Down To Earth(November 01-15)
1. CARBON BUDGET
Context: The planet can barely afford any more carbon emissions. But we need to continue to emit for our survival and development. An analysis on the availability of carbon budget to us, who should be allowed to emit and how much.
- The carbon budget is constructed on the premise that there is a linear relationship between rising global temperatures and the level of accumulated atmospheric CO2.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its latest Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, says that human activities are to be blamed for all the climate events like wildfires, devastating floods, and tropical cyclones etc.
- IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), published in 2014, found that the world can emit 2,250 GtCO2 between 1861 and 2100 for a 66 percent chance of staying within 1.5°C.
- IPCC AR6 published in 2021 revealed a revised estimate. Starting 2020, the world now has a total budget of 400 GtCO2 for a 66 per cent probability to stay below 1.5°C. This means that once we cross this threshold we are headed to a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C.
- As per its estimate provided in 2018, the world needs to cut emissions by 45-50 per cent compared to the 2010 levels by 2030, and by 2050 turn carbon net-zero.
- There are huge uncertainties in the planet’s carbon budget. Three reasons make this budgeting complex.
- One, the pollutants—primarily GHGs like CO2 and methane—have an extraordinarily long life. CO2 emitted in, say, 1900 will still be in the atmosphere.
- Two, these pollutants are linked to economic growth. The bulk of the CO2 emissions are from burning of fossil fuels, which are used to generate electricity, transport goods and power our houses and factories.
- Three, since GHGs persist in the atmosphere and the emissions are due to wealth generation in countries, combating climate change is about sharing growth between nations, which means sharing the carbon budget.
- National Targets:
- Under the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 as an international treaty to limit and cut greenhouse gases, countries agreed to provide voluntary targets called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCS) for how they will limit or reduce emissions.
- The agreement also stated that NDCS would work to achieve the goal of keeping global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C above the pre-industrial level and to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5°C.
- As per the agreement’s “ratcheting mechanism”, nations are expected to submit progressively more ambitious NDCS every five years. Accordingly, countries had to submit their second ndc by 2020, but of the 192 parties to the Paris Agreement a majority did not meet the deadline.
- As of October 15, 2021, a total of 113 countries have submitted new NDC targets, while 49 countries have not, as per Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis.
- EU-27 and the UK submitted more ambitious NDCS of reducing GHG emissions by 55 per cent and 68 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. The US has upped its target and pledged 50-52 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. Japan has proposed a stronger NDC target of 46 per cent reduction of GHG emissions below 2013 levels by 2030.
- However, the countries low on Human Development Index and with minuscule per capita footprint, are shouldering the burden of emission reductions, while historical polluters play a small part.
- Unfair Share:
- From 1870 to 1989—three years before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), six countries (UK, US, Russia, Japan, Australia and Canada) and the EU contributed 77 per cent of the world's total CO2 emissions.
- Between 1990 and 2019, there was a new entrant—China—which increased its share in global emissions from 5.1 per cent to 20.7 per cent in the three decades. The big jump came after China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2000. In 2005-19, its emissions' share increased to 26 per cent.
- The carbon budget appropriation is even more stark if we take the entire period—the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1870 to current times, 2019. Between this period the US, the EU-27, Russia, the UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and China with 34 per cent of the total world’s population contributed to 74 per cent of the total CO2 emissions.
- India, the third- or fourth- largest emitter, has taken up a mere 3.16 per cent of the pie, despite having 18 percent of the world’s people.
2. FOSSIL FUEL
Context: The world is set to produce over twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
- The United Nation’s Production Gap Report 2021:
- Report states that by 2040, countries’ plans and projections show 190 per cent more fossil fuels than would be consistent with the median 1.5°C pathway, and 89 per cent more than the median 2°C pathway.
- The gap will grow post-2030 because of the renewed investments in fossil fuels made by several countries after the pandemic.
- As part of their covid-19 responses, governments have provided support to the production of fossil fuels through new tax incentives, guarantees, regulatory changes, and other financial support, largely without accompanying social, economic, or environmental requirements, says the report.
- The united Nation’s Emissions Gap Report 2021:
- The report shows that the new nationally determined contributions (NDCs), combined with other mitigation pledges, put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century, even if all new unconditional commitments are met.
