The hockey-stick curve

The problem of and solutions to climate change. The imperatives of transition on the eve of the Bali meet

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

The hockey-stick curve

Down to Earth There has been a rapid increase of co2 concentrations in the atmosphere over the past 250 years: from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 379 ppm. All greenhouse gases add up to the equivalent of 430 ppm of co2. That this increase has had a warming effect because of heat energy trapped in the atmosphere is clear when one compares the well known hockey-stick graph of emissions with corresponding global temperature change.

There is a direct correlation between co2 build-up and temperature increase. The Earth has warmed by 0.7c since around 1900; 11 of the last 12 years (1995-2006) have been the warmest since temperatures were measured (1850). The world saw nearly stable temperatures for around 1,000 years and then a sharp increase since 1800.

The fact that climate change is real, that it is happening and that its impacts are devastating millions is no longer news. In its fourth synthesis report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( ipcc) has told us that the "warming of the climate system is unequivocal as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level". Clearly, the science of climate change has to be accepted even if its politics is still contested.

Down to Earth The only question that remains open is whether current science is underestimating the urgency and impact of climate change. ipcc is seen as conservative and cautious. Because of the time lag between its reports, it is feared that what we know today may already be out of date. Its current assessment does not take into account dramatic recent evidence, including the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap, news that Greenland is losing its mass faster than anticipated, a surge in atmospheric concentration of co2 and an apparent slowing of the Earth's ability to absorb greenhouse gases.

Taken together, it could well be that the climate is reaching its 'tipping' point, which will further accelerate changes in the years to come.
Down to Earth

Meltdown

Survival questions
Are glaciers in the Himalayas melting faster than the natural rate? What will be the impact on hydrology--flows of rivers originating in the mountains--and what will this mean for our water security?

Some answers
Down to Earth Dokriani glacier in Gangotri valley Studied by D P Dobhal of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and his colleagues. Between 1962 and 1995, the average annual rate of recession was 16.5 m. Between 1991 and 1995, the rate was higher 17.4 m per year.

Down to Earth Parbati glacier in Himachal's Beas basin studied by Anil Kulkarni of the Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, and other scientists. The glacier retreated 578 m between 1990 and 2001, at the rate of 52 m a year.

Down to EarthKulkarni also studied 466 glaciers in the Chenab, Parbati and Baspa basins. The number of glaciers increased because of fragmentation, which meant an alarming 80 per cent decrease in the average area of a glacier.

Down to Earth The National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, studied Batal and Chhatru glaciers in the Chenab basin and Beaskund in the Beas basin. Between 1980 and 2006, Batal receded by about 25.7 m each year. Chhatru receded 1,400 m--54 m a year. The area of two Beaskund glaciers studied has shrunk to half in the past 26 years. The study concluded that small glaciers are receding faster.

It is said that more than 90 per cent of the 9,000-odd glaciers in the Himalayas are small--less than 5 sq km. The glaciers are also breaking. Will this accelerate the pace of melting? What will this do to freshwater flows in rivers? Nobody really knows.

There are many uncertainties in the hydrology of these streams--quantum of monsoon rain, infiltration rates, sub-surface flows, glacier and snow melt. But what is known today is that glacier melt and snow melt contribute significantly to water flows--in the Bhakra dam, roughly 60 per cent. The one study which assesses the impact of melting glaciers on hydrology found that glacier water provides flow during the post-monsoon lean period. The snow and rain provide for the peak flow. Once the glaciers recede considerably, variations in the flow of the rivers could increase in the absence of glacier melt. This could have an impact on the numerous dam projects downstream.

There is no escaping this fact, or devastation. Question is what can we do?

Down to Earth

A joke on the world

Down to Earth Despite incontrovertible and mounting evidence, the rich world does not take the threat of climate change seriously. It is high on rhetoric but low on action. Industrialized countries have created the problem of excessive and dangerous emissions. They also use a disproportionate amount of resources.

These nations have emitted greenhouse gases which are still in the atmosphere for their growth, leaving no space for the emerging world. This is the natural debt of the rich countries as against the financial debt of the developing world. Their current emissions are even higher. The us emits roughly 20 tonnes of co2 from fuel combustion per person compared to 1.1 in India and 4 in China (see graph Per capita burden, p 64).

From the 1990s there has been a consensus that freezing emissions at current levels would mean freezing inequity.Down to EarthClimate justice demanded that the rich reduced emissions, so that poorer, emerging world could grow. It was about making and sharing space. The Kyoto Protocol, which set the first targets for reduction in the industrialized world, agreed on a small and hesitant target of 5.2 per cent cuts on average on 1990 levels by 2008-12.

But even as the developing world reels under the impacts of climate change and the western media take potshots at China and India's emissions, the promise of Kyoto is more or less forgotten. The un Framework Convention on Climate Change has just released data of the emission performance of rich countries. It finds greenhouse gas emissions are surging instead of falling.

Between 1990 and 2005, greenhouse gas emissions of the rich countries increased by 11 per cent (see graph Greenhouse gas emissions). Look at the record of big polluters theDown to Earth us's total emissions increased by 16 per cent; Canada and Australia's by a whopping 25-26 per cent. If only co2 emissions are taken into account, the situation is even worse. Australia increased its emissions by 37 per cent and the us by 20 per cent (see graph Change in CO2 emissions). It is only when the rich world is lumped with the 'economies in transition'--the former Soviet Bloc--do greenhouse gas emissions fall by 2.8 per cent. This is because these collapsed economies are below the 1990 levels.

The news gets worse. The countries which have substantially cut emissions, the uk and Germany, are finding that growth is compromising their efforts. Emissions in both are rising again. The reason is simple the uk gained its emissions reduction by moving to natural gas from coal but this has begun to change. Germany gained big time because of reunification.

The bottom line is that no country has as yet reinvented its energy use or changed its consumption to limit growth. It is business as usual, whatever the consequences.

No change

No dent has been made where emissions are the greatest in the energy sector. During 1990-2005, fossil fuel-related emissions excluding those from former Soviet bloc countries have increased by 15 per cent. Emissions from energy-producing facilities have jumped by 24 per cent and transport emissions by as much as 28 per cent (see graph Sectoral change). The only sectors that have seen a decrease is manufacturing industry and construction partly because these countries have exported dirty manufacturing-related emissions to China and other emerging economies.

Now science tells us emissions have to be cut by 50-85 per cent. How will these countries do this when their record is pathetic? Is this a joke?

The 2??C challenge

As far as climate change is concerned, the world is running out of time and options. We now know that the global atmospheric concentration of co2 has increased from a pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 379 ppm in 2005. We also know that if this increase continues at the current rate, global temperatures could increase by 5-Down to Earth7 c above pre-industrial times by 2100. Scientists warn this increase would be catastrophic, indeed unimaginable.

