taken to meet the conditions of entry into force of Kyoto Protocol of 1997 were a nightmare. The US Senate has blocked the ratification right from 1998, mainly for two reasons. First, the Kyoto Protocol left emerging countries like China and India without any reduction commitments. Second, the US industry was not in favour of giving up fossil fuels.

The conditions for the Paris agreement to enter into force are similar – after the date on which at least 55 parties to the convention totalling an estimated 55 percent of the GHG emitters have deposited their instruments of ratification. The difference this time is that India and China have taken the commitment for reduction along with every other nation. Secondly, never before were the business and investment settings so conducive to get going full blast on implementing the Paris deal.

The real hurries enthusiasm was obvious when the then President of USA Barack Obama bypassed the Senate and ratified the Paris treaty, before he completes his tenure. Many considered it as “anti-constitutional”. But here we are

Q. What has been the real progress in implementation of the Paris Climate agreement?

Irrespective of the political debates, the market, including the investment climate, is reacting in favour of de-carbonization like never before. It is another matter if the progress is adequate. As they say, every boxer has plans and strategies until they get punched in the mouth. Then starts the real fight. The shocking punches are already evident on the face of energy market.

Till 2016, after Paris Climate agreement, the global economy has grown by about 3 percent annually , but energy and transport-related carbon dioxide emissions did not grow at all as per the findings of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The emissions of CO2 were decoupled from the economic growth. US, the EU and even China seem to be part of such decoupling.

Such decoupling had happened, surprisingly, in the face of a steep fall in oil prices by nearly 75 percent in2014-2016. Clean energy investment, including in renewable energy, broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels. Shell and Statoil had halted oil exploration in Arctic and Antarctic. Smaller producers are driven out of market and even the largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has declared a debt for the first time in 25 years!

Such scenario demonstrated that desired transformation is possible. Unfortunately, it remained short lived.

Q : What would it take to sustain such initiatives.

Its only when the poor as well as rich countries recognize that there are economic, social and environmental opportunities by implementing the Paris agreement, will there be the sustained efforts to achieve the Paris targets. Clean energy like renewable sources, less air pollution, more economy through efficiencies need to be internalized in the economies to ensure the sustained efforts.

Dangerous air pollution and inefficiency of coal-fired plants are driving the market away from coal. During the last eight years, shares of coal companies have tumbled more than 90 percent. Some of the coal producers, filed for bankruptcy, unable to bear its debt.

China’s excessive addiction to coal has resulted in the worst kind of air pollution that hit the global headlines. China now targets the share of non-fossil fuels at 15 percent of total primary energy by 2020, up from 12 percent at the end of last year, mainly going away from coal-fired plants. China will stop the construction of coal-fired power plants in 15 regions.

Never before is every car manufacturer scrambling to put in assembly lines for hybrid or electric cars. China has started race with Tesla for manufacturing electric cars. India and China have ambitious targets, like never before, for solar and wind energy by 2022. Never before did the world have an opportunity to push and accelerate the implementation.

Q : Do you see the dichotomy of the world leaders who say one thing but behave in opposite way to denigrate the action on climate change?

Interestingly, it is true.

It is known that on the day before the last Earth Day of his tenure as President, Barack Obama played golf with British Prime Minister David Cameron. On Earth Day, he lunched with the Queen, dined with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at Kensington Palace instead of giving curtain calls for action on climate change.

In recent G 20 meeting, where the participating countries represent more than 80 percent of world’s GDP, climate change issue was not highlighted the way it should have been.

Yes, it is climate crisis but also it is ‘trust crisis’. END

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