Humans have already put so much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that damage control is now their best possible recourse. The planet is likely to be hotter by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next two decades, even if nations begin cutting emissions sharply immediately, warns a report issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The already noticeable effects of warming could become harsher as a result — rainfall could become more unpredictable, heat waves more scorching and droughts more taxing. The threshold of 2 degrees Celsius, the more conservative determinant for several Paris Climate Change Pact goals and critical to check cataclysmic weather events, is likely to be passed by 2060 in the business-as-usual scenario — decades earlier than that predicted by the IPCC scientists in 2018. The report does, however, leave a small window of opportunity to take corrective measures. Its hypothesis that “aggressive emission cuts beginning now could reduce warming after 2050”, may set the tone for climate diplomacy in the coming months and years.
In about three months from now, climate negotiators will meet in Glasgow, where upscaling climate ambitions is likely to be the major issue of contention. The nationally determined contributions (NDC) to check emissions, the core of the Paris Pact, have been criticised as inadequate for attaining the agreement’s goals. Increasingly, the NDCs are being seen as a precursor to achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century — net-zero commitments announced by more than 100 countries. Net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of GHGs from the atmosphere through natural processes as well as futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage. It also requires phasing out fossil fuel-based energy. Developed countries expect India to do more heavy lifting on this count. India regards the emphasis on net-zero as a deviation from the landmark pact’s architecture. Moreover, as a UN Climate Change Report, released in February, pointed out, “there remains a significant gap between longer-term carbon neutrality and the commitments undertaken in the NDCs, which must be addressed”.
India has rightly argued that any commitment to net-zero would mean compromising developmental goals of countries with a far shorter legacy of emissions compared to the developed world. Delhi has pointed to the developed countries’ poor track record with respect to fulfilling their technology transfer and financial-aid commitments to developing countries. At the same time, the small window of opportunity to make the planet less hotter in 30 years would be lost if the world’s third largest emitter is not on board in the carbon neutrality project. Resolving this tension would hold the key in obviating the grim scenario projected in the IPCC report.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 11, 2021 under the title ‘Dire necessity’.