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G-8 Summit and Climate Change, Shri R V Shahi, Former Secretary, Ministry of Power

G-8 Summit and Climate Change
[R V Shahi's Weekly Column for Infraline, August 4, 2008]

G-8 Summit was held in Japan from July 7 to 9 in which top level leaders of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States participated. Though Group of Eight (G-8) consists of only U.S.A., U.K., France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Italy and Russia, since the important issues relating to global warming and climate change were to be discussed, it has become a common practice that Group of Five (G-5), also called Plus-5, which includes Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa are also invariably invited. The Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh made important observations on the issues concerning global warming and on India's strategy. In fact, he had the advantage of the Indian National Action Plan on Climate Change having been formulated just a week before this meeting. This document is indeed a master piece highlighting India's concern, its strategy and medium and long term agenda on Climate Change. The observations of the Prime Minister were largely based on this document.

In the last two to three weeks several critical assessments of the G-8 meeting and of the Declaration on Climate Change have been brought out in various newspapers and magazines. While some of them have highlighted the few positive aspects of the progress made in this Summit, most of these have been critical to highly critical of the outcomes. In this paper we will try to analyse - (a) India's position on this issue as articulated by the Prime Minister, (b) the discussions in the Summit on the issues concerning global warming culminating into the Declaration of leaders on Energy Security and Climate Change and, (c) critical appreciation of the outcomes of this Summit in relation to the previous International commitments in various Conventions, Protocols and Conferences starting from early 90's.

Firstly, the interventions made by the Indian Prime Minister - these were based on the comprehensive National Action Plan that the Government of India has recently prepared. The salient points of the intervention of the Indian Prime Minister are outlined below:

  • The provisions and principles of the Convention (the P.M. referred to the United Nation Framework on Climate Change, June 1992) relating to common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities need to be respected in letter and spirit.

  • The top most priority for the developing countries is eradication of poverty. In India more than 600 million people are still without access to modern energy sources and more than 250 million people in India live at an income of less than a dollar a day.

  • Considering the disproportionate impact of climate change on developing countries like India, an accelerated growth is even more urgent and therefore impact of climate change is required to be addressed through adaptation in critical areas of food, public health and management of scarce water resources.

  • Since accelerated economic growth is critical for developing countries like India, we cannot even consider quantitative restrictions on CO2 emissions.

  • Additional resources must be made available to developing countries in order to address the issues concerning adaptation and mitigation. duplicity

  • Developed countries have not been able to demonstrate progress on reduction of emissions and therefore the leadership in G-8 countries must effect significant green house gas reductions as promised.

  • In spite of the fact that per capita emissions in India are among the lowest in the world, we have adopted a strong National Action Plan on Climate Change. While we will pursue our economic growth and development, our per capita emissions will not go beyond those in the developed countries.

  • For us to succeed we have to eschew unsustainable consumption patterns and life styles worldwide (this was obviously hinted at the pattern of consumption and life styles in developed countries).

  • Technology is critical for both mitigation and adaptation. Therefore collaborative research and development among developing and developed countries would be essential. Equally important will be the transfer of technology in various parts of the world.

The above observations of the Indian Prime Minister emphatically underscored two important aspects - (a) developing countries like India have to continue their economic and developmental activities and therefore cannot accept any quantified targets for reductions in emissions and (b) developed countries must demonstrate significant green house gas reductions as promised earlier. These observations, however, did not bring out a quantified presentation on what were the promised targets of reduction and what have been achieved. As a matter of fact, in most cases as compared to the 1990 level, the emissions have increased. Thus, while the Indian interventions did bring out the inadequacies on the part of developed nations on fulfillment of promised targets and assurances, they somewhat fell shot of being a little more critical. This was a good opportunity for the countries in G-5 to clearly articulate that commitments in the 1992 Convention and 1997 protocol have not only been not met but there have been visible increases in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 recognised that developed countries were the biggest contributors to global warming and therefore they were kept under obligation to effect quantified reductions within the time frame of 2008 to 2012. Developing countries such as India, China and Brazil have no such restrictions, though they are parties to the Kyoto Protocol. It needs to be highlighted that while the United States is the largest emitter, technically they have no obligation for effecting quantified reductions since they refused to be a party to Convention.