The question is what level of temperature increase the world will be able to take. There is no clear answer because the numbers are intensely political.

It is important to note that global temperature has increased as of now by around 1c over pre-industrial levels and another 0.7c increase is inevitable in the years to come because of greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere.The approximately 1.5 c increase in temperature is inevitable, at the very least.

What then is the limit that needs to be set for the future?

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) --of 2007--concludes that the world needs to keep co2 concentrations in the range of 350-400 ppm and the total concentration of greenhouse gases in the range of 450-500 ppm to keep the global mean temperature increase between 2c and 2.4c.

This will help avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But there will still be huge impacts.

The 'really' tight budget
The 2c goal will be a challenge. It will require the world to reduce emissions by 50-85 per cent on 2000 levels by 2050. To do this it has to reinvent and transform its strategies of energy use. It cannot get out of this mess by taking soft options.

The urgency of the need for this change cannot be overemphasized because greenhouses gases--especially co2 --stay in the atmosphere for very long periods. Every tonne we emit will further increase temperatures for years to come. It is for this reason that ipcc has concluded that to achieve the 2c goal, emissions just cannot increase after 2015, at the latest--meaning, seven years from now emissions must plateau and then drastically reduce.

Seen in another way this means that the world has already run out of time and spent its budget--at least as far energy is concerned. The International Energy Agency (iea) in its 2007 World Energy Outlook has concluded that the 2c challenge will require energy-related co2 emissions to be reduced to 23 billion tonnes in 2030--which is 13 per cent lower than 2005 emission levels. In other words, we have to cut what we already emit, forget emitting more. What then does this mean for the developing world, where the energy use of millions of people is way below their requirements? Combating climate change keeping in mind their needs is the real challenge.

Future fantasy

We know that the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions come from the use of energy--69 per cent and growing. The issue is what can the world do to reinvent the way it uses energy? Are there any feasible technology options? What are the costs?

Down to Earth Under the International Energy Agency's (iea's) 2c scenario, the world's key options are to freeze coal, oil and even gas use at the 2005 levels; to substantially increase use of nuclear power (from 721 million tonnes of oil equivalent, or mtoe, in 2005 to 1,709 mtoe in 2030); to double energy from hydroelectric plants and increase renewable energy by 90 per cent over 2005 levels. However, even with this increase, the share of renewable energy will be only 17 per cent of primary energy use in 2030. What does increase is energy from biomass to run power stations and fuel vehicles.It also assumes that the poor of the world, who currently use biomass--firewood, shrubs, cow dung--will continue to use this energy source. In iea's best energy scenario, the share of biomass-based energy will jump from 10 per cent of the existing primary energy use to 14 per cent in 2030.

The big change is needed in the power-generation sector. To reach the 2c or the 23-billion tonne target for 2030, emissions from the power sector will have to be limited to 6.3 billion tonnes as compared to 19 billion tonnes in the business-as-usual projections. Even if no power plant is built after 2012, emissions in 2030 will still be in excess--of around 10 billion tonnes. To meet the target, some operating plants will have to be retired before their lifetime and new capacity added can only use zero-carbon technologies.

In terms of technologies, this best scenario banks on a thrust in three areas--energy efficiency in industry, buildings and electricity use (roughly 38 per cent); nuclear power (16 per cent); carbon capture and storage (21 per cent), where co2 is pumped underground. The use of biofuels for transport accounts for 4 per cent of the avoided co2 emissions in 2030, and renewable energy in the power sector roughly 19 per cent. In this technology-led energy scenario the answers lie in big bucks.

But this view of the world is rather limited. These answers do not add up to the transition that is needed to combat climate change. The energy transformation will require tougher measures so that renewables are not a side business but the key drivers of economic change. It will require countries to restrict and restrain the growth of private vehicles so that transport-related emissions can be cut drastically. It will require investment in creating conditions so that the world's poor (see graphics Capital costs and Running costs)--unconnected to the grid and users of renewable but polluting biomass--can leapfrog to clean energy, without taking the fossil route.

It calls for radical action. It calls for high investment today.

Greenhouse India

Down to EarthWhat are India's greenhouse gas emissions? The only estimate of India's inventory comes from the government's 2004 national communication to the un Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc). Unfortunately, this data pertains to 1994, the year after the country ratified the convention. The government is currently working on its next communication, which has to be submitted in the coming years.

In 1994, the aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities totalled some 1.23 billion tonnes in terms of co2 equivalent. Breaking this down, co2 contributed over 65 per cent--roughly 0.8 billion tonnes (for inter-sectoral and intra-sectoral breakdowns see graphs). In 1994, per capita emissions were just 0.87 tonne per person per year.

India's priorities
Though updated figures are not yet available, we know enough from existing data and trends in industrialized countries to draw a plan for the future.

The energy sector is critical--within it thermal power is the key contributor to emissions. According to 2007 estimates of the Central Electricity Authority, 64 per cent of the country's installed capacity of power is thermal (53 per cent coal; 10 per cent gas and 1 per cent oil); hydel contributes 25.5 per cent; and nuclear 3 per cent. Renewable energy contributes 7.5 per Down to Earthcent. We also know that the country plans a massive increase in the installed capacity for electricity supply--from 136,000 mw in 2007 to 800,000 mw by 2031-32. Therefore, even as the country looks for different options to generate power, increased use of coal is inevitable. Given that, we have to examine how emissions from coal can be minimized--focusing on what technologies we already have and future possibilities along with the additional costs.

Also, within the growing energy sector we can move away from coal by increasing the share of renewable technologies. Again, it is important to understand what the mature technology options are, their costs and accessibility problems. We have the potential of transforming our energy sector since we are still investing in its construction. We have choices.

Within the industrial sector, three sectors will be crucial--iron and steel, cement and aluminium. We have to assess current technology and future emissions-reduction strategies.

The transportation sector is growing hugely . The rich world is losing the battle to contain transport emissions. We have opportunities to leapfrog--from private vehicles to mass transport, providing mobility with much less pollution.

The building sector--commercial and residential--is important because it gives chances to avoid future emissions by building energy-efficient structures now, not later.

Agricultural emissions are those of the poorest and most marginalized--survival emissions. How to we reduce poverty and reduce emissions?

The big answer is to grow biomass for energy use--biodiesel for buses, which limits consumption and reduces emissions as well as biomass based energy for poor households. This will require us to maintain and increase our forest cover, to provide livelihood and energy options for the poorest. Our forests--over 23 per cent of India's land area--are the biggest of the big solutions to world's climate problem.

Can coal be clean?

Currently, over a quarter of the world's primary energy supply comes from coal. Since the rich world has already created its coal infrastructure, the increased use of coal in China and India is now under scrutiny. In 1980, rich countries used over 65 per cent of the world's coal; in 2000 their share was roughly 50 per cent. By 2005, this figure fell to 38 per cent as consumption in China and India grew.

