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  • InduQin

‘With its size,economy and stature as the world’s largest democracy, India should play the lead role

Q. Could you outline your work at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) event? A. I’ve been attending the annual COP summit for over 15 years where we highlight our research and outreach. There was a time when the world was looking at alternatives to the Kyoto Protocol. Then, we looked at the design of hybrid international policy architectures, which is what the Paris Agreement is, combining top-down and bottom-up. After this, we began looking at Article 6 and Article 6.2 as economic analysis has much to offer here.

This year, we’re looking at something that is both within and beyond the Paris Agreement — that is the role methane plays in climate change and how policies can address this. At Harvard, I lead a university-wide initiative focused on reducing global methane emissions, with 20 faculty members researching diverse aspects of this, ranging from atmospheric physicists using satellites to measure methane concentrations to Harvard Business School faculty studying possibilities for industry.

Q. Why is methane important in global climate strategy? A. The UNFCCC focus from 1992 has been on carbon dioxide (CO2) and the role of energy generation and use in CO2 emissions. Now, it’s increasingly being recognized that because the radiative forcing per unit of methane is so much greater than CO2, although the quantities of CO2 emitted annually are greater, CO2 has a half life in the atmosphere exceeding 100 years while all emitted methane is out of the atmosphere in 10 to 20 years — hence, in the short term, reductions of methane emissions can be extremely valuable for diminishing the pace and intensity of climate change.

Q. Where does the loss and damage fund discussed at COP 27 stand now? A. There is a great deal of uncertainty around it — the loss and damage fund is now supported by the United States, China and the European Union (EU), three of the most important contributors to the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Eventually, the demand from this fund could be trillions of dollars per year. However, the only meaningful pledges currently are from a handful of European countries, in the order of tens of millions of dollars — this is a significant imbalance.

The key focus now will be on the two most important contributors to the stock of greenhouse gases which, unlike the flow, is correlated with climate change. Although China overtook the US in 2006 as the largest annual emitter, the US remains the largest contributor to the stock, China being second. China’s view, as stated at COP 27, is that they support the creation of this fund but as a developing country, they won’t contribute to it — they base their status as a developing country on the 1992 list attached to the UNFCCC, ignoring the reality that per capita income in China has since increased by huge amounts. Now, the US’ implicit position, in my view, is that they support the fund but because of Republican control of the legislature, they can’t make large contributions.

Given that the two largest contributors to the stock won’t give meaningfully, you can ask if the loss and damage fund is essentially an empty shell — or a first step towards eventually fostering an equitable sharing of the climate burden. Currently, it’s some of both. Q. Can an environmental balance form between developed economies and developing ones which need growth? A. This is the most important question in terms of international cooperation under the UNFCCC. The reality is, emissions are declining in OECD countries — in some cases, like Europe, it’s because of policy but in most cases, it’s simply because energy comes at a cost. So, there’s an incentive in a capitalist economy to reduce the energy intensity of GDP over time. Alongside, the cost of renewables has fallen dramatically in recent years, which has helped the industrial world lower emissions.

However, emissions are increasing in large emerging economies which include China, India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, Mexico and Indonesia. Reductions are needed here or it’ll be impossible to mitigate climate change. But those countries, though they vary greatly between them, have much lower per capita income than wealthy nations. So, proposals exist for rich countries to facilitate emissions reductions there. There are elements of the Paris Agreement in Article 6 intended to address this. I hope Article 6.2, if properly administrated, will help foreign direct investment from wealthy economies to large emerging ones to assist emissions reduction.

Q. India’s efforts in strengthening the Paris Agreement and leading the G20 have been appreciated — how do you view India’s role at COP 28? A. I was in Delhi for a G20 meeting and it’s clear India plays an absolutely essential role — for a long time, it’s been viewed as G77 plus China. But China has grown and has much more in common with many richer countries than the developing world. With its size, overall economy and stature as the world’s largest democracy, India should play the lead role in the G77 in all negotiations.

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