COP26 and the economics of climate change
-Penned by Apoorva Grewal and Priyank Tantia
“At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP”- Paul Hawken
The climate crisis is no news. Leaders meet, discuss and debate, make headlines, sign new pacts, and leave in their private jets. As the annual ritual goes, we recently saw the 26th edition of COP – Conference of the Parties, a summit attended by countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which came into force in 1994. The United Kingdom and Italy co-hosted the 26th COP summit. The conference was delayed due to the COVID pandemic. It was held in Glasgow from November 1 to 12, 2021, a year later than scheduled. Alok Sharma, a UK cabinet member, served as the conference’s president. It was the third meeting of the 2015 Paris Agreement parties and the 16th meeting of the Kyoto Protocol parties.
With 197 participating countries, the 2-week conference was aimed at finding better solutions for the target of holding back the rise in global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels. Many countries have been found to slack in their Nationally Determined Contributions as per the 2015 Paris Agreement which could mean that the worst impact of climate change- rise in sea level, unprecedented floods and droughts, and loss of flora and fauna are closer than we can imagine. The conference concluded with the Glasgow Climate Pact, which like the Paris Agreement is not legally binding.
Hoping that the pledging nations follow through on their commitments, we could look at the global climate reigned in at a 2.4-degree Celsius rise, still not enough to prevent a climate catastrophe but a start. A significant step up in the commitments is the explicit plan to “phase down” coal responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions annually. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson termed it as the “death knell for coal power”. There is also an emphasis on climate finance by the developed countries beyond the current $100bn annual target in favor of the most vulnerable nations, reversing forest loss, aligning the finance sector with the aim of net-zero emissions by 2050 and an ultimate end to fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine in the future. Such ambitious goals are backed by innovative sectoral partnerships, new funding, and the vision to reshape the economy.
India is one of the world’s largest consumers of coal and emitters of greenhouse gases. The five-pronged strategy outlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at CoP26 represents a straightforward approach to the country’s climate adaptation and mitigation agenda, which includes the following:
- Increasing renewable energy capacity in India to 500 GW by 2030 (earlier it was 450 GW)
- Increasing non-fossil fuel energy’s share of India’s total energy mix to 50% by 2030. (Previously, the target was 40%)
- Reducing India’s emissions per unit GDP, or emissions intensity, by at least 45%, from 2005 levels, by the year 2030. (Previously, the target was 33 to 35 percent)
- Achieving net-zero emissions by 2070.
- Reducing total projected carbon emissions by one billion tons between now and 2030. This is the first time India has set an absolute quantity goal in this area.
One Sun, One World, and One Grid
In line with this strategy,Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal of a “One Sun, One World, and One Grid”(OSOWOG) formula—a worldwide grid capable of transmitting renewable energy everywhere and at any time—was greeted with applause by world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow.
India had first proposed the idea at the International Solar Alliance in 2018. The idea was to connect solar energy supplies across borders. It would allow sections of the world with excess renewable energy to export to other countries. The concept aims to address the issue of solar power plant supply reliability, as solar power plants do not generate electricity after sunset. A trans-national system would allow countries to receive solar power from locations where it is daytime to fulfill their green energy needs, even if their solar capacity is not producing energy.
It will also decrease the storage requirements and increase the viability of solar projects. The OSOWOG endeavor will aid in the reduction of carbon emissions and the reduction of electricity costs. Further, it will open up new communication channels between regions and countries. The Green Grids Initiative and the One Sun One World One Grid projects were merged in May 2021, and GGI-OSOWOG was launched during the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow in November 2021. GGI-OSOWOG is the world’s first global network of linked solar power grids.
Where does all this lead us?
It wouldn’t take an MBA education to figure out what a 16-year-old climate activist figured out years ago. We have the data, the facts, the figures and the research. All we need is the money to help us out of this quagmire. For years, the developed countries of the world have exploited coal and oil to grow into the economies they are today. It would take more years for countries like India and China to fulfill their aspirations of growth. We wouldn’t just abandon the reserves and the infrastructure we have built for one of the cheapest sources of energy as the demand for power in our country grows faster than anywhere else in the world. The coal ecosystem supports industries not limited to fuel, steel, cement, and brick making where the most marginalized earn their bread. The Indian railways earns half of its revenue from transporting coal which allows it to subsidize passenger travel. When 300,000 livelihoods and 4 million lives are intricately linked with the coal-sector of a country, the consequences feel far away into the future. This ‘carbon colonialism’ has led to the demands for ‘climate justice’- asking for the rich nations’ accountability to the cost of climate change.
The way ahead
Whoever lights the fire, it is our home that gets burnt. There is no Planet-B. Countries need a serious commitment to meeting their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets, recalibrating them in the current context and needs, and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century, the major global concerns in the current climate deliberations.
India is actively pushing the investment in infrastructure and clean technology. The launch of GGI-OSOWOG also demonstrates India’s need to address multiple critical goals. These include encouraging green investments, lowering carbon footprints, reducing energy costs, and facilitating regional and cross-national climate cooperation. We cannot win the war by pitting development against the environment or playing a blame-game. The only way out is finding ways to sustainably bring development while ensuring that both lives and livelihoods are safeguarded.
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