What did Doha achieve?

The 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP 18) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place in Doha over two weeks, ending on December 7. There was a range of expectations expressed before the meeting. To resolve competing claims for hosting the conference, it was decided that Korea would host a pre-CoP meeting to help prepare for the CoP itself. The 17th CoP had been held in Durban, where parties to the convention had taken a few decisions, essentially in the nature of continuing the dialogue along established lines. The one significant decision in Durban, which was a reiteration of the goal put forward in the previous CoP in Cancun, was to ensure that the global increase in temperature, in relation to pre-industrial levels, was kept below 2 degrees Celsius. It would be relevant to recall Article 2 of the UNFCCC, which basically aims at "stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner". Hence, actions at the global level are required to make sure that the international community takes whatever steps are necessary to prevent such "dangerous anthropogenic interference".

Questions have been raised on whether the decisions taken in Doha or earlier have really come to grips with ensuring that this core article of the convention is fully met. Most of the decisions taken at Doha are for an extension of work already being done. One significant decision was to modify the Kyoto Protocol and extend it for a second commitment period of eight years, but some commentators have pointed out that this version covers only 15 per cent of global emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC's) Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation estimates economic losses from the increase in weather- and climate-related disasters, but with large spatial and inter-annual variability. Global weather- and climate-related disaster losses reported over the last few decades reflect mainly monetised direct damages to assets, and are unequally distributed. Loss estimates are lower bound because many impacts, such as the loss of human life, cultural heritage and ecosystem services, are difficult to value and monetise. Impacts on the informal or undocumented economy, as well as indirect economic effects, can be very important in some areas and sectors, but are generally not counted in reported estimates of losses. Economic, including insured, disaster losses associated with weather, climate and geophysical events are higher in developed countries. Fatality rates and economic losses expressed as a proportion of the GDP are higher in developing countries. During the period between 1970 and 2008, over 95 per cent of deaths from natural disasters occurred in developing countries.

Adapting to the impacts of climate change is now an essential part of the strategy for dealing with it. Measures that provide benefits in the current climate and in a range of future climate change scenarios, called low regrets measures, are available starting points for addressing projected trends in exposure, vulnerability and climate extremes. Many of these low regret strategies produce co-benefits and help address other development goals such as improvement in livelihoods and biodiversity conservation. Potential low regrets measures include early warning systems, risk communication between decision-makers and local citizens, sustainable land management and ecosystem management and restoration.

One important question that needs to be asked is whether the decisions taken thus far under the UNFCCC are adequate for dealing with the current and future challenge of climate change, and whether the scientific evidence provided by the IPCC in its series of assessment reports has really been taken into account. Undoubtedly, the level of ambition at the conference would be raised much higher by taking into account the diverse and increasingly serious impacts of climate change in different parts of the world. Equally important is the assessment of economically attractive options available to the global community for mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases. The IPCC has estimated that mitigation opportunities with net negative cost could lower emissions by about 6 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030. In other words, certain measures could have net economic benefits.

As for India, it has been extremely successful in projecting its views in each successive CoP. But as far as domestic action is concerned, there is a need to pay greater attention to meeting the goals laid down by the government itself. The prime minister had announced the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) on June 30, 2008. This action plan was the result of a very extensive and rigorous exercise carried out by the Government of India, under the direction of the prime minister himself. It involved state governments, a number of experts from outside the government who are members of the Prime Minister's Advisory Council and many others. However, it is questionable whether the eight missions identified under the NAPCC are actually being implemented as comprehensively as required. The perception both within and outside the government is that perhaps it is not. As far as India is concerned, this action plan has unique benefits and, quite apart from addressing global objectives, would provide substantial co-benefits at the domestic level.

While negotiations under the UNFCCC and an agreement on decisions may not be moving as rapidly as some may expect in India, it is critical that the NAPCC be pursued with rigour and determination at every level of government and by all major stakeholders in society, including business and industry. After all we cannot ignore Gandhiji's advice to "be the change you want to see in the world".

The writer is director-general, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), express@expressindia.com

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