Basically the position of U.S.A. and a large number of countries in the European Union have been that in the recent years - and the trend is likely to continue - China and India have been developing energy production facilities at a rapid pace and they have been contributing to the emissions at much larger rate than others (From this point of view of additionality, China has emerged as the largest emitter and India the fourth largest emitter), unless these countries also agree to targeted reductions it would be difficult for the developed countries for adhering to and complying with the targets stipulated earlier. This position is obviously quite different from the understanding and commitments contained in the Kyoto Protocol. The position of the Group of Five has been that it is per capita emission which should be the comparable parameter, that in the past these countries were left behind as they lost the opportunities to develop, and that if the people in these countries have to be provided even a reasonable standard of living, increased production and consumption of energy is essential and, therefore, increased GHG emissions are inevitable.

Now let us examine the deliberations and the Declarations of the G-8 Summit and evaluate to what extent the Summit leaders have been serious and sincere on developing a way forward to address the issues concerning climate change. The salient features of the Declaration formulated and agreed on the last day of the Summit, July 9, 2008 are outlined below :

  • The world's major economies, both developed and developing, commit to combat climate change in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and confront the interlinked challenges of sustainable development including energy, food security and human health.

From the above it may be seen that the principle of "Common but differentiated responsibilities" has been confirmed, and to this extent the distinctive obligations of developed countries vis-?-vis developing countries have been recognized. Also, by interlinking the challenges of sustainable development including provision of energy, food security and human health, the Declaration duly takes cognizance of the need for actions related to adaptation relevant to developing countries. To this extent the Declaration made is positive in nature.

  • The Summit has welcome the decisions taken by the International community in Bali, including launch of comprehensive process to enable full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention, now, upto and beyond 2012.

While the conclusions of Bali Conference, which was the 13th Conference of parties, held in December 2007, have been duly recognized and welcome, the subsequent formulations in the Declaration do not highlight some of the specifics provided in the Bali Conference document, which emphasise the need for quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives by developed countries. It called upon these countries to consider measurable, reportable and verifiable appropriate mitigations commitments and actions. The Bali Conference, though called upon the developing countries to consider appropriate mitigation measures in the context of sustainable development in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner, it did not specify the need to quantify the emission reductions that may result. Therefore, the Japan (Hokkaido) Declaration falls short of being anywhere near specific in line with Bali Action Plan though it does make complementary comments on the decisions taken in the Bali Conference.

  • The Summit shared the vision for long term cooperative action, including a long term global goal for emission reductions that assures growth, prosperity and other aspects of sustainable development. It recognizes that deep cuts in global emissions will be necessary to achieve the Convention's ultimate objective, and that adaptation will play a correspondingly vital role. However the ability to ultimately achieve a long term goal will also depend on affordable, new, more advanced, innovative technologies, infrastructure and practices that transform the way we live, produce and use energy.

Here again while the need for deep cuts in emissions has been recognized as a long term goal, the Declaration has not made any distinction between the specific obligations of the developed countries and those of developing countries. It has been widely reported that on the second day of the Conference it was agreed that the emissions level would be reduced by 50% without capturing the period in which it would be reduced. In the press briefing by the U.S. President, however, it was reported that 50% reduction would be made by the year 2050. The criticisms that have emerged in this regard are valid for the following reasons:

  1. Though the specific figures of reductions were discussed and some sort of a consensus emerged, the final Declaration does not mention any of these specific reductions commitments - neither 50% nor the year 2050.

  2. The Kyoto Protocol clearly indicated the base year as 1990 for the purpose of comparison of emission levels, and with reference to the base year levels, quantified reductions were to be targeted. No reference to base year even in the press briefing (though in the Declaration the 50% reduction itself is missing), creates doubts and confusions about seriousness and sincerity about the deep cuts.

  3. In all such attempts at targeting reductions in emissions, though it may be desirable to have a long term goal, it is equally essential that shorter term targets are also fixed. Experiences have shown that even targets of short term durations as stipulated in Protocol have not been seriously pursued. Very long term targets would not mean much. It will be in the interest of environment, and it is only by that process that the real commitments can be reflected, if we fixed shorter term targets.

  4. To exemplify the above, if the base year is agreed to be 1990 (though the Japanese Prime Minister slipped in the year 2005 as the base year), then we need to approximately specify the targeted reductions say by 2015, by 2025, by 2040 and finally by 2050. The final target cannot be met unless intermediate milestones are fixed, continually revisited and reviewed, progress monitored for compliance and short falls are identified for required correctives, so that possibility of achieving the final milestone is enhanced.

The Declaration has not captured any of these and therefore the comments and criticisms are well deserved.

  • The Declaration recognizes that adaptation is vital to addressing the effects of climate change and that the adverse impacts of climate change are likely to affect developing countries disproportionately. To this end, the Declaration recognizes the need to strengthen the ability of developing countries to adapt to climate change.

