COP21 has been a failure

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Prabhat Singh's picture

Now that the euphoria surrounding the supposedly ‘breakthrough deal’ has died down, let’s all sit back and suck up the bitter truth: COP21 deal is the last thing that will ever save this planet from man-made annihilation.

The reasons are not too far to seek, and what has happened should have been obvious to even a remote follower of the debate around climate change.

There are three fronts that, when brought together in harmony, will bring about a renewable energy revolution: policy, technology, finance. To get access to the last two - technology and finance - the developing countries must absolutely receive substantial assistance from their developed counterparts. Only this help can raise the abilities of most developing nations to put an effective climate change mitigation policy in place. Unfortunately, the deal is non-binding on both fronts.

This transfer of technology and finance from the developed to developing nations - represented by the moniker CBDR (common but differentiated responsibility) - has always been the sticking point in reaching any truly effective deal. Unfortunately, most developed world leaders have derided CBDR as wasteful, burdensome and a retrospective punishment that they no longer deserve. In reality, CBDR is none of these. At its most philosophical level, CBDR is the real-world manifestation of the most ideal human goal - a commitment for shared and equitable progress.

With very few exceptions (Germany being one), all nations of the world have put disproportionately greater emphasis on economic development than on emission cuts. This becomes still more true for the developing world, where almost all of the world’s poor live. For their upliftment, access to energy and electricity is the most basic requirement. Unfortunately, fossil fuels still being the cheapest and most easily available option, governments of such countries have a natural tendency to gravitate towards those. Clearly, this is yet another case of need for instant gratification. But in the absence of resources, they have few alternatives. This is where developed countries come in - by providing access to resources, they can help developing countries be more reliable partners in the fight against climate change. Instead, by removing the phrase “historic responsibility”, the deal further relieves developed nations of any pressure to assist developing nations.

It is bemusing how developed countries ignore the limitations of developing countries. If it were that easy, all developed countries' citizens must immediately give up milk and meat consumption, since livestock rearing contributes 14.5% to global GHG emissions. 61% of livestock emission comes from cattle reared for beef and milk.

Having highlighted the conundrum of developing countries, it would be unfair to say that nothing is being done by them to promote climate change mitigation efforts. For example, India is one of the few nations in the world to be taxing carbon as well as petroleum products, instead of subsidising them. India is levying a coal tax worth Rs.200/tonne (which is set to increase every year), and an excise duty on petroleum products. All of the money collected from the former is going towards expansion of renewable energy. Under its national policy, Indian aims to install solar energy worth 100GW, and wind energy worth 60GW by 2022. Rapid progress, driven by massive government support, is underway.

As per other developing nations, China has taken the lead in providing the world with cheap solar panels. It is also set to overtake Germany as the world’s biggest user of solar power.

On the other hand, certain developed nations seem to be abdicating their responsibility towards the goal of climate change mitigation.  UK is a primary example. A cursory google search should provide enough evidence of my claim.

None of the above is meant to show developed nations in a poor light. Despite being ultra rich, France and Scandinavian nations are models of energy usage. Hats off to German consumers who are carrying the burden of nearly 25% higher electricity prices to support renewable energy. In the same breath, it must also be said that China consumes nearly half the world’s coal, and India's coal consumption looks all set to keep growing for the next few decades.

As per the deal, the decision to have 5-yearly emissions targets is the only silver lining in an otherwise grey cloud. As expected, countries have a choice when it comes to obeying those targets. At the very least, the deal could have tried to formalize a mechanism to transfer $100bn/year by 2020, that has been promised by developed nations, but is very unlikely to be delivered on. If not that, there could have been binding commitments made to improving battery technology, and making it accessible to the developing nations at subsidised prices. There are umpteen other futuristic technologies that could have been targeted. No, none of that.

Instead, what we got was an almost laughable pledge to restrict temperature rise to 1.5 degree celsius. In future, the global community should look to tone down the scale and grandeur of these climate change gatherings. At least that will ensure lesser emissions from the thousands of jet-setting delegates.