'China is building one power station a day', newspaper headlines scream. Western green groups want a moratorium on coal-based power stations funded by multilateral agencies like the World Bank. But they overlook the fact that the use of coal in the us and Australia has continued to grow, even after the Kyoto Protocol--150 new coal projects will be built in the us alone. Even the uk, which earned huge benefits by moving to natural gas, is revisiting its options. Down to Earth The price of oil, controlled by 'unstable' governments, is making coal attractive again. And not just in China.

Coal is dirty. It emits co2, particulates and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen; it generates huge waste in the form of flyash. In addition, power plants consume large quantities of water and discharge equally large quantities of wastewater. These impacts were already driving 'green' technology for coal. The imperative of climate change is pushing proponents of coal to reinventing technologies for 'clean' and 'new' coal.

Clean, new and buried coal
There are three technology approaches available. One is to increase the thermal efficiency of current technology. Higher efficiency reduces coal consumption in electricity generation, thus reducing co2 emissions. Technologies to increase efficiency are clean-coal technologies.

One of the ways to increase efficiency is to increase the pressure and temperature at which steam is fed to turbines (see table Technology, costs and greenhouse gas emissions). Subcritical power plants (the bulk globally) operate at 163 bar pressure and 538c. The best of these plants have an efficiency of 36 per cent. For the best in India this goes down to 32 per cent.

At the next level are supercritical plants in which the pressure is over 244 bar and temperature over 550c. With 170-plus plants of this type in the world, this technology is getting established. By 2006, in China, 6 per cent of coal-fired plants were based on this technology.

Finally, there are ultra-supercritical plants, in which pressure is over 350 bar and temperature exceeds 600 c. This gives them an efficiency of 45 per cent.

Then there are technologies called fluidized bed combustion (fbc) and pressurized fbc cycle in which crushed coal is suspended on upward blowing jets of air during combustion. The result is a turbulent mixing of gas and solids, providing more effective chemical reactions and heat transfer and burning of coal with greater efficiency.

The other promising technology is the integrated gasification combined cycle (igcc), which can give 50 per cent efficiency. The challenge is to lower costs and make it work with different kinds of coal. In this technology, coal is gasified under pressure with air/oxygen to produce gas, which is burnt in a gas turbine to produce power. There is a double gain as exhaust from the turbine can pass through a heat-recovery steam boiler, which generates more power. Only four plants using this technology have been built successfully-in Europe and the us.

Down to Earth
The second approach is 'new coal' technologies. Instead of burning coal in conventional fashion, this approach will either convert coal into gas or recover gas trapped in coal seams underground. These gases can be burnt cleanly.

The third option is simpler-we continue to use coal, but the co2 that is emitted is captured, compressed and transported for underground storage. This technology, carbon capture and storage, is being touted as the most promising option, allowing us to keep the coal-based energy economy going (see box Quick fix Bury and forget).

Way for India
Planners see no option but to invest in coal because it is cheap and domestically available. In 2005, coal generated roughly 70 per cent of electricity. Currently known coal reserves-250 billion tonnes-are expected to last another 50 years. The current annual consumption of 400 million tonnes is expected to increase to 2 billion tonnes by 2030. There are 81 coal-based power stations and many more are planned.

The issue for India, which will invest some us $1.25 trillion in energy infrastructure between now and 2030, is to see what these technologies-clean coal and otherwise-are, so it can invest in the best options and 'avoid' emissions.

Currently, most Indian power plants are subcritical. But it is now beginning to invest in supercritical plants. The National Thermal Power Corporation (ntpc) is setting up two plants, in Seepat, Chhattisgarh, and Barh, Bihar. Other agencies, too, are setting up projects based on this technology in Sasan, Madhya Pradesh; Akaltara, Chhattisgarh; Mundra, Gujarat; Girye, Maharashtra; and Tadri, Karnataka.

But there is a concern that clean coal technology does not factor in the quality of Indian coal, which has high ash content and low calorific value, about 3,500 kcal/kg, which may not give big efficiency gains with supercritical technology.

Similarly, fluidized bed combustion has been in India for some time, but mostly for smaller captive plants. It is popular due to the technology's fuel flexibility-almost any combustible material, from coal to municipal waste, can be burnt-and its ability to reduce so2 and no emissions is significant. This technology gives slightly lower efficiency gains than supercritical plants, but it is seen to be more suitable for Indian coal. Its key disadvantage is size. Globally, the largest plant of this kind generates 320 mw. In India, most plants are in the range of 100-250 mw. However, given high losses in transmission and distribution of electricity over distances, this technology could be used for distributed power generation in urban centres.

igcc is the technology of the future. It has an efficiency of 45-50 per cent and there are hopes that this will reach 60 per cent soon. Analysis of Indian coal reveals that the first generation of this technology has the potential to reduce co2 emissions by 10 per cent more than supercritical technology and 20 per cent more than subcritical technology.

This technology is still at an early stage of development and costs almost double the conventional. A pilot plant of 6.2 mw has been developed by the Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited at Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu. This uses coal with over 40 per cent ash. ntpc is building a similar plant with a capacity of 100-125 mw, in Aurya, Uttar Pradesh.

Historically, most of the industrialized world first invested in low-efficiency technology, which was highly polluting, and then upgraded as it developed. Countries like India and China have the option to move to better technology but the biggest barrier is cost.

From the climate perspective, igcc is the only high-end technology which can substantially cut emissions. Clearly, the options for India would be invest in refurbishing existing plants to increase efficiency by investing in supercritical technology; invest in supercritical for new projects; and build igcc-based plants. But all this will need a global bargain, so India can invest in the best technology and not invest in a half-way measure that will not avoid emissions.

Nuclear Godsend?

Down to EarthFor the global nuclear industry, climate change seems to be a blessing. The industry, which was in deep recession after Chernobyl in 1986, hopes for a revival because of its low carbon emissions. The industry hopes climate imperatives will override inherent problems pertaining to use and disposal of radioactive fuel.

Nuclear power supplies about 6 per cent of the world's primary energy and 15 per cent of electricity (less than renewables and hydro supply). The bulk of this--about 85 per cent--is in Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (oecd) countries. Currently nuclear power is not economically competitive. A 2003 mit report, Future nuclear power, notes "to preserve the nuclear option will require overcoming four challenges costs, safety, proliferation and waste".

The study says the world will add 1,000 reactors generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity (mwe) by 2050. This nuclear capacity will help 'avoid' 1,800 million tonnes of carbon equivalent emissions from coal-fired plants. But the study adds that nuclear power's success is contingent on its costs going down substantially. The capital costs of nuclear range from Rs 9-10 crore per mwe, more than double the cost of pulverized-coal plants. Nuclear energy generation cost is Rs 2.7/ kwe-hr, as against energy from pulverized coal at Rs 1.7/kw e-hr (see graphic Comparative costs of energy). The study concludes that a carbon tax of us $100-200 per tonne of carbon on coal and gas-based electricity would make nuclear competitive.