When the IPCC Fourth Report came and it highlighted the scale of devastations that are likely to be caused on account of climate change in next few decades, there is another school of scientists which came out with a different approach. They suggested that while the consequences of climate change are obvious, the extent and scale of these consequences have been over projected in the IPCC Report. They also believe that for developing countries like India adaptations are the best tools of mitigation. If development of the country leads to enhanced ability and capability of the society to cope with the predictable and unpredictable damages and devastations, it would address the climate change concerns in a more effective way than depriving the society to acquire these capabilities which can be caused only through development. To this extent the recognition by the Declaration that adaptation is vital to addressing the consequences of climate change is not only valid but a very positive approach. However, in what manner the idea of strengthening the ability of developing countries is achieved will need to be concretised.

  • The Declaration has recognized that tackling climate change will require greater mobilization of financial resources, and therefore, there is an urgent need to scale up financial flows, particularly financial support to developing countries; to create positive incentive for actions; and to make more efficient use of funds.

This statement is highly gratifying. If the developing countries have to adopt various strategies and measures for adaptations they would definitely need huge financial resources. New technologies are costlier, their deployment will entail additional financial burdens. Unless these are available and are insulated from additionalities of financial stresses, these developing countries are less likely to take on such adaptation or mitigatory measures. Therefore, while this statement in the Declaration is encouraging, one has to wait and watch how this is translated into concrete actions.

Finally, the Declaration, in concluding paragraphs, attempts to outline an Action Plan for enabling implementation of the Convention between now and 2012. This Action Plan, however, is more of narratives than specifics. While a lot of narratives have been nicely articulated in the previous paragraphs of the Declaration, some of which have been highlighted above with the critical comments, one would have expected that the Action Plan outlined in the concluding paragraph is outlined in terms of specific actions which are required to be taken by developed countries, by developing countries and many of them by both developed and developing countries together. In this regard, the India's National Action Plan on Climate Change is a good example of a comprehensive formulation laying down short term, medium term and long term agenda while also articulating very clearly India's position and its commitments towards this vital issue.

The Economist (July 12, 2008) carried a detailed write up under the caption "They came, they jawed, they failed to conquer". Following three extracts from this write up sum up the assessment and perception about the Summit:

"On substance, however, the Summit was a let-down. A year ago, when the Heiligendamm Summit took place in Germany, oil and food staples were at half their prices today, while Northern Rock was an unknown little bank. At the Tokyo Summit the G-8 leaders rose to the challenges posed by the "three Fs"-food, fuel and the financial credit crunch - with platitudes, and little effort was made to resolve the contradiction between calls for larger oil supplies and the promise of a low-carbon future".

"Yet the strength of the G-8's commitment starts to crumble under scrutiny even without one cynical Russian diplomat pointing out how absurd it is for today's politicians to take responsibility for meeting goals four decades from now. The baseline from which the cuts are supposed to occur has been left vague. The European Union wants them to begin from 1990, while Japan (which unilaterally says it will aim for a 60-80% cut in emissions) thinks it more realistic to start from 2005 or perhaps this year. America hardly has an opinion".

"To some, this obsession with distant targets is beside the point. The G-8 could not come up even with nearer-term goals to cut emissions - say, by 2020. The lack of more immediate and concrete measures, says Michael Grubb of the Carbon Trust, set up by the British government to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, underscores an "abdication of responsibility". At the least, he says, the G-8 leaders could have promised to treat cuts eventually agreed under UN auspices as legally binding. And they could have moved to bring the huge, dirty market in bunker fuel for shipping and aviation, hitherto excluded from discussion of caps, into the negotiations".

From these developments it appears that there could be a hidden agenda of the developed nations - at least this perception has started emerging in several quarters - to dilute the specific commitments and targets as agreed in the Kyoto Protocol. All attempts, therefore, need to be made so that such an attempt does not succeed. Since the tenure of Protocol is till 2012 and since these uncertainties are being perceived, there is already a negative effect on CDM process, carbon credits and carbon trading. Only in last few years, CDM initiatives, after a prolonged gestation, had gained momentum. But, now with confusing statements, ambiguous signals and inadequately committed positions of particularly a number of developed countries, the overall picture looks quite hazy. There is considerable uncertainty about the way things would be agreed or decided in the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. Preparations, articulations and policy advocacy exercises and actions of developing countries will have to be pitched up. The fourth Report of the IPCC seems to be frightening the developing countries more than bringing about a major shift in the mindsets of developed countries. These countries are very conveniently using this Report to put more and more pressure on developing countries. Right policy advocacy, on a global basis, by these countries, though a major challenge, is essential.