- To quantify the production gap, the UN report looks individually at three fossil fuel components: coal, oil and gas. It says that global coal, oil and gas production should annually decrease by 11 per cent, 4 percent, and 3 per cent respectively between 2020 and 2030 to limit warming to 1.5°C.
- The reality is much worse. By 2030, the world, at the current pace, would produce 240 per cent more coal, 57 per cent more oil, and 71 per cent more gas than consistent with the median 1.5°C-warming pathway; and 120 per cent more coal, 14 per cent more oil and 15 per cent more gas than consistent with the median 2°C-warming pathway.
3. AGENDA FOR COP26
Context: The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is being held at a time when the impacts of global warming are more palpable than ever—both for the poor and the rich. Down To Earth and the Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, have prepared a list of agenda items that must be brought to the table at COP26 to ensure that the world turns a corner on the climate crisis at this summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Agenda 1 - Carbon Net Zero:
- Net zero is not part of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change, adopted in 2015.
- It emerged as a concept in IPCC’s 2018 special report “Global Warming of 1.5°C”, which said global emissions need to be 45 per cent lower than the 2010 levels in 2030 to keep the temperature rise to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level. The world must also become a net zero carbon emitter by 2050, the report said. To stay under 2°C, it has to be net zero between 2070 and 2085.
- Suggestions for Net - Zero:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be negated by an equivalent amount of CO2 absorbed or removed by various means.
- To keep emissions “net-net”, countries can either plant trees and restore ecosystems in their territories for sequestering CO2 or increase the carbon offset programme of the world so that trees planted in the homes and habitats of poor countries are accounted for in the carbon balance sheet of the rich paying countries.
- The other option is to artificially sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and bury it permanently in the ground using carbon removal technologies.
- National Net Zero Targets:
- Of the 192 countries who have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 65 have announced national net-zero targets.
- By 2021, Bhutan and Suriname are the only two countries that have achieved net zero—meaning, they sequester more carbon in their forests than they emit.
- Uruguay has set an ambitious net-zero target for 2030, and the rest of the countries have said that they will get there by 2050. China has set a target of 2060.
- How to get Net Zero:
- Land and the oceans absorb carbon and thus play a key role in the carbon cycle. However, even in the best-case scenario, major components of the land-based sinks, such as forests and soil, cannot sequester all the carbon we currently emit.
- IPCC estimates that through afforestation and reduced deforestation, forests can sequester between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 a year; and through sustainable land management policies, soil can sequester between 0.4 and 8.6 GtCO2 a year.
- Preserving natural intact forests and promoting responsible use of forests and agro-ecology in partnership with communities has countless co-benefits. But this cannot act as a substitute for emissions reductions.
- The best-known carbon removal technologies are: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).
- CCS captures waste CO2 from large sources such as factories or fossil fuel power plants and stores it underground. IPCC’s report sees a limited role for it because electricity production needs to be largely shifted to renewable sources by 2050. Despite its existence since the 1970s, CCS is yet to scale up to levels adequate to meet IPCC’s goals.
- As of 2020, the world had 26 operational CCS facilities capturing 36-40 megatonnes of CO2 per year, according to the Global CCS Institute, an international think tank. Of them, 24 were in industries and two in coal power plants.
- Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS) technology, as the name suggests, sucks CO2 directly from the air. Among the various carbon removal technologies, DACS is the only one that can remove carbon at climate-significant scales. However, it consumes large amounts of electricity, making the technology expensive—US $94-232 per tonne of CO2.
- Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which captures CO2 from biomass-based power plants, has been granted a bigger role in IPCC’s report. It says BECCS needs to sequester up to 8 GtCO2e each year by 2050, but currently all active BECCS projects sequester a total of 0.0015 GtCO2e per year. Economic viability of the technology is also highly uncertain—the cost is estimated at $15-400 per tonne CO2.
Agenda 2 - Coal:
- Among fossil fuels, coal has the highest contribution to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Of the 36.44 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 emitted from the burning of fossil fuels in 2019, almost 40 per cent came from coal-fired power plants and industry. The fuel accounts for 34% of the world’s electricity production in 2020.