A recent Greenpeace report on the economics of nuclear energy adds that increase in construction time--the average has increased from five years to almost 10--reduces nuclear energy's viability further. It notes that all the 22 reactors under construction globally have serious cost-overrun problems.

Down to EarthBut with a tight energy situation, countries are looking at nuclear for energy security. India, where wind energy's installed capacity is higher than nuclear currently, also believes that nuclear energy offers the most certain means to long-term energy security. The country's current installed capacity from 17 reactors is 4,120 mwe, which it had aimed to take to 20,000 mwe by 2020. Now it has become more ambitious. In 2005, the Planning Commis-sion said the country would add a total of 40,000 mwe of nuclear power over 10-12 years. The Indo- us nuclear deal, which the government is desperately pushing, aims to make this a reality.

This is when India faces the challenge of not just generating electricity but supplying it across millions of disaggregated and remote settlements. Officially, 85 per cent of households have been electrified in the country. But government accepts that 45 per cent of households are not electrified. Unreliable supply and shortage of power today forces farmers, industry and households across the country to use diesel generators.

Since demand is decentralized can centralized supply be efficient? The world is today beginning to understand the force of micro-power. Amory B Lovins, a respected energy expert, writes in the magazine Nuclear Engineering International that the most powerful competitor of nuclear energy may well be a legion of small, fast and simple micro-generation projects. In the us, centralized thermal stations are no longer the cheapest or most reliable sources of energy, because generators based on alternative sources now cost less than the grid. The cheapest, most reliable power is typically produced near customers. These systems, says Lovin, are a swarm of mighty ants re-building the energy security edifice.

But ants, however mighty, need supporters. Ironically, policymakers favour nuclear with its high costs, and safety and waste concerns. They are convinced of its efficacy compared to alternatives like wind, solar or biomass. New commercially renewable technologies are seen as important but as sideshows.

Nothing new

Is it possible for the world to reinvent its energy systems? If it has to reduce its emissions by over 80 per cent, the only option it has is to make the transition towards zero-carbon technologies as quickly as possible.

But this is not happening. The January 2007 report of the International Energy Agency (iea) estimates that in 2005, renewable energy's share in the total primary energy supply of the world was just about 13 per cent and falling. Biomass and hydropower constitute the bulk of the renewable energy budget (see graphic). For instance, in India, Down to Earththe share of renewable energy is estimated to be 39 per cent, because of the use of biomass by the poor to cook food and for other purposes. The contribution of new renewable--wind, solar, tidal or geothermal--is as little as 0.5 per cent of the world's primary energy usage. The challenge now is to reverse this trend.

Importantly, renewables are already the third highest contributor to global electricity production--about 18 per cent--after coal and gas. But this is because hydro-electricity generates about 16 per cent of the world's power and roughly 90 per cent of the power from renewable sources.

The market for renewable energy technologies is growing. According to iea, the wind energy sector has seen a growth of 24 per cent per annum and solar 6 per cent per annum between 1990 and 2005. Modern biomass energy, including new technologies that produce ethanol from agricultural wastes and also burning of municipal waste, offer immense potential. But can modern renewable energy become a 'real' player or will it remain, as iea predicts, a marginal contributor--3-5 per cent--to the world's primary energy.

There is very little to time to make a transition. Within the next decade, countries like China and India will have to ratchet up investments in energy systems. They can alter their current investment course to provide new markets that will drive down prices for renewables and provide a huge learning experience.

In solar technology, for instance, it has been found that every doubling of volume manufactured has reduced the cost of the technology by 20 per cent.

Also, in the next decade, the rich world will invest either in renewable energy systems or in technologies to make carbon-based energy systems more efficient. It is now or never for green technology.

The question is who will pay for the initial high costs of this technology transition. In India, where roughly 45 per cent of households do not have access to electricity, it can be argued that distributed generation systems hold the key. iea in its estimate finds that the investment cost of providing electricity per person will vary from as low as us $29 (Rs 1,300) for off-grid diesel power to us $417 (Rs 18,000) for off-grid photovoltaic power (see table Costs of electrifying households in India).
Down to Earth

Twister

In India, wind provides 70 per cent of renewable energy. In mid-2007, the country, had roughly 10,000 mw of installed renewable capacity--roughly 7.5 per cent of total installed capacity.

Indian policy says by 2012 at least 10 per cent of new electricity capacity installed must be from renewables. But currently for renewables, we only know how much we have installed, not how much we use.

Tax planning
Take wind energy. India's installed capacity of 7,230 mw, which is the world's fourth highest, is founded on an installation-based promotion regime. The first set of Down to Earthincentives in the 1980s included 100 per cent accelerated depreciation (investors were able to save the entire corporate tax on investment in wind farms in the first year), capital subsidy, tax-free income, sales tax and other tax benefits. These were given for installing wind turbines."In this period investment in wind energy was more for tax planning than for electricity generation," write Chintan Shah and Vivek Sharma in an article, 'Techno-economics of wind energy', published in the book Wind Power Development in India. This, however, was the situation when corporate tax was high. But as corporate taxes fell across the board and governments withdrew sales tax exemptions, investment in wind energy dried up.

The second burst of investment is more recent. This time tax incentives are lower, and technological innovation has increased efficiency. The first generation of 500-kw wind turbines were unsuitable for India's wind regimes. But now, capacity utilization is up to over 20 per cent and large turbines of 1,000-2,000 kw capacity are being installed; the dimension of the rotor has increased from 16-20 m to 60-80 m, which makes for greater generation of energy. In the early 1990s, suppliers assembled imported parts. But now manufacturing is done locally.

The 2003 electricity act provided for state-level electricity regulators creating conditions for promoting renewables. It mandated that a portion of power generated should be from renewable sources, but left modalities to the regulator. Ten states--Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal--have set minimum percentages, ranging from 0.5-10 per cent. Some states such as Andhra Pradesh have also specified the quantum to be sourced from different renewable energy sources. These states also mandate preferential tariffs for renewable energy. Maharashtra pays the highest--Rs 3.50 per kw -hr--to the wind power generator.

Successful model
It's this system of feed-in-tariffs that has led to a large increase in wind installations in Germany and a consequent fall in their prices. In this system, subsidy is not given for installation but the incentive is in the form of an assured higher tariff for electricity generated from renewables. Energy utilities are also required to source a certain proportion from renewables. The higher costs of investment are recovered from the power utility and consumers.

