Crown Capital Management

Warsaw Pact: Parliament Should Debate Climate Chang

The just concluded climate negotiations at Warsaw have put us on a slippery slope towards a common framework where equity may not be included. A Parliamentary debate is needed as the response at the international and domestic level will shape our longer term future.

Differentiation in the Climate Convention was based on three considerations. First, all countries had to take 'measures' but only developed nations were required to take 'commitments'. All countries have now also agreed to make 'contributions.'

The second related to the specificity of the national reporting. The distinction was based on the national capacity to provide information, which has been steadily eroded in parallel negotiations. The third was the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." The Convention distinguishes between assessment of aggregated effect of measures taken by developing countries and the review of emission cut commitments in each developed country. Though nations whose emissions continue to grow but are withdrawing from earlier commitments have diluted the third element, it will be the focus when 'national preparations' are discussed multilaterally in 2014.

The challenge is to ensure that peer review of the information we provide recognizes the extent of poverty, our meagre contribution to global emissions and the adverse impact of climate change as we take steps to conserve natural resources.

We are faced with three global limits - carbon budget, consumption by the rich and comparable standards of living for the poor.

Already cities produce three-quarters of global greenhouse gases, which are directly related to shelter, mobility and food. Urbanization involves two transitions. First is the establishment of infrastructure and consumption of material resources. Second, increased incomes lead to consumption of largely non-material goods and services. Both impact human well-being.

Carbon dioxide emissions doubled between 1920-1950 when electrification was completed in developed countries. They doubled again between 1950-1970 by when 75% of their population moved from rural areas. Urban consumption patterns doubled it once again and stabilization came only around 2000.

China's per capita emissions are on par with EU's and are expected to double by 2020. Urban transition and industrialization will be almost complete too. India's levels are one-fourth of these and because of our young population we can grow till after 2050 to achieve those standards.

Ensuring that the new climate regime will make a genuine commitment to enlarge the pie rather than help someone grab a larger slice will not be easy. The history of these negotiations reflected power: We represented, they acted. Now we have to reframe issues, as our total emissions will soon make us the third largest emitter and we may lose support among developing countries.

Our policymakers should read UNESCO's 'World Social Science Report 2013: Changing Global Environments' released while the Warsaw Conference was on. It concludes that climate and global environmental change must be reframed from a physical to a social problem.

Recent analysis focuseson urban consumption as the driver of global emissions. For example, carbon dioxide from transportation is expected to be half of global emissions by 2050 - more than the future use of coal in generating electricity. Similarly, agriculture is responsible for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions with beef cattle contributing half. In our case, one third of our grains and vegetables are wasted. These trends need to be modified domestically through dense urban design, energy efficiency, public transport and cutting food wastage.

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