“Global coherence demands a permanent strategic cooperation culture at all levels.” ~ António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
In 2015, under the historic Paris Agreement, countries worldwide agreed to develop and submit their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) every five years. These NDCs would reflect their evolving commitments and ambitions to achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep the average global temperature way below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
However, an increasing number of studies by researchers suggests that existing climate policies of various countries and their proposed efforts will not be adequate to meet this goal. Since the global economy’s energy system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and this dependency doesn’t seem to decrease very soon, the world could be 4 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times, resulting in a disastrous situation for the global economy and society. This fact makes it imperative for countries to develop long-term plans besides their regular short and medium-term objectives.
Having a long-term strategy and international cooperation among nations will enable them to exploit future technologies efficiently and transition to an eco-friendly, resource-efficient, circular economy. Long-term planning will help them form partnerships, which would, in turn, open avenues for green technologies and sustainable climate financing.
It would also enhance transparency and accountability among nations and their citizens since the entire process would be free from political influences and institutional rigidities. Considering its importance, the UN Secretary-General invited all countries to submit their long-term plans for 2050 by the first month of 2020.
However, only 12 nations have introduced their plans so far, and most belong to the European Union. While the European Union is taking the lead through its ambitious long-term strategy of attaining net-zero emissions by 2050, it will be challenging to contain global emissions within the desired level without the coordinated leadership of the G20 nations (including India, China, and the USA).
The emissions from these G20 countries account for more than 80% of global emissions. As of now, India has only devised a strategy with the year 2030 in mind and is hesitant to commit itself to a long-term plan. However, it needs to realize that developing a mid-century strategy is crucial as it will give us a broader perspective and acquaint us with our status-quo in the process of ramping up climate actions to limit global warming. We must act with the utmost urgency since India is going to be among the worst affected nations as a result of climate change.
In the context of this background, I present my letter as follows:
Dear Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,
I would like to bring to your attention the urgency to lay out an elaborate long-term plan with the broader objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 80-90% compared to the pre-industrial levels by 2050. This step will ensure a smooth transition of the current linear-model based economy into a more sustainable low carbon one.
Preparing a strategic plan will be extremely advantageous for our environment, and the financial system in the long-run as the objectives we mention in this plan will bind us to the commitments we make. The transparency on your part will create a ‘feedback-mechanism,’ which will continuously propel you to timely meet the objectives related to decarbonization in the highly-polluting eight core industries.
The environment is an integral part of human sustenance, and we must not ignore it for short-term economic gains and political agendas. I completely understand the current pressing need to revive our economy by investing in crucial sectors, such as coal. Still, I’d implore you to take a moment and consider the decision from an economic and social standpoint: the ruinous consequences of this negative externality will far outweigh its potential benefits. Instead, I request you to observe some innovative and collaborative initiatives by the European countries, such as the European Green Deal.
The EU is set on a mission to emerge as a ‘global green leader‘ by coordinating and investing in sustainable technologies to reduce its emissions to net-zero by 2050. The COVID-19 pandemic has not been a setback for these EU countries. On the contrary, they have found an opportunity (to transform into efficient green economies) in this adversity (the economic slowdown as a result of the pandemic).
We must, indeed, learn from their example and move beyond the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities‘ rhetoric. Unless we, India, and the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, the United States, China, and other major emitters, take significant steps to decarbonize our economies, nothing will stop the world temperatures from rising above 3-5 degrees Celsius by 2100. We must realize that although we are different nations separated by physical boundaries, ideological differences, and historical conflicts, yet when it comes to the Earth- we all have only one that we must preserve to the best of our abilities.
Keeping these points in mind, I would like to propose steps that could be considered by the Ministry to decarbonize our energy and industrial sector.
(Note that the suggested points are based on studies conducted by McKinsey & Company on international decarbonization strategies and would have to be contextualized by the policymakers as per the domestic situation in India)
This sector is vital for the economy because it generates mass employment (especially in labor-intensive industries), provides a continuous supply of essential goods and services, and fuels the economy by providing much-needed electricity. Despite being a source of positive benefits, this sector is very ‘dirty.’ It needs to undergo massive decarbonization because nearly 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions came from the industrial sector in 2014.
However, decarbonizing this sector is extremely expensive and is estimated to cost around US $11-$21 trillion through 2050. For companies that adopt low-emission processes and technologies, their increased overall costs will put them at a disadvantage. So the government will have to step in and work with grassroots-level institutions to open up investments with longer payback times.
The government would also have to alter their rules and incentives to encourage renewable energy production and consider providing financial benefits to companies that invest in renewable energies. Detailed month-wise, year-wise, decade-wise steps will have to be specified by the government for greater accountability and better enforcement. Only proper planning and timely action will be able to accelerate the transformation of the energy and industrial sector.
Suppose the government can look into various sectors, consult opposing parties, and prepare a detailed plan on how it will gradually go about cutting emissions across all industries and keep this document open to suggestions from the public. In that case, I am sure we will see tremendous progress in the area of environmental protection. This approach will strengthen the trust between the government and its citizens, and ensure transparency and answerability on the government’s end, regardless of the political party in power.
My final request to the Ministry is to involve experts from varying backgrounds, and stakeholders from different walks of life, to prepare a robust, comprehensive, and ambitious document: Long-term Strategy 2050. The Ministry should also consider forming an independent committee whose sole purpose is to continually push the government to meet the deadlines for targets set in the document.
If we continue to be vague in our ambitions and do not actively follow up on our smaller objectives (such as reducing monthly or yearly emissions), it will be impossible for us to achieve our long-term goals (such as lowering decade-wise emissions).
As the American author, Robert Collier, rightly said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” Our small efforts in terms of laying out a detailed plan and forming an independent committee to monitor our progress on the stated objectives will undoubtedly help us emerge as an efficient, sustainable economy with happier citizens in the long-run.
Kindly take my suggestions into account.
Paribha (a concerned global citizen)