Why support?
Analysts say wind energy needs such support. Though competitive with conventional energy sources, wind energy's capital costs are high. Besides, this energy is highly dependent on wind speed and density. This energy source not only supplies energy but also consumes it--power is needed to maintain the voltage profile of the system. State electricity boards charge for this power at different rates.

There is another limitation. Wind energy plants are situated not according to existing transmission lines. Their location is based on wind geography. According to Indian law, transmission and distribution networks are states' responsibility. So in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, in certain cases, wind generators were asked to back down during windy periods, because transmission capacity was constrained. Now states are working around this obstacle. Maharashtra and, more recently, Madhya Pradesh have ruled that the cost of transmission lines beyond the point of metering will be borne by the promoter, for which 50 per cent of the total cost will be given as an interest-free loan to be refunded in five years. Market analysts say this additional cost will affect competitiveness. It is not clear how much installed wind energy is actually being generated and consumed.

Clearly, wind is integral to India's energy future. It just has to be made to blow in the right direction.

Rooftop hot water harvesting

You can save money, electricity and get piping hot water for your home with a solar water heater. In 2006, New Delhi made it mandatory for homes, institutions and offices to install solar water heaters, replacing water geysers that run on electricity. Almost all big cities of Maharashtra had, by 2002, amended their building bylaws to promote solar heaters and in some cases provide rebates such as concessions in price, cuts in monthly electricity tariffs or a reduction in property tax. Similar rules are in place in 14 other states.

But why then do we not install a solar water heater?

We don't understand the technology
It is a simple device, which absorbs solar radiation and heats cold water. The solar water heater works on the principles of blackbody radiation and greenhouse effect it absorbs solar radiation efficiently, but does not allow it to reflect easily. At the heart of the system is a collector which absorbs the solar radiation.The system also includes hot water storage tanks, circulation systems and controls.

Down to EarthTwo types of solar water heaters are sold in the Indian market. The flat plate collector, which has been promoted by government and industry for the past 25 odd years, and the newer evacuated tube collector. There are 60-odd manufacturers of flat plate heaters in the country, certified by the Bureau of Indian Standards. These heaters have copper tubes, making them less prone to breakage. They have a life of 15-20 years. But these heaters are also less efficient in trapping energy, require more collector area and their tubes are susceptible to blockage as a result of salt deposition, particularly if water is hard. A flat plate heater that can heat up to 100 litres a day costs around Rs 16,000-24,000.

The evacuated tube collector is entering the Indian market from China. It's compact design means it requires less area. The heater is also more efficient and, most importantly, is significantly cheaper than flat plate collectors. A Chinese system of 100 litres costs between Rs 12,000 and Rs 19,000. But with glass tubes, these heaters are more prone to breakage. There are also fears that the vacuum in the glass tubes--to eliminate heat losses--could be prone to leakages.

What about installation?
You will need 3-4 sq m space on the rooftop to place the collectors and the storage tank. You Down to Earthwill have to connect the heater to your bathroom or kitchen. It can be routed through existing hot water geysers in your house or might require extra piping--the cost quoted by suppliers incudes extra piping costs.

What will I save?
On average, a solar water heater with a100-litre per day capacity (which should meet the needs of four-five people easily) has the potential to save up to 1,500 kwh of electricity a year. At the current electricity rates of Rs 3.50 per unit, the capital cost can be recovered in three or four years.

Do I get any discounts?
If you live in Delhi, in addition to a soft loan (at 2 per cent interest countrywide) you will get a rebate of Rs 6,000 for installing the solar heater. The Haryana government gives monthly rebates on electricity bills, ranging from Rs 100-300, based on the capacity of the solar water heater. In other words, a 100-litre capacity system earns a rebate of Rs 100 per month. Uttarakhand gives a similar monthly rebate of Rs 75 per sq m of collector area--roughly Rs 150 for 100 litre capacity plant. A resident of Bangalore can get a rebate of 50 paise per unit of electricity consumed. In West Bengal, you will get a rebate of 40 paise per unit, to a maximum of Rs 80 per month.

Is it cheaper than electric geysers?
No. The geyser is cheaper to install but you will pay for electricity every month. If you use your geyser for only 106 days (over winter) and calculating that you need 5 units to heat water everyday, you will spend Rs 1,850 over this season (assuming electricity is Rs 3.50 a unit).

Will the solar heater work in winter?
Yes. Except for the time when the sun is behind clouds, the solar water heater will work. In India, even in the highest ranges of the Himalayas this means that it will work for 320 days at least.

How long will it take to heat water?
It takes 6-7 hours of average solar radiation to heat water up to 60c. But households do not use water so hot. Also, the system insulates the heated water in the tanks. So before sunrise on a day, you should get heated water from the day before.

Efficiency/sufficiency

Down to Earth It is quite evident that the less the fuel used, the lower will be the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of gdp. This is known as emissions intensity. In this respect, the industrialized world had been inefficient, initially--used more fuel and generated more emissions. It attained efficiency with economic growth. The rich world wants emerging rich countries to avoid this path. It wants these countries to invest in energy efficiency before they can afford it. All climate change mitigation scenarios bank on increasing energy efficiency.

The efficiency math is full of myths.
myth 1 China and India are energy- inefficient and therefore grossly polluting. However, recent reports show this "belief" is founded on myths. The World Bank, in its October 2007 report on growth and co2 emissions, finds that India is 1. 5 times more efficient than the us in terms of emissions calculated in purchasing power parity terms. Highly-abused China is slightly more inefficient than the us-- despite being the world's largest manufacturing hub (see table Comparative emissions efficiency).

The Washington-based World Resources Institute finds that emissions intensities have fallen only in the recent past for most countries--between 1990 and 2002. The emissions intensity of the top 25 polluters fell by an average of 15 per cent in this period, which has helped the world reduce pollution. In this period, the us's emissions intensity dropped by 17 per cent. But the study noted, the most striking decline was in China, where the intensity dropped by 51 per cent, while India recorded a 9 per cent fall in emissions intensity over this period, an unusual phenomenon for countries during periods of high growth. What is also important is that these countries have avoided pollution, even though they are dependent on coal for energy (see table Growing fast... ).

This is not rocket science. The fact is the energy costs industry and it will do what it can within its investment capabilities to reduce usage and increase profits. In 2005, the Centre for Science and Environment in its detailed environmental rating of the cement industry found that Indian industry was in fact more efficient than its counterparts in the us and Canada. The issue is how this efficiency revolution can be expedited; and what funds and technologies can be made available to these countries so that they do not make the mistakes of the industrialized world.

myth 2 Efficiency, not sufficiency, will cut emissions. It is true that the world has learnt to reduce its emission per unit of output, but it is equally true that this cut has not led to any real reduction in the total emissions of the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows the growth of emissions is today decoupled from emissions intensity (see graph Income to emission ).