- Coal production also releases methane (CH4), a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2; it accounts for 35 per cent of CH4 emitted by all fossil fuel-related sources, says IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).
- According to the AR6 report, fossil CO2 emissions have slowed down in the past decade. CO2 emissions from coal use grew at 4.8 per cent per year in the 2000s but slowed to 0.4 per cent per year in the 2010s.
- IPCC's 2018 special report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” states that to limit temperature rise to below the threshold level, coal use for power generation needs to peak by 2020. Its use should then reduce steeply in all 1.5°C-consistent pathways and its share in the electricity mix should reduce to close to 0 per cent by 2050 (with 66 per cent reduction by 2030).
- The countries occupying the majority of the world’s remaining coal pipeline are China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh— predominantly Asian countries.
- Major consumers of coal are Japan, South Africa, Russia and South Korea. None of them have a target date to phase out coal.
Agenda 3 - China:
- China’s rapid growth is visible in terms of the fact that it has exceeded emissions of the other developed countries in a matter of two decades or so.
- By 2005, China’s CO2 emissions surpassed the US’ and the country is currently the world’s largest emitter.
- China says it will not build coal-fired power projects abroad but is silent about such plants at home. Despite its renewable energy plans, China will not be carbon neutral unless it curbs its coal power production.
- Research by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing suggests that to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals, China would need to reduce its demand for coal to nearly zero by 2050, rather than increase it.
- Other than coal, China has made massive investments in renewable energy and electric vehicles, and surpasses all other countries in production capacity. This means, China will also be in the forefront to supply the world with clean energy technology, and in this way benefit from the climate mitigation efforts of the world.
- China dominates every step of the global solar supply chain. For solar photovoltaic cells, Chinese companies have the lion’s share of global manufacturing—it ranks first in the production of wafers, cells and modules globally.
- In the lithium-ion battery supply chain, China controls 80 per cent of the world’s raw material refining, 77 percent of the world’s cell capacity and 60 per cent of the world’s component manufacturing.
- As the new global superpower and polluter, China’s emissions will have a significant impact on the world’s ability to achieve its climate goals. If its current emissions continue, it could eat into one-third of the remaining carbon budget in this decade itself.
- Clearly, this decade must belong to China and its drastic efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And this must be in the spotlight at the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (cop26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meet at Glasgow, Scotland.
Agenda 4 - Market Mechanism:
- As the Kyoto Protocol, the first accord under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that came into force in 2005, had established a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for this carbon purchase. The Paris Agreement includes provision for two types of market instruments—Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes and Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM).
- Under ITMO, the aim is to establish bilateral or mini-multilateral markets—similar to the EU Emissions Trading System. It is also about securing overall mitigation in global emissions.
- Under SDM, the aim was to create a new international carbon market for the trade of emissions cuts, created by the public or private sector anywhere in the world, shaped by the previous CDM.
- The carbon market mechanisms are fraught with the following issues:
- NDCS of Parties are not standardized which makes the counting of carbon credits difficult.
- Should carbon credits from cdm under the Kyoto Protocol be allowed to be carried forward to sdm under the Article 6.4?
- Can the credits generated be used across ndcs and should their value change with the increasing ambition of the NDCS?
- How can we ensure overall mitigation is achieved under the market mechanisms?
- How can the highest possible share of proceeds be assured for adaptation activities in the countries most vulnerable to climate change such as those part of the AOSIS?
- The developed world hopes to invest in emissions reduction in the Global South via markets for carbon credits. The developing world needs finances to build low-carbon economic pathways. But since all countries have emission reduction targets, selling credits can be a judgement call.
- It would be disastrous if COP26 was to construct another cdm-type market mechanism. This is not what is needed today, or tomorrow.
Agenda 5 - Climate Finance:
- It is clear that the world cannot combat the climate crisis without the transfer of funds from developed countries. These are countries whose stock of emissions in the atmosphere has already forced temperatures to rise also in developing countries.
- The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when established in 1992 had recognised finance and technology transfer as two critical pillars for transformation—the idea is if funds are provided, developing and emerging economies whose emission footprint is still small can grow, but differently.
