Paradigm shift as a way out of the current impasse

Moving from emission reductions to energy use as the basis for international cooperation must now shape our approach to the climate negotiations



The Prime Ministerof India has called for a bold new vision on climate change,effectively moving from ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, focused on burden sharing, to ‘sharing responsibility and prosperity’, focused on energy efficiency and sharing innovative technologies, and, coupled with China’s announcement of capping its emissions of carbon dioxide in 2030, could be the game - changer in the climate negotiations.

Contours of the new paradigm

Chairing the first meeting of the reconstituted high-level national climate panel, on January 19, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked for a paradigm shift towards climate change. Instead of focusing on emissions and cuts alone, he stressed, the concern should shift to clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency. He also called for a consortium of all nations who have the greatest solar energy potential and world leaders to join hands for innovation and cutting-edge research that would reduce the cost of solar energy, making it more accessible to people, according to the official communique from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Prime Minister Modi said that India looked at the global concern and awareness on climate change as a great opportunity for working towards improving the quality of life of its citizens. Invoking the importance of "sanskar" (traditions) and "soch" (thinking) in the Indian culture, Modi said "prakritiprem" (love for nature) was a value people imbibed right from their childhood. He demanded a careful evaluation of the initiatives taken by India in solar energy, wind energy, biomass energy, and transportation projects that have reduced distances or travel times. He also suggested including energy efficient design in the curricula taught in architecture and civil engineering colleges.

This articulation of India’s climate policy enabled it to present an alternative framework for the bilateral discussion with the United States. India made it clear that it was not prepared to completely do away with the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ without securing multilateral support for its developmental rights to be able to provide an indicative peaking year for Indian emissions on the lines of the Chinese.The five-year MOU between India and the United States on "energy security, clean energy and climate change" on 25 January 2015, speaks in general terms on cooperation in solar energy research, improve energy efficiency, joining hands in biofuels and undertaking joint research on smart grid and grid storage. Prime Minister Modi also stressed adaptation measures and asked the United States to lead international efforts in making renewable energy accessible and affordable, and both leaders committed to work together towards a climate deal.

In his public speech President Obama tacitly agreed with India’s stress on energy use as the central issue. He acknowledged that "I know of the argument made by some that it's unfair for countries such as the US to ask developing and emerging economies such as India to reduce their dependence on the same fossil fuels that helped power our growth for more than a century. But here is the truth: Even if countries such as the US curb our emissions and countries that are growing rapidly, such as India, with soaring energy needs don't embrace cleaner fuels, we don't stand a chance."

In the Joint Announcement between China and the United States, earlier in September 2014, China had stated that it will peak its carbon dioxide emissions round 2030 and increase renewable energy in the energy mix to 20 percent. This reflected a balance between fairness and ambition through different peaking years for countries at different levels of development: a peaking year is really about sharing the global ‘carbon budget’.

Individual interest of countries drives the success of collective action, and the understandings at the bilateral level have now to be taken to the multilateral level.

Shifting the focus to energy use

The global climate policy dilemma is how to balance human well-being, energy use and related reductions in concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in a single universal climate regime. New social science research is providing an answer, or new template, that accommodates the concerns of those who have yet to ‘develop’ by redefining climate change as a social and not a physical problem; carbon dioxide is the symptom rather n the cause of the problem. In a multi-polar world, China, India and United States are responding to global trends, rather than seek a balance of rights and obligations, and linking the climate negotiations with those on sustainable development goals. The shift supports an inclusive and ambitious post-2020 climate regime focusing on ‘what has to be done’, ending over 20 years of acrimonious debate on ‘differentiation between those who have to take the lead and those who do not need to do anything’.

There are three trends that are shaping the response of countries to the new framework of international cooperation on global climate change.

First, howChina and Indiameet their energy needs will determine whether or not the world can curb climate change. Chinainstalled more renewable energy capacity in 2013 than Europe and the remaining Asia Pacific region.India is seeking investments of US $100 billion over seven years to boost the domestic solar energy capacity by 33 times to 100,000 megawatts by 2022. They are both aiming for renewables contributing around 20 percent to total energy generationby 2030; whereas,according to the US Energy Information Administration,in 2040in the United States the share of renewables is likely to be only around 16 percent.