For instance, between 1996 and 2005, in the uk, fuel consumed for each 100 km covered by new cars fell by 6 per cent. But co2 emissions rose by 4 per cent because the cars were driven over longer distances. In other words, even though emissions intensity decreased in the world, emissions continued to rise. There is only one correlation that clicks emissions rise as incomes rise.

Speedway to hell

Down to EarthThe one sector which is running amok in terms of growth of emissions is transport. Between 1990 and 2005, the maximum increase in emissions of rich countries was in this sector 28 per cent. It is virtually wiping out all other gains in emissions reductions. In 2000, transport contributed 14 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and in 2005 almost 50 per cent of oil consumption went into running vehicles.

There are an estimated 900 million automobiles in the world (excluding two-wheelers) and by 2030 this figure is expected to cross 2.1 billion. Aviation and shipping-related emissions are also rising. Options being considered to deal with transport-related emissions are

Down to Earth increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles;
Down to Earth running vehicles with fuel from plants-- biodiesel and ethanol

But gains from these are limited.The International Energy Agency (iea) estimates that improved efficiency and use of biofuels in vehicles can reduce co2 emissions by 1.4 billion tonnes by 2030. Given that with business as usual, the world will emit 42 billion tonnes of co2, this is a drop in the ocean. iea adds that to achieve this saving, cars sold in 2030 will need to consume 60 per cent less fuel than the average car of 2005. At current technological levels, only plug-in hybrids will meet this. While we will have to reinvent the vehicle, sheer numbers will negate all gains.

Cars are the sin of the rich. In 2002, over 35 per cent of the world's transport-related emissions were from the us. In 1990-2002--when Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated--transport-related emissions rose almost 25 per cent in the us and eu. These are expected to rise 30 per cent by 2020 (see table Vehicle production and co2 emissions and graph Total and per capita emissions).

Down to EarthThe fact is that the global business of vehicles is too powerful to be contained. More important, the business has transcended boundaries the us remains the largest car market, while vehicles are made in China, Brazil, India and Indo-nesia. World trade in vehicles, parts and accessories in 2003 had reached us $700 billion--10 per cent of global trade. Disturbing it would be difficult.

The world refuses to see that the answer to transport-related emissions will lie not in tweaking technology but in reinventing mobility in cities. Only Singapore has been able to restrain the growth of private vehicles and provide mobility. Efficiency is not enough. Sufficiency and reinventing consumption are the way out.

Who shall inherit biofuel?

Biofuels are being touted as the new panacea for climate problems. But because this fuel from plants is being introduced without much thought about wider implications, it's becoming a good idea practised badly.

There are two kinds of biofuel ethanol, processed from sugarcane or corn, and biodiesel, made from biomass. Climate-savvy Europe gave the first push to biofuel, mandating that it should contribute 6 per cent of fuels used in vehicles by 2010 and 10 per cent by 2020. Farmers were given subsidies to grow crops for fuel. The bulk of European biodiesel comes from domestically grown rapeseed. But to meet its growing needs, Europe is looking to import soyabean-based fuel from Brazil and Argentina and palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia.

us President George Bush in 2007 called for production of 132 billion litres of biofuel by 2017, to cut dependence on foreign fuel.The us's favourite biofuel is ethanol, which it produces from corn starch. Brazil, the world's largest ethanol producer, uses sugarcane.

What does this switch of land from growing food to fuel mean for nutrition security? More important, will this strategy work against climate change?

In late 2006, Mexico experienced tortilla wars, as people found the price of their staple, corn, had doubled. The hike was a result of the crop's new market as vehicle fuel and corporate control over it--in this case, by one company, Archer Daniels Midlands, the largest ethanol processor in the region with financial stakes in a Mexican company that makes tortillas and refines wheat. So Midlands benefits when tortilla prices increase and consumers switch from corn to wheat, or when there is a switch from food to fuel.

Today oil companies are growing crops for fuel, and agribusiness is moving towards biofuel. For instance, Cargill, the agribusiness multinational, is now a big player in the biofuel market. The impact is felt by the poor food consumers of the world. The Food and Agriculture Organization (fao) says food prices will increase between 20 and 40 per cent in the next 10 years or so because of this switchover.

No impact
This "switch", will, however, do little to avert climate change. All the biofuel in the world will be a blip on the world's total fuel consumption. In the us, for instance, it's agreed that if the entire corn crop is used to make ethanol, it will replace only 12 per cent of current gasoline--petrol--used in the country. This is when the use of gasoline in the us and in Europe is rising due to increasing transportation needs. A recent paper in the us journal Foreign Affairs estimates that filling a 95-litre fuel tank with pure ethanol would require roughly 200 kg of corn, which has enough calories to feed one person for a year.

If we factor in fuel inputs that go into converting biomass to energy--from diesel to run tractors, natural gas to make fertilizers, fuel to run refineries--biofuel is not energy-efficient. It is estimated that only about 20 per cent of corn-made ethanol is 'new' energy. This reckoning does not account for the water it will take to grow this new crop. There are fears that rainforest might be cut to expand biofuel crop cultivation; this will contribute substantially to climate change.

So how should biofuel be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Any strategy must be founded on an understanding that biofuels aren't substitutes for fossil fuels, they can make a difference if we limit our fuel consumption. If that's the case, governments should not give subsidies to grow crops for biofuel. They should, instead, invest in public transport that will reduce the number of vehicles on roads. Biofuels should be just for public buses and only if cars get off the road.

For survival emissions
Biofuels could be a part of the climate solution but only if they are used to help the world's poor to leapfrog to a non-fossil fuel-based energy future. The poor are today providing the world its only real opportunity to avoid emissions. For, the bulk of renewable energy -80 per cent-is the biomass-based energy used by the poorest to meet their cooking, lighting and fuel needs.

Down to EarthSo, the opportunity for a biofuel revolution is not in the rich world's cities to run vehicles-but in the grid-unconnected world of Indian or African villages, where there is a scarcity of electricity for homes, and generator sets to pump water and to run vehicles. It here that fossil fuel use will grow because there is no alternative. Instead of bringing fossil fuel long distances to feed this market, this part of the world can leapfrog to a new energy future. The biofuel can come from non-edible tree crops-jatropha in India, for example-grown on wasteland.

This also means that this fuel market will need to be redesigned. In today's business model, the company will grow the crops, extract the oil, transport it first to refineries and then back to consumers. The new model needs distributed growth in which we have millions of biofuel growers and millions of distributors and millions of users.

Carbon penance

Down to EarthThe world's forests are a key storehouse of carbon--containing roughly 60 per cent of the carbon stored on the Earth. Deforestation releases this carbon into the atmosphere, adding to emissions. Land-use-related emissions--significantly from deforestation--contribute some 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to estimates. The answer then seems simple plant trees to absorb co2 and ensure existing forests are not cut.

