If climate change is the unprecedented challenge the world faces, the declaration issued by the major economies at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy just won’t do. There are of course some good initiatives. President Barack Obama’s affirmation of U.S. intent to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by mid-century was heartening. There may be scepticism about the cap-and-trade approach towards carbon emissions being pursued in the U.S., but that too represents a policy advance. Mr. Obama also highlighted the tough new automotive standards that would save fuel, and the green jobs that are to emerge from targeted investments. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the opening of a US$ 78 million global carbon capture and storage institute in Australia to develop clean coal technology as a public good. These progressive efforts may be insufficient to wage what British scientist James Lovelock describes as a difficult “climate war.” To everyone’s dismay, leaders of the major economies have no firm plans for emissions to peak before 2020 and decline thereafter. The target date of 2050 for reduction of greenhouse gases is too remote. The resolve to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius may end up as nothing more than a pious wish.
There is yet time for the G8 and other high-emission countries to act. They must sit down to the hard task of setting concrete goals for the next decade and beyond, for adoption at December’s Copenhagen conference of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The importance of China and India in the global climate equation has been growing. Both countries have committed themselves to dealing with the issue. But while China has taken a major step forward, India’s national action plan is remarkably devoid of detail. New Delhi has adopted the negotiating position that it will not accept emissions targets, because that might derail its poverty-alleviation efforts. It is true that by the standards of the developed world, most Indians suffer significant energy deprivation. But the problem is that the national development path continues to be carbon-intensive, with its rising total emissions causing global concern. It is time India abandoned its stance as a climate laggard. It must prioritise areas such as energy efficiency in lighting, transport, and power generation and reduce the energy-intensity of industrial production. Cutting duties on fuel-guzzling sports utility vehicles, as the 2009-10 budget has proposed, is certainly not the way forward. Funding equitable, efficient public transport is. Only strong and convincing actions at home can win India support for its proposals at Copenhagen.