Smearing China and India on climate change elides whole picture

By Dhanasree Jayaram Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-23 18:48:01

Black carbon is one of the focal points of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report 2013. This is particularly important for India and China as they account for 23 percent to 25 percent of global black carbon emissions.

Since the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, pressure on India and China has been mounting to sign a legally binding international agreement to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Black carbon has also turned into one of the biggest bones of contention between the developed and developing countries.

Black carbon or soot emanates from smoke produced by forest fires, power stations, cooking stoves or diesel exhaust from vehicles. It is usually associated with local air pollution.

Many studies have now revealed that black carbon could be responsible for nearly 18 percent of global warming, which makes it the second biggest factor after carbon dioxide.

Black carbon has been held responsible for the Asian brown cloud, a layer of air pollution covering parts of South Asia mainly between the months of January and March.

The impact of black carbon on ice, snow and glaciers has raised the alarm of a section of the international scientific community. Serious repercussions on the poles might be caused, leading to more melting and further warming of the planet.

But since black carbon remains in the atmosphere for a limited period of time, it is relatively easy to curb. The developed countries assert that China and India can enhance global efforts to tackle climate change by addressing this issue, thus producing faster results.

But it may not be prudent to depend on scientific models to determine the impact of black carbon without taking into account the socioeconomic realities for climate policy.

For instance, large sections of populations in the developing world do not have access to energy-efficient resources such as liquefied petroleum gas or electricity to replace polluting cooking stoves. Agriculture is another sector that is known for the production of black carbon, and large-scale mechanization has not taken place in countries such as India.

Technology transfer is thus critical for global climate governance. Since negotiations began, there has been talk of transfer of technological and financial resources to the global south, but materialization of the process has been too slow.

More importantly, developed countries should unequivocally endorse an international mechanism based on "historical responsibility" to curb all GHGs, something the Kyoto Protocol failed to achieve given that nations like the US and Canada have not fulfilled their commitments by either not signing it or not complying with the target and pulling out of it respectively.

The negotiations due to start in 2015 should not be hijacked by the argument of "shared responsibility" without taking into account issues such as equity and justice. The per capita emissions factor can be the only long-term legitimate allocation principle in order to reach a global climate agreement.

At the same time, India and China should together distinguish their domestic and regional policy from international policy. The negative impacts of black carbon on society and economy need to be tackled at the regional level as well.

India and China could conduct a joint scientific study of the localized impact of black carbon, for example, on the Hindu Kush-Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers, which is of great significance for the well-being of the region as the majority of rivers in South and Southeast Asia are fed by them.

As the international community heads for yet another climate change summit in November, this time in Warsaw, Poland, an economy driven by coal and a government that is pushing for "clean coal" at the summit and is yet claiming to be a "climate champion," there is an entire gamut of issues to settle at the international level instead of starting with the sins of China and India.

The author is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University.

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