The rich world cut down its forests in the pre-20th century and while the co2 released is still in the atmosphere, it can now claim that its re-planted areas absorb co2. The forests of the tropical world have become the favourite targets as the poor in developing countries are preached the virtues of keeping their forests intact and planting more trees.Forests in the South have also become the favourite 'offset' tool--planting trees to buy carbon credits (see box Excuse for inaction?).

It is also not understood that forests of the South are not wilderness areas but habitats of millions of people, who use their resources to meet subsistence and survival needs. Forests are also economic assets for countries and keeping forests "pristine" will require huge losses. In this context, the world will have to figure out how it can "avoid" emissions and learn how it can pay for 'standing' forests and not wait to cut them down.

This is an important issue in India. Some years ago, the supreme court suggested that forested states, which lose revenue because of the ban on felling of trees, should be compensated for keeping forests intact. It said there is no incentive to protect 'forests as forests'. After the ban on the felling of forests, the forested state of Arunachal Pradesh, lost 84 per cent of its state revenue.

Currently, there is a provision to calculate the net present value of forests to pay as compensation when forests are cut down for development projects. But this is payment for destruction. There is no provision to put a value on existing forests.

Forest-rich states have been demanding monetary compensation for preserving forests. They say there has to be a mechanism that supports and encourages avoiding deforestation. This money must be shared between states and forest-dwelling communities. The aim would be to pay for existing dense forest cover at rates which reflect the opportunity costs of the forests. This will create local stakes in forest protection. In addition, planting forests will bring local benefits as well as global returns.

At the conference of parties in Bali in December, the world will discuss a proposal of the group of countries called Forestry Eight to pay for avoided deforestation costs. Will the world learn to talk of things that matter?

C is for unclean

The only tool under the Kyoto Protocol to pay for the transition to clean-energy technologies in developing countries is the Clean Development Mechanism ( cdm). This was designed with two explicit purposes to assist developing countries achieve sustainable development and to assist industrialized countries meet emission reduction targets. Therefore, in the global balance sheet of carbon accounting, industrialized countries and their companies can pay the additional cost of clean technology to developing countries and get carbon reduction credits.

The size
By November 2007, the total cdm portfolio -- including projects still in various stages of the convoluted pipeline -- amounted to 2.29 billion tonnes worth of co2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. Down to Earth
As cdm is credited over a period of time, roughly 10 years, this would mean that the total emissions that current and in-the-pipeline cdm projects would offset would be less than 1 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions over the same period.

Of this, China alone will provide 1.21 billion tonnes of certified emission reductions (cers), Down to Earthover 50 per cent of the cdm pie. India will add another 15 per cent, if all projects in the pipeline are executed. The rest of the developing world supplies the remaining one-third.

What has CDM achieved?
By the end of 2005, emissions by rich countries had increased, so clearly they had to look to cdm to meet their Kyoto targets. According to an European Environment Agency assessment, the 15 top polluters of Europe would have to buy 110.5 million tonnes of co2 equivalent credits per year in their Kyoto Protocol commitment period, even assuming that domestic measures in these countries work. Roughly 30 per cent of the total reductions -- about 340 million tonnes of co2 equivalent per year -- would come from cdm in this case. Till November 2007, the total amount of cers (it is a tonne of co2 equivalent) sold globally was 85.5 million tonnes per year. The demand to outsource carbon control will grow since Europe is unlikely to put in place adequate domestic measures to meet its Kyoto commitments.

It is for this reason that the South offers huge business possibilities. The cdm market here has already been taken over by large companies, global consultants, traders and brokers. In this market, cdm has become a mere financial mechanism -- not a measure to combat climate change. As a result, its outcome has been small and cheap. Small, because it has failed to move the world towards tangible solution for climate change like clean energy and public transport, and cheap because the focus is to provide cheapest possible cers to the developed world, and not make the transition to clean energy necessary.

The 'cheap' reduction is reflected in current portfolio of cdm projects. Untill November 2007, roughly 70 per cent of the cers issued were for projects to harvest fugitive gases -- hfc 23 and n2o -- the cheapest way to reduce emissions. Another 9.3 per cent is for energy efficiency projects and fuel switch (mainly from oil to natural gas) and 8. 5 per cent for biomass projects (generating electricity by burning biomass). Not even one solar energy project, or a high-end clean coal project, afforestation project or public transport project figures in the current cdm . Wind energy projects, which constitute 14 per cent of all projects bring less than 3 per cent of cers.

India is selling itself cheap here. Fifty four per cent of cer s issued to projects in the country are for thermal destruction of hfc23. Small-time energy efficiency projects corner another 23 per cent and biomass energy 10 per cent. There are no projects from public utilities - say, public-sector power companies that desperately need to invest in emission reduction, or city governments that need cleaner buses. There are very few community-based, small-scale renewable energy or afforestation projects. Even the so-called small-scale projects - microhydel to biomass energy - are cornered by the private sector, with little gains to local people.

There are two problems with this cheap reduction approach one, it does little to move the world towards cleaner energy. In fact, it subsidizes the fossil fuel energy in the developing world.

Two, it takes away the cheap and easy options for emerging south countries and credits them into the carbon balance sheet of the industrialized world. This means that the South will be shortchanged when it has to take on legally binding commitments - it would have 'sold' off by then its cheap options and would not have the money left to invest in the more high-end of transition options.

uk economist Nicholas Stern has famously called climate change the market's biggest failure. But handing over the correction of this failure to the same market has also been a non-success.

cdm' s market tool has been built on the worst principles of an open market system. It thrives on non-transparency (no one knows that the 'real' price of cers), conflict of interest (consultants are paid by the project proponent to evaluate and then to certify 'sustainable' outcomes) and entry barriers (high transaction costs and over-certification). The current cdm regime works outside the pale of regulatory control - flimsy as it is.

The problem is in the design of cdm, which puts the entire onus on private sector, as it distrusts national governments in directing action.

The reform agenda
One of the most ludicrous aspects of the current cdm regime is that an eligible should be 'additional' over the business-as-usual scenario.

A project is considered additional, if it would not have happened without cdm support This clause, built by paranoiac western governments and their civil society, is based on the premise that southern governments and industry will push projects that are business as usual. But then it means whatever a government does to mitigate climate change - as a matter of policy - cannot qualify for cdm because currently it is seen as business-as-usual. For instance, if the Indian government specifies tough emission norms for buses, the public-transport sector does not qualify for any credits.

This highly twisted and knotty yardstick has become a barrier for effective projects. For instance, renewable projects, particularly wind energy projects, often cannot qualify because the Indian government already has a policy to support and promote this source of energy. Similarly, if a solar energy project receives assistance from the government, such as a mandated purchasing-power agreement or an attractive tariff for the sale of electricity, the project is not considered additional, but 'business as usual' and does not qualify for cdm.

