Wednesday, December 20, 2023

MUSINGS from PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: Reflections on COP28 Outcome

 (The original Marathi article was published in Maharashtra Times Sunday Supplement on 17 Dec 2023. This is the English translation.)

Outcome of COP28

Priyadarshini Karve, Convener, Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC)

After the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century in Europe, industrialization based on mineral coal and other fossil fuels took off in Europe. Although political empires of European countries broke down globally after the Second World War in the twentieth century, globalization of industrialization based on fossil fuels continued. Due to the increasing use of fossil fuels, the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the environment has increased, leading to a rise in average temperature, contributing to global warming, a phenomenon that became widely recognized after the 1960s through scientific research. Since 1980s scientists started warning that due to this temperature increase, the delicate balance of local weather everywhere will be disrupted, leading to adverse effects on people's livelihoods and economies in the coming century. Acknowledging this threat, the establishment of the 'United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change' (UNFCCC) took place in the 1990s under the auspices of the United Nations. In this field, the 'Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change' (IPCC) was established during the same period to gather scientific knowledge and to provide interpretations of the science for the policy makers across the world. It is expected that based on the periodic and well-publicized reports of the IPCC, the UNFCCC should formulate strategies to tackle global warming and participating countries should implement and adhere to them.

To monitor the progress of these efforts, annual sessions lasting two weeks are held in November-December. These gatherings are known as the 'Conference of Parties' or 'COP.'

In 1997, a significant decision was made during the third meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Kyoto, Japan, known as the 'Kyoto Protocol.' Recognizing that 37 developed countries have reaped the maximum benefit from the use of fossil fuels until the 1990s, it was considered their responsibility to save the world from the impending crisis. To reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, these countries committed to concerted efforts, and the new concept of carbon market emerged from this.

However, the developed countries did not fulfill their responsibilities under the agreement. By 2010, it was obvious that the Kyoto Protocol had totally failed. Nevertheless, the information about the issues related to global warming reached citizens and stakeholders in developed countries, leading to increased awareness. This lead to a few responsible industries taking action, but the efforts made were quite inadequate.

From the industrial revolution until the 2010s, there was a noticeable increase in the average temperature of the earth. This temperature rise had diverse consequences, affecting different parts of the world. There was a reduction in snow cover at the poles, an increase in the sea level, disruptions in rain cycle, and an increase in natural disasters like cyclones. The awareness of this global crisis reached ordinary people worldwide.

Scientists had indicated that if the unrestricted use of fossil fuels continued, the Earth could warm by more than 5-6 degrees Celsius by 2100. This warming had the potential to disrupt global socio-economic systems, affecting the lives of people and the environment. Perhaps these warnings gave an impetus to the negotiations and all the countries agreed on a new approach to tackle climate change in the COP at Paris in 2015.

The Paris Agreement in 2015 aimed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and strive to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Countries agreed to voluntary action plans and regular reporting of progress. The agreement acknowledged that developed nations, which had historically contributed more to greenhouse gas emissions and totally failed to implement the Kyoto agreement, needed to support developing nations in their efforts to address climate change. The Paris agreement was to be operationalised from the start of 2021 but that was delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic. However by now more or less all the countries have worked according to the agreement for a couple of years. New commitments are expected in 2025. Recently COP28 concluded in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. To take stock of the progress so far and to initiate formulation of the next set of commitments was the main agenda for this meeting.

After 2010, significant advancements in renewable energy technologies and some efforts under the Paris Agreement have led to a collective result. As a result, the estimated increase in the Earth's average temperature due to greenhouse gas emissions is now projected to stabilize around 3-4 degrees Celsius by 2100. Although this goal is more challenging than the target of limiting the increase to 1.5-2 degrees, if more ambitious commitments are made by countries every 5 years and if the low carbon technologies continue to develop rapidly, this target is still achievable.

Despite the progress, the global use of fossil fuels continues to rise. The Earth's average temperature has already increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius. According to scientists, limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees is difficult but not impossible. If beyond 2030, fossil fuel consumption decreased globally and in the next two decades, it dropped to zero the target can be achieved. However if the fossil fuel continued to rise beyond 2030 the temperature increase will go beyond 1.5 degrees by 2050 and the second half of the 21st century will destroy the progress made by humans over the last 11-12 thousand years. Science is clearly warning that this is not a battle for some distant future but it is a battle for survival for you and me and our children and grandchildren that are already here. The future will be decided by what decisions are taken about the energy generation and use by us in our personal and professional lives and by the governments on the policy and implementation level. We are all creating the history of the future today.

The outcome of the COP28 that ended on 13 December should be seen in this background. This year's conference was hosted by a country at the forefront of providing fossil fuel to the world. The host country had chosen the head of its leading petroleum company to lead the conference. Therefore many people were afraid that the slow moving train of the Paris agreement might be derailed in this meeting.

It is crucial to address the continued use of mineral fuels to avoid reaching the 1.5-degree threshold and experiencing irreversible consequences. The future will witness changes in how countries, individuals, and businesses generate and utilize energy. The official implementation of the Paris Agreement is expected to begin in 2021, emphasizing the urgency of global cooperation. The Conference of Parties (COP 28) held in Dubai under the leadership of the United Arab Emirates provided a platform for discussing and advancing climate-related initiatives.