- Then, of course, there is the need for funds for adaptation and to pay for loss and damage in these countries. Finance is thus a key element of the climate change conundrum.
- Over the years, much has been said about the need to secure this fund transfer. Several institutions and funds have also been created. But the flow of real money is still illusionary and inadequate.
- In 1994, Washington-based Global Environment Facility (GEF) was given the charge to manage financial transfers under UNFCCC.
- In 2001, the Adaptation Fund was set up under the Kyoto Protocol to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries.
- At the 2010 UN climate change conference (COP16), the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established. It was made a designated entity of the financial mechanism in 2011 with the setting up of two funds under it: Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the Least Developed Countries Fund (IDCF).
- At COP16, parties to the convention decided to set up the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) to help them make informed decisions on funding. So, there is no dearth of mechanisms to fund adaptation projects. Rather, availability of funds is the problem.
- At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to a goal of jointly mobilising US $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.
- Article 9 of the
- The Paris Agreement also stipulates, “Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.”
- But several details were not clarified, such as the financial instruments that could be used, and the types of projects that could be counted as eligible for climate finance. As a result, a number of anomalies crept in. Funds that were loans were counted as climate finance; even commercial agreements were bundled into finance.
- There is no real accounting or verification of what has actually been transferred and no clarity on whether the fund is related to climate change or commercial activities.
- A bulk of climate finance flows to mitigation, Oxfam found. Only a quarter of funding was spent in helping countries adapt to the impacts of climate crises, while about 66 percent of it was spent helping countries cut emissions or climate mitigation.
- UK-based think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has found that of the developed nations, only Germany, Norway and Sweden are paying their fair share of the $100 billion a year using public climate finance.
- The biggest shortfall comes from the US, which has provided less funding than France, Germany, Japan or the UK, even though its economy is larger than all of them combined, says ODI. The US transferred $1 billion during Barack Obama’s second stint as president, but no funds were contributed during Donald Trump’s presidency.
- Clearly, the question of finance remains the biggest issue and hurdle in climate change talks. This then is the biggest issue on the table at COP26, fair and square.
Agenda 6 - Adaption Goal:
- It is now clearer than ever that the world will have to adapt to the changing climate. It is not enough to only talk about mitigation, because extreme weather events are happening with such rapidity and with such force that countries and people have to find ways of coping and managing the fallout of the calamities.
- Article 7 of the Paris Agreement establishes a Global Goal on Adaptation of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change”. The core components of the goal are interconnected and overlapping. Their progress will be assessed every five years under the Paris Agreement’s Article 14, Global Stocktake.
- In the Pre-cop Chairs’ Summary—a meeting held in Italy in late September with ministers and officials to discuss expectations from COP26—it was agreed that there must be a greater action on adaptation.
- The Adaptation Gap Report 2020, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) earlier this year, states that the adaptation finance gap is not closing—not by a long shot. The annual adaptation costs in developing countries alone are currently estimated to be in the range of US $70 billion and will reach $280-500 billion by 2030.
- The issue of adaptation—the goal to make the world less vulnerable and more resilient—needs urgency and finance. This is the real agenda for the 2021 UN climate change conference (COP26).
Agenda 7 - Loss and Damage:
- Nearly 20 years after the Alliance of Small Island States demanded a mechanism within the global climate deal to compensate countries affected by sea level rise due to climate change, loss and damage has emerged as the “third pillar” of climate action after adaptation and mitigation.
- The UN climate change conference (COP26) should make loss and damage a permanent agenda for discussion and commit scaled-up resources to the victims as “compensation”.
- Article 8 of the Paris Agreement “recognises the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events”. It also says that countries should “enhance understanding, action and support to address loss and damage”.
- But a fatal flaw creeps in when it goes on to say that “Parties agree that Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”. In other words, the huge losses and damages being inflicted on the poor because of the stock of emissions in the atmosphere—emitted by a handful of countries—cannot be the basis of seeking claims.
- The discussions go back to 2010, when during COP16, a “loss and damage work programme” was started. This led to the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) in 2013 during COP19.
- In 2015, under the Paris Agreement, wim was tasked with specific roles under Article 8. The key roles of WIM include enhancing action and support through finance for loss and damage, building the right technology regime to gauge climate change’s impacts and also capacity-building of members.