According to the International Energy Agency, nearly two-fifth of the cumulative emission reductions required by 2050 could come from efficiency improvement, making energy efficiency essentially a fuel. Here, too, the re-emerging countries are taking the lead. The average US citizen consumes more than four times the electricity of the average Chinese; in the US, floor space per inhabitant is roughly twice and energy use per square metre of floor area in the residential sector is three times that in China. Furthermore, car ownership is ten times higher in the US than in China. By 2035 China is projected to consume 70% more energy than the United States, while on a per capita basis its energy consumption will be half of levels in America. India’s middle class with its comparatively low per-capita consumption is likely to follow the patterns of natural resource use of China.

Second, we are in the middle of the global mega-trend of urbanization, and the challenge is to develop a broad consensus on what kind of urbanization will nurture sustainable growth.In 2030 around 940 billion Chinese will be living in cities and India’s urbanization is expected to rise from around 380 million to almost 600 million by 2030; the United States completed its urbanization in the 1970’s involving a shift of only some 150 million.Urban areas are responsible for three quarters of all emissions and energy use; buildings and transportation are responsible for about one-third of final energy consumption; urban dietary patterns have changed, with meat production accounting for one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.Future urban design provides new opportunities for mitigation and adaptation, and the re—emerging countries are modifying longer term trends away from sprawling urban form, personal and road based transport and beef based diets. Fast-urbanizing cities in Asia could potentially reduce total global energy use in cities by more than 25% from business as usual.

Third, a universal climate regime will now need to reflect the concerns of countries which are late developers and where energy demand, and carbon dioxide emissions, will continue to increase till their rural populations move to cities and into the middle class, around 2050. In these negotiations, as United States President Barak Obama expressed in New Delhi, “India's voice is very important”, because despite being the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter its per capita emissions and economic profile are similar to most developing countries. India’s total and per-capita emissions are one-fourth of China’s, and its per capita emissions—about 2 tons of greenhouse gases—are one-tenth those in the United States; one-fourth of the population, or 300 million Indians equal to the population of the United States, along with 500 million in Africa,still lack access to electricity. India has now called for a new paradigm that shifts international cooperation away from cutting emissions to making renewable energy accessible and affordable, and that could provide a way out of the current impasse.

The way forward

The new global framework must respond to pattern, trends and drivers of natural resource use and should be based on threedistinct but related elements, building on the bilateral understandings between China, India and the United States, to balance bottom-up and top-down measures.

First, a global “aim” for a 20 percent share of renewable energy in electricity generation, energy efficiency improvement of 20 percent and reduction of demand for personal urban transportation of 20 percent of 2010 levels by 2030 is feasible. It is in line with goal 7 of the Global Sustainable Development Goals, and will effectively deal with the climate problem, until we review the situation in 2030. Even though emissions in some developing countries, like India, will continue to increase till 2050, the global level could stabilize with China capping its emissions in 2030 and emissions in the industrialized countries coming down by 80 percent of current levels, as they have already stated.

Second, the world has to keep within a defined global carbon budget, and national reporting should move away from considering only annual reductions in emissions to reviewing longer term carbon budgets, to account for national strategies and transformations in the use of energy. Since a single criterion may not be politically feasible, multiple criteria could be adopted for the annual multilateral review of the effects of the measures – keeping within national indicative carbon budgets for the period 1950-2050;current per capita emissions; total annual emissions; progress in achieving renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation aims; and,steps towards sharing innovative technologies. Composite criteria will provide a technical definition of ‘common and differentiated responsibilities’ suited to the 21st century. Third, the G 20 has agreed on ‘Principles on Energy Collaboration’ and a ‘Action Plan on Voluntary Cooperation on Energy Efficiency’ identifying increased collaboration on energy as a priority and targeting energy efficiency improvements as a means of addressing the rising demands of sustainable growth and development. Prime Minister Modi had made a proposal at the G20 meeting, in Brisbane in November 2014, to set up a global virtual centre for clean energy research and development, with adequate public funding, which will fund collaborative projects in diverse sources of clean energy, smart grids, energy efficiency, stressing the need to make renewable, especially solar energy competitive with conventional energy.A formal understanding fordevelopment of global clean energy technology collaboration must also be a key component of the new international climate agreement to be concluded this December in Paris.


[1]Director UNFCCC 1995 – 2007.