The beginning of the COP was marked by an important and satisfying decision. In the past year, during the 'COP 27' held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, a significant decision was unanimously reached. To assist poorer countries facing the most severe impacts of climate change, a new fund named 'Loss and Damage' was proposed. Developed countries were urged to contribute. United Arab Emirates, being a prosperous but developing country, declared its commitment on the first day of 'COP 28' by contributing to this fund. This step put a moral pressure on the developed countries and several of them announced their own contributions. Unfortunately, the developed countries have yet to fulfil their promised financial assistance for adaption to the developing countries. This new fund has faced financial challenges, with only a few hundred thousand dollars announced despite the urgent need for billions for 'Loss and Damage.'

The last 2-3 days of extensive negotiations lead to a declaration that pleasantly surprised many.

In global geopolitics, the fossil fuel producers have such a strong grip on the world politics that in the past 27 years, the term 'fossil fuels' has not even been mentioned in any unanimous declaration from UNFCCC. Perhaps, for this reason, mineral fuel-producing countries needed to take leadership roles! Due to the global temperature rise caused by coal and other petroleum fuels, the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels, has been mentioned in various contexts in this declaration. However, there is also criticism that the wording is vague and can therefore create loopholes. However many people believe that now that the issue has been stated the ambiguities can be resolved over the years. Had this transition started from the start of the century many communities worst affected by climate change could have been saved. This regret has also been expressed by the few commentators.

Protestors at COP28 demanding that Africa must get technology and finance
to go in for renewable energy in a big way. 

Lack of economic aid required for developing countries to move away from mineral fuels was emphasized in this declaration. The developed countries had managed to keep such a mention out of the declarations for years. 'COP 28' has achieved success in this regard on the international stage. However, the failure of developed countries in this regard has not been explicitly mentioned. The declaration aspires to triple the renewable energy generation in this decade, and this needs to be welcomed.

These issues have been mentioned in the declaration. Now, these need to reflect in the declarations to come in 2025 from each country. For this, all wise and responsible citizens worldwide need to create public pressure on their governments. Can common people go beyond their national prides, to build bridges over the disagreements, debates, and wars of their national and international interests to build a global unity for the sake of the bright future of human society? This is the pertinent question.

Monday, December 11, 2023


(The original Marathi article was published in Lokmat daily on 8 Dec 2023. This is the English translation.) 

However much may the mercury rise, India says, coal must be burned!

At the UNFCCC Conference COP 28, 'What India will not do' is what we are saying!

The first week of the twenty-eighth annual meeting on global warming concluded on December 6 in Dubai. In addition to government delegations, representatives of various groups from around the world act as observers, of which I was one. If global warming is not controlled, economic-social-political system will collapse in next two-three decades. So the role India is taking in the negotiations in this conference is directly related to your and my daily life.

Dr Priyadarshini Karve speaking at a Press Conference organising by IGSSS
to highlight the plight of cities in the developing world in the face of climate change

India's annual average contribution to global warming since 2000 is third/fourth in the world. From the beginning, India was criticized for setting very modest goals under the Paris Agreement. But since India's share of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the last two hundred years is barely 3-4 per cent, there is no reason to set ambitious targets, was India's stand. It is against this background that the announcement that we have achieved our target of increasing the share of renewable energy sources in electricity generation ahead of schedule should be seen.

Two years ago there was to be a resolution for 'phasing out' mineral coal. India intervened at the last minute and demanded that the wording should be changed either to phasing out all fossil fuels or phasing down coal. This forced a change in the resolution to 'phasing down'. This issue is back on the agenda at this conference held in a fossil fuel producing country.

All fuel producing countries, including the host, have taken a stand that use of fossil fuels will continue, focus will be on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from mining and refining fossil fuels. India has made it clear that it will continue to use coal. Scientists and observers agree that the use of all fossil fuels should be phased out. In fact, many studies suggest that India's entire energy system can be based on renewable energy by 2047. Yet it is apparent that the Indian government is only taking a stand on continuing coal consumption due to pressure from large coal producers. India did not sign the two declarations that came out of the conference in the first week itself also because of the same pressure to some extent. 

On December 1, a manifesto was issued by 130 countries on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in food production systems. The use of mineral fuels has a major contribution in food production. Therefore, there is a need for technical and financial contribution to achieve food security while reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. India has reduced the use of diesel for irrigation by using solar pumps extensively. Instead of chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers, natural farming, etc. Incentive schemes have also been implemented. But still India does not want to participate in this agreement. One reason may be that the goal of reducing methane emissions may be inconvenient due to the large livestock population, but there is also pressure from fossil fuel companies that produce chemical fertilizers.

Covid-19 highlighted the link between warming and health crises. Health systems require uninterrupted and good quality power supply. Therefore, a declaration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while strengthening the world's health system was issued on December 3 by 124 countries.

India stayed away from with an official statement that the goals of this declaration were unrealistic. But there is an overall impression that India has taken this position as it has been prominently stated in the manifesto that power generation from coal should be reduced in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from this sector. 

On the very first day of the conference the host country announced that it would contribute to the Loss and Damage fund. Except for the cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the rest of the United Arab Emirates is backward, so this country is considered a developing country. So a developing country taking such a lead shamed developed countries like Germany, USA and others to also announce their contribution. There is indirect pressure on other capable developing countries like China, India, etc. Still no comment has been received from India in this regard.

In general, at least in the first week, what India will not do in terms of measures against the increase in temperature has been highlighted.

Priyadarshini Karve, Convener, Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC)