May 2008

Shared responsibility for climate control

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Former US Vice President Al Gore, in 2006, authored best seller “An Inconvenient Trust” on the threats and solutions to global warming. A top documentary film, of the same title, won the Academy award, for the best documentary feature and best original song soon after. The story of Climate Change, the pace of which accelerates due to anthropogenic causes, has been the concern of many scientists, researchers, and countries, especially those that confront the consequences sooner than others.

IPCC and UNFCCC

The global interest and movement to take this issue on the global agenda led to the formation of the IPCC. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change established in 1988 by World Meteorological Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme has since led a number of deliberations and consultations to get a better understanding of the causes, impacts, and mitigation strategies.

More public awareness and the recognition by the Nobel Committee last year of the two decades of work done by IPCC leading to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, has helped pitch the agenda of Climate Change high on research and action globally. The world is increasingly thirsty for accurate and comprehensible information on climate change.

IPCC seems to have met this challenge in its Fourth Assessment report, providing a wealth of carefully documented information on the nature of contemporary and past climate change data and analysis, together with some model-based looks at the future. It is not without controversy, though given that uncertainties and modelling techniques are subject to international and contradicting research debates, particularly with respect to the sea level rise issues.

The United Nations has steered the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, www.unfccc.int), which enjoys near universal ratification by 192 countries including India. It sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognises that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The UNFCCC, hereinafter referred as the Convention, came into force on 21 March 1994.

Under the Convention, governments:

  • Gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices
  • Launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries 
  • Co-operate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change
  • The Article One of the UNFCCC Convention provides various defini-tions relating to climate change.

Cumulative effect of carbon dioxide accumulation

Since energy is a key issue for development of nations, use of non-renewable energy sources like coal, which in India will continue to be an important resource, can be an area of concern. It is important to note that India, by its own commitment, is focusing its attention on clean technology, and promotes the development of non-conventional or renewable energy sources.

Greenhouse gases including water vapour and carbon dioxide create a heating condition, as the heat comes down, it tends to heat up the earth. If the carbon dioxide increases rapidly there is an in-equilibrium created. It is important to understand that it is not the annual emission that is of relevance, but it collection of gases.

Over the last 150 years since mid 19th century from the peak of industrialisation, the carbon dioxide emitted then is still present in the atmosphere, creating a stock of gases. Those developed countries and regions, which industrialised rapidly in that period of time, have been the contributors of the gases.

The carbon dioxide levels have risen from 279 parts per million (ppm) since 1850 to the current rates of about 379 ppm (over a period of 150 years). This is an annual increase of about 1-1.5 ppm.

As developing nations march towards industrialisation, they too contribute. India, for example, contributes only 2% of the carbon dioxide, while the US contributes 24%. Countries like America, Germany, UK and Japan still contribute very high proportion of the carbon dioxide. India and China by 2100 AD are likely to go up the stock to 11 and 12 percent respectively. Thus, there is a clear-cut differentiation between industrialised and non-industrialised countries.

The development imperatives are thus clear. Countries choosing the development pathway have responsibilities. Developed countries must take the lead. As developing nations put economic, social development and poverty reduction high on their priority, they will also need to tread the pathway of development responsibly.

The prediction of climate change due to human activities began with a prediction made by the Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, in 1896. Arrhenius took note of the industrial revolution then getting underway and realized that the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere was increasing. Moreover, he believed carbon dioxide concentrations would continue to increase as the world's consumption of fossil fuels, particularly coal, increased ever more rapidly.

His understanding of the role of carbon dioxide in heating Earth, even at that early date, led him to predict that if atmospheric carbon dioxide doubled, Earth would become several degrees warmer. However, little attention was paid to what must have been seen to be a rather far-out prediction that had no apparent consequence for people living at that time.

Flexible route for effective implementation

The International Treaty is at the stage of implementation. India is expected to contribute about 1000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, reaching a proportion of 4%-5% of the global carbon emissions. While India takes the pathway of economic and scientific development, the focus obviously is on efficiency. When choosing a path of sustainable development, one must bear in mind that the per capita emission by India never exceeds the per capita emission by any developed country.

When small enterprises have to be competing globally in an increasingly globalised world, they have to embark on energy efficiency strategies and use innovative solutions to sustain themselves. For such a development strategy to take force, developing countries will need both technical and financial assistance from developed nations. Between 2008-2012, the conference of parties decided that developed nations will work to reduce their emissions (each country has its own targets) adding to a total 5% of the green house gases against the baseline year of 1990. These strategies will come into force and the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated after intense two and half years of deliberations was adopted in February 1997, and came into force in 2005.

