Carbon-neutral economy will be 'new normal'; India poised to be biggest contributor

India is forecast to be the biggest contributor to the ‘new normal’ doubling its renewable additions in 2021.  Wind and solar additions are expected to jump by 30 percent in both the US and China,  writes Rajendra Shende for South Asia Monitor 

Rajendra Shende Dec 11, 2020
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December 12, 2020, marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement.  But the year 2020 is the only year since 1992 when the annual global meeting of the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will not be held due to COVID. Paradoxically, each year since 1992, the world has witnessed a rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide except in 2020.  But all the trends reveal that it was the result of the global lockdown resulting in the economic slow-down that reflected in lower consumption of fossil fuels.

After this illusive downward trend, which was also accompanied by a reduction in air pollution in the first and the second quarter of 2020, both emissions and pollution are on the rise again. 

The current global greenhouse gas emissions are 62 percent higher than in 1992 when the plan of reining the emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs) was agreed upon by more than 190 countries at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Contrary to the plan, not only GHG concentrations are on the rise, but temperature and sea level have also gone up. Extreme climatic events have become more frequent, more intense, and more pervasive. Almost every calamity, be it wildfire, polar ice melting, terrorism, refugee crisis, and even pandemics are considered as a direct or indirect consequence of climate change.

Kyoto Protocol

Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997 which set a goal only for 38 developed countries. That goal was the GHG-emission reduction of about five percent by 2012 with a baseline of 1990. 

The final analysis shows that Kyoto Protocol met with mild success and overall it was a huge failure. The reasons for the fatally flawed protocol are mainly three. Firstly, the USA never ratified the Kyoto Protocol though they signed it and Canada withdrew from the Protocol. So the remaining 36 countries ‘apparently’ met their individual targets but the overall target of reduction of five percent for 38 countries was not met. Even for those 36 developed countries target was met in a dubious way. Former Soviet Union countries reduced their emissions due to the shrinking of their economies even before the Kyoto Protocol entered into force. 

Secondly, at least 10 countries used the trading mechanism to offset their increases thereby ‘faking’ the reduction. Thirdly, many countries started importing the products from countries like China instead of producing in their own countries, thereby, causing an increase in emissions in the developing countries and a reduction in the developed countries. In the Climate Change parleys it is named as ‘emission leakage.’ 

War on nature

Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, has stated that “humanity is waging war on nature.” Make no mistake the robbing of the habitat of the wild animals to make way for human settlements is in reality a war on nature. Increase in carbon-dioxide emissions that cannot be naturally offset by the ecological balance is indeed a war on nature.  Many claim that one of the successes of humanity today is that we have avoided World War-III. In reality, we are engaged in World War-III with nature in a number of ways and on various fronts.

Humanity, sadly, is on the verge of losing that war. The goal as per Article 2 of the Paris Climate Agreement is ‘ holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels.’

The world unfortunately remains grossly off the track and on the brink of missing the goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celcius. The global  temperature rise is already 1.2 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial level, as indicated in the latest data released by Geneva-based World Meteorological Organisation, WMO. 

The analysis of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) offered by each country under Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 has been found to be miserably inadequate to limit the temperature rise to the next fall-back goal of  2 degrees Celcius. As per UNEP’s Emission Gap Report of 2019, the world is on the trajectory of temperature rise to 3.2 degrees Celcius with the NDCs offered by the countries. 

India’s performance in meeting the NDCs has been among the top 10 countries of the world – this is for the second year in succession. As explained, however, none of the country’s performance can help in meeting the collective climate goal of limiting the temperature below 2 degrees Celcius.  The message, therefore, is loud, and clear.

Decarbonisation is the only vaccine for the next pandemic called ‘Climate Change.’  That, however, needs accelerated, bold, collective, and decisive (ABCD) actions.

Carbon neutral

As per IPCC the goal of 2 degree Celcius can be met only if the world becomes carbon neutral by around the middle of this century. Carbon neutrality is defined as ‘net-zero emission, not zero emissions.’  It means that the world can reduce the emissions to the maximum extent by the use of renewable energy, bio fuels, energy efficiency, and remaining emissions can be offset by planting a tree or by removing the emitted carbon-dioxide by capturing and storing it in mechanical or any other means.

The most preferred way of offsetting is engaging in afforestation, which has a multitude of other advantages like favourable rains, less air pollution, use of forest products and also, many environmentalist think that afforestation means giving back to what belongs to nature. 

The Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, UK that was to be held in 2020 could not take place due to the pandemic. It is expected to take place now in 2021. However, UN Secretary-General and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will co-host a landmark global event that will see the convening of global climate leaders on December 12, 2020, on the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. The idea is to rally for meeting climate actions and ambition.

The year 2020 is likely to be the hottest year on record as per World Meteorological Organization's (WMO). Greenhouse gas concentrations will reach record levels in 2020. The climate impacts from unprecedented wildfires, hurricanes, air pollution, droughts, and floods are destroying lives, jobs, and businesses more than the pandemic will. 

In light of this urgency, the event planned on December 12 is expected to bring leaders from across all levels of government, as well as the private sector and civil society, to present new measures. Already the European Union (27 countries), UK, Japan, South Korea and China has declared that it would go carbon neutral from 2040 to 2060. There are others who also want to go carbon neutral with certain caveats. Many are in the process of making carbon neutrality into law. 

More countries are likely to declare carbon neutrality in the coming months as the economy is set to step out of the clutches of fossil fuel. The prices of renewables particularly solar energy are successfully competing with coal for electricity generation. There are reports that coal consumption has peaked in 2013 and it is unlikely to get the boost again. Oil and gas companies, which routinely indulge in opposing clean energy, are expecting increased investment in renewables. International Energy Agency expects major companies and institutional investors would enhance the investments in new renewable capacity “tenfold” by 2025. 

India is forecast to be the biggest contributor to the ‘new normal’ doubling its renewable additions in 2021.  Wind and solar additions are expected to jump by 30 percent in both the US and China.

Governments have started realising that renewables and energy efficiency are the areas where jobs and investment opportunities are strengthening  and are the ‘new normal’ after COVID19, which may mean efficient vehicles, electrical transportation and ‘journey towards carbon neutrality.’ Hence the stimulus packages are increasingly being designed by the governments towards decarbonization in the mind. 

Change of the political guard in USA, China’s declaration of Carbon Neutrality by 2060 and India’s acclaimed massive push to efficiency and renewable are rekindling the hopes of decarbonised ‘new normal’ world. It would also mean the ‘new green’ world due to afforestation. 

(The writer is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP. The views expressed are personal. www.rajendrashende.com/www.rajendrashende.blog)

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