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Posted on on August 22nd, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (

From: Sudhir Chella Rajan, Madras, India, August 21, 2015

Chasing Sustainability: A proposal for Paris

Adaptation is about transforming or changing systems and institutions to live in a warmer world. The article advocates that for the poorer countries this makes more sense then develop alternative technologies more appropriate for more developed countries. This also decreases the promise of INDC and then we ask- What are we left with on this path to Paris2015??

by Sujatha Byravan and Sudhir Chella Rajan

In the lead up to the Paris climate conference, an important buzzword in international climate circles is INDCs, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions that each country needs to commit itself towards as its climate policy. Much of this is tacitly expected to mean a reduction of greenhouse (GHG) gases, or mitigation, rather than adaptation, which is about transforming or changing systems and institutions to live in a warmer world. While we eventually have to reduce emissions to zero in order not to completely destroy the earth’s ecosystems, we also need to learn how to live on a planet that is on average at least about 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than in pre-industrial times.

Countries in the tropics are expected to experience some of the most harmful effects of climate change with sea level rise, more intense storms, variable precipitation, droughts, and floods. Developing countries, especially those with sizable populations, like India, Indonesia Brazil and Nigeria, have the dual challenge of providing energy services and raising living standards for the poor, while adapting to global warming. Given their large citizenry living in poverty, they also have more people vulnerable to these effects. Adapting to climate change will mean that policy makers use sensible approaches to protecting land, soil, freshwater systems, coastal regions, and livelihoods.

We suggest that all developing countries (what the international community terms ‘non-Annex-1’) should concentrate on sustainable development targets, rather than on mitigating INDCs. This means that they would, for example, focus on reducing air pollution, promote cleaner cooking fuels, plan cities to be more inclusive and require space for non-motorized transportation, and modify agriculture, so that overall productivity, biodiversity, crop yields, health of farm workers and water use are balanced.

Consequences for Rich and Poor

We argue that such a choice by poor countries that lets them tunnel through a pathway from their current growth-focused trajectories to a sustainable development course would by itself reduce greenhouse gases. More importantly, it would also improve the quality of life of millions who may be left behind if governments only applied policies to lower emissions. The Center for Study of Science Technology and Policy (CSTEP) has found this to be true in the case of India in a study expected to be released by the end of the month.

We further believe that if poor countries were forced to accept legally binding commitments to reduce their emissions, they and the rest of us may be led dangerously close to irreversible and abrupt changes involving atmospheric aerosols, land systems, fresh water use, or biogeochemical flows. Johan Rockström and his colleagues have described nine such planetary boundaries as being vital to human life and the biosphere. We are fearful that focusing narrowly through a carbon lens for the entire international community will lock poor countries into unsustainable paths, causing serious breaches to at least some planetary limits while also bypassing the needs of the poor.

With regard to rich countries, however, we propose that the world insists that their contributions be far more ambitious and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 over 2010 levels. Most ethical frameworks that have developed ideas around fair ways of allocating greenhouse gas reduction burdens among countries converge around similar targets for the US and Europe. This is also not far from the projections of the European Council for the EU, but well beyond the US intention of 26-28% reductions below 2005 levels by 2025.

In contrast, Ethiopia, where the World Bank estimates that three-quarters of its people have no electricity connections, has promised in its INDC to reduce its greenhouse gases to a few percent points below its 2010 levels by 2030. Most of its promised efforts are to plant more forests and have better soil management practices. While some of these changes will no doubt be good for its farmers, forest dwellers, land and soil, one must consider that some of the most cost-effective approaches to reduce greenhouse emissions could be harmful to water, soil, land and livelihoods. The question then becomes whether the implementation of a legally binding greenhouse gas target is the best way for Ethiopia to meet its enormous challenges related to energy access, poverty and sustainability.

Finally, with regard to the level of ambition of these arrangements, our preliminary estimates suggest that the strategy we describe could be consistent with a global carbon budget that is adequate for limiting temperature rise to within safe limits. Beyond 2030, once rich countries have developed the technologies and institutions to reduce their own emissions sharply and developing nations have met sustainable development goals, the entire international community could concentrate more fully on mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Op-Ed Contributors: Sujatha Byravan is Principal Research Scientist in the Center for Study of Science Technology and Policy and Sudhir Chella Rajan is Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

A version of this appeared in The Hindu –…

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