- The “enhanced action and support” is the wim’s fifth strategic role as mentioned in its five- year rolling work plan.
- It’s time the agenda of loss and damage was prioritised. Countries and communities need more than networks, information and knowledge. They need resources—human and financial— to cope with extreme weather events.
Agenda 8 - Nature-Based Solution:
- Now that the world has jumped on the net-zero bandwagon, broadly seen as the way to keep emitting but to ensure that CO2 can be sequestered or removed from the atmosphere, nature-based solutions have made a big splash in climate discussions.
- In climate change negotiations, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and its addition on conservation of forest stocks (REDD+) was originally the framework to implement nature-based solutions. At the 2013 UN climate change conference (COP19), the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ was adopted.
- In 2015, the Paris Agreement recognised this and included it in Article 5; parties reiterated their commitment to implement REDD+.
- The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that if the world is to meet its climate change goals, it needs to close a US $4.1 trillion financing gap in nature by 2050.
- In May 2021, the World Economic Forum published in collaboration with McKinsey and Company a report, “Nature and Net Zero”.
- According to this, nature-based solutions provide a “potential of [removing] close to 7 GtCO2 per year, sufficient to deliver around one-third of the 2050 target [to cut emissions by 50 per cent over 2010 levels]” and this cost is lower than technological solutions.
- The problem is not the idea of using forests as carbon sinks but the fact that what is being seen as a low-cost solution is in the lands of the poor and in forests of the developing world. They are the habitats of poor communities. So the choice of trees and their management has to be driven from the objective of securing livelihoods and not primarily for fixing emissions.
- It is now estimated that Amazon rainforests are emitting more carbon than they are absorbing— the key cause is large-scale deforestation to clear land for the production of beef and other commodities. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s tropical deforestation is driven by international trade in food commodities.
- All this again points to the problem of lack of measurement, accounting tools and, most importantly, the question of the ownership of lands in which forests are being grown and carbon credits are being generated. So, even as nature-based solutions are critical for climate change mitigation, the world has not ensured that this win-win solution really works for people and forests.This should be the agenda for COP26, which at present seems to be missing the wood for the trees.
- Assess the impact of global warming on coralife systems with examples. (GS: 1- 2019)
- In spite of adverse environmental impact, coal mining is still inevitable for development.” Discuss. (GS: 1- 2017)
- Examine the status of forest resources of India and its resultant impact on climate change. (GS: 1- 2020)
- India has immense potential for solar energy though there are regional variations in its development. Elaborate. (GS: 1- 2020)
- What are the key features of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) initiated by the Government of India? (GS: 1- 2020)
- ‘Climate Change’ is a global problem. How will India be affected by climate change? How Himalayan and coastal states of India are affected by climate change? (GS: 1- 2017)
- Give an account of the current status and the targets to be achieved pertaining to renewable energy sources in the country. Discuss in brief the importance of the National Programme on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). (GS: 1- 2016)
- Should the pursuit of carbon credit and a clean development mechanism set up under UNFCCC be maintained even though there has been a massive slide in the value of carbon credit? Discuss with respect to India’s energy needs for economic growth. (GS: 1- 2014)
- The world needs to cut emissions by 45-50 per cent compared to the 2010 levels by 2030, and by 2050 turn carbon net-zero—emit only what can be “soaked up” by natural sinks. Do you think the target put forward can be achieved by 2050?
- Fossil CO2 emissions accounted for less than 68 percent of GHG emissions in 2018. Thus, while the carbon budget as a concept is useful for policy making in key sectors such as energy, total GHG emissions and the overall emissions budget is equally critical. Examine.
- China and the developed world will continue to have the lion's share of the planet's carbon budget in 2020-30, while the burden of reducing emissions will be borne unfairly by many developing countries. Why equity in the carbon budget is a prerequisite to an ambitious and effective climate agreement?
- As part of their covid-19 responses, governments have provided support to the production of fossil fuels through new tax incentives, guarantees, regulatory changes, and other financial support. How are such steps going to have a long lasting impact on the environment?
- What according to you should be the various agendas related to climate put forward in the upcoming COP26?