In order to give the parties a certain degree of flexibility in meeting their emission reduction targets, the Kyoto Protocol developed three innovative mechanisms – Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These so-called 'market-based mechanisms' allow developed parties to earn and trade emissions credits through projects implemented either in other developed countries or in developing countries, which they can use towards meeting their commitments. These mechanisms help identify lowest-cost opportunities for reducing emissions and attract private sector participation in emission reduction efforts. Developing nations benefit in terms of technology transfer and investment brought about through collaboration with industrialised nations under the CDM.

Action beyond governments: Road to innovation

Non-governmental agencies and corporate entities also engage in voluntary emission reduction through tree planting and adoption of renewable energy resources for their production activities. It is important to note that developing countries cannot undertake mitigation strategies without being compensated.

The Bali Action Plan (held in Indonesia, 2007) led to a consensus adoption of the Assessment Report putting to rest debate of the cause-effect relationship between greenhouse gases emissions and climate change impacts. The deliberations came to accord full implementation of the UNFCCC and enable innovations to be supported.

The most important area of innovation in research lies on renewable energy sources. Examples like the development of cellulose alcohol production technologies from agriculture wastes could trigger a major revolution in this area.

The role of Information and Communications Technologies and media is to create a wider awareness of the issues in debate, and to watch the latest developments in the deliberations on this issue. Countries also come up with their own action plans and these can be disseminated widely using media and ICTs. ICTs also help in mitigation and adaptation strategies, for example many industries are modernising for bringing efficiencies using IT. More precise machinery adapted by industries is also reducing emissions.

South Asian Region's unique clime and disasters

India and its neighbouring countries face climate variability, perhaps one of the highest in the world, due to the monsoon cycles and presence of Himalayas in the North and the Eastern Coasts. Climate change will exacerbate the variability, and probably the intensity frequencies of disasters may increase. The challenges and solutions remain to be addressed at the regional (South Asian) level. Other issues of concern are glacial melting and impact on water availability, flooding etc. which are likely to impact agriculture and livelihoods of people living in the flood plains.

In the years to come, with more sharing of scientific research and data, we will be better prepared to cope with some of these disasters.  Strategies like flood proofing, rain water harvesting and co-benefit of energy efficient technology adoption resulting in cost saving and energy saving strategies will lead to carbon dioxide reductions.

There are also changes that people can make at the personal level by making life-style changes, engaging in forestation drives, and as a responsible country. Governments will engage with all countries and see that developed countries are trading partners. Adaptation strategies and developing heat resistant crop varieties will mean investments in agricultural research and development over a sustained period of decade or more. Research investments are also needed to address climate studies and organisations must adopt mitigation strategies voluntarily with a win-win bent of mind, as efficient machineries will result in reduction of costs while reducing emissions. Innovative strategies by governments to support in-country mitigation efforts, like providing fiscal benefits or tax breaks may also encourage rapid adoption of climate change mitigating technologies and promoting innovations in research and development.

In this issue, we have tried to look at the climate change issue and the role of ICTs. This will be an area that i4d will continue to research on and report in the coming issues.

Assessing technology transfer: The CDM way

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Secretariat has published an all-encompassing report on Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) technology transfer. The abridged version of the report deals with key findings on technology transfer in CDM. The final version of the report analyses technology transfer in CDM projects. Both of these report formats are available at http://cdm.unfccc.int/Reference/Reports/TTreport/index.html.

The report has been compiled by a team of consultants on the basis of a Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) matrix and certain other indices.

Though CDM is not specifically designed to resolve technology transfer issues and concerns yet the greater need of emission reduction through low-reduction technologies has motivated CDM to finance emission reduction projects that infuse technologies not generally available in the host countries. On the basis of the claims made by project participants in the Project Design Documents of 2293 projects in the CDM pipeline as of September 2007, the CDM report tried to assess the dimensions of technology transfer by analysing technology transfer types, technology transfer by project types,  technology transfer by host country, technology supplier versus buyer participants, origin of technology and  technology transfer versus technology needs.

According to the report, approximately 39% of the 2293 registered and proposed CDM projects, accounting for 64% of the annual emission reductions, claim to involve technology transfer. The assessment report also indicates that technology transfer is more common for larger projects and projects with foreign participants. The report also suggests that transfer usually involves both knowledge and equipment with equipment imports accounting for most of the remaining transfer. Technology, according to the report generates mainly from Japan, Germany, the USA, France, and Great Britain. The report also affirms that the rate of technology transfer is significantly higher than average for projects in Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam and significantly lower than average for projects in India.

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