At its worst, cdm actually provides countries with perverse incentives to keep polluting as long as they can make money. cdm must pay for high end projects, which can make the transition to clean energy the weakest aspect of the current design is its emphasis on 'cheap' projects.

We know that the biggest barrier to reinventing the world's energy system is the price of the low-carbon technologies. ipcc's fourth assessment report has concluded that carbon tax (or price) of us $50-100 on a tonne of co2 equivalent is needed to make deep cuts in emissions in the world.

It is for this reason that cdm must include a minimum floor price, which will ensure that only high end or transition technologies will get into the system. To begin with, the entry level price could be pegged at us $30-50 to give the incentives for structural change.

The successful reform of cdm will depend on the will of governments to push for real changes. This will is still to be tested and tried.

CDM thrives on non-transparency, conflict of interests and is beyond regulation Down to Earth
Public utilities, projects that benefit local people have been given short shrift by CDM

What equals effective

Global warming is the biggest and most difficult economic and political issue the world has ever needed to confront. First, co2 emissions are directly linked to economic growth, growth as we know is on the line here. We will have to change our ways. There will be costs but they will be a fraction of what we will need to spend in the future.

Down to Earth Secondly, the issue is about sharing that growth between nations and between people. The question is how the world will share its right to emit (or pollute), or, will it freeze inequities? Will the rich world which has accumulated a huge 'natural debt'--overdrawing on its share of the global commons --repay it so that the poorer world can grow and use the same ecological space?

Thirdly, climate change is about international cooperation.It teaches us that the world is one; if the rich world pumped in excessive quantities of co2 yesterday, the emerging rich world will do it today. It also tells that the only way to build controls will be to ensure that there is fairness and equity in the agreement, so that this biggest cooperative enterprise is possible.

The way forward would be to re-negotiate the world's agreement on combating climate change. But this time the agreement must be political. It must reflect the desperate urgency of a world faced with catastrophe. It must be fair and meaningful.

There is clear understanding that the rich and the emerging rich world need to make the transition to a low-carbon economy. There is also much better understanding that the route ahead is through technologies that we already have in hand. The answer will lie in deploying these low- and non-carbon technologies massively and in improving efficiencies in the use of energy. But efficiency alone will not solve the problem; sufficiency will. The rich world will have to learn to live on less. The fact is we know how to change.

Responsibility needs rights
The tragedy of the atmospheric common has been the lack of rights to this global ecological space. As a result, countries have borrowed or drawn heavily and without control. They have emitted greenhouse gases far in excess of what the Earth can withstand. This was because they could emit without limits or quotas and were "free riding" on this natural capital. Some researchers have called this the "natural debt" of the North, as against the financial debt of the South.

This is the science and the politics of co2. One tonne of co2 emitted in 1850 is the same as a tonne emitted today. The greenhouse gases-- co2, methane and nitrous oxide--have long lifetime in the atmosphere; these gases are still warming the atmosphere, at any given year. The 'sinks'--forests, oceans and soils--are the only cleaners of this dirt. The net emissions add up to the space that a nation has appropriated in the global atmospheric common and therefore its responsibility for the climate change.

Calculated in terms of the total emissions of each country, since the early 1900s, we find that every living American carries a natural debt burden of more than 1,050 tonnes of co2 (see graph Cumulative co2 emissions). In comparison, every living Chinese has a natural debt of 68 tonnes and every living Indian, a mere 25 tonnes. Therefore, even with all the talks of India and China catching up with rich world in terms of total emissions, the fact is in terms of natural debt it will take many more decades before this happens.

This principle was accepted by the climate convention, which agreed that the rich world had to reduce its emissions to make space for the poor to grow. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol set the first, hesitant and weak, target for reduction by the rich countries. But this agreement has been more of less reneged on. The per capita emission of co2 from fuel combustion in the us is still roughly 20 tonnes per year; between 6 tonnes and 12 tonnes for most European countries. This is not comparable to the per capita emissions of China, roughly 4 tonnes and 1.1 tonnes in India.

Contract and converge
In this situation, curtailing the emissions can only be done through the creation of rights and entitlements of each nation to the atmosphere so that future responsibilities are clearly demarcated. In 1991, the Centre for Science and Environment had proposed the concept of equal per capita entitlements to greenhouse gas emissions. In this model, the countries would be assigned quotas of their entitlements based on the population. The national entitlement would then be the basis of a global trading system. Countries, with excess entitlements would have an incentive to make the transition to clean energy, in other words, use the trading mechanism to sell emission quotas and to invest in low- or zero-carbon technologies. This will provide a framework of climate justice and effective action.

It is clear, given the enormity of the challenge, that the worst of climate change can only averted if the world can make a rapid transition to a non-carbon energy economy. The nations of the world would then have almost unlimited environmental space at least in the foreseeable future to use energy for their economic growth. The world needs an international mechanism that not only provides incentives to all nations to live within their entitled amounts but also helps to promote a rapid transition to a non-carbon energy economy. The principles of contraction and convergence-- the rich to reduce, while the poor to grow--and equal per capita entitlements--living within limits--would be the basis of future global agreement.

It is inconceivable for the world to converge in terms of equal emissions. Currently, the global average is about 4 tonnes of co2 from fuel combustion per person. For stabilization of emissions we required to reduce what is consumed already, forget adding more. It is agreed that the world, to avert the worst, must reduce its annual per capita emissions to 2 tonnes. In this scenario, the effort has to be to build the principle of equity, to transform the world energy system.

Transition to renewables
If low-level polluters can trade their unused emissions rights with high-level polluters, this would provide an incentive to keep their emissions growth path as low as possible. Additionally, emissions trading can promote transition to renewable energy technologies if it is restricted to zero-carbon energy projects. Currently, if the clean development mechanism is used only to fund zero-carbon energy technologies, the emissions reduction costs will be higher than the least-cost options, such as clean coal technologies and energy efficiency projects. But this cost will reduce as these technologies are refined and increasingly used in the world.

Once it is accepted that nothing less than energy transformation will work, the purpose of equal per capita emissions entitlements is also re-defined. Its most important purpose is not to create a framework that forces all countries to converge on a sustainable level of emissions at a future date but rather to create a framework for engaging developing nations such that the world can kick start the movement towards a zero-carbon energy transition. Once the world seriously begins moving towards such a transition, the entitlement framework will become increasingly redundant.

The greatest advantage of equitable and tradeable emissions entitlements is that they immediately engage developing countries and provide them with an incentive to keep emissions low. Although many developing economies are growing rapidly, it is unlikely that they will use up their entitlements in the near future. The potential to trade their unused entitlements would immediately give them an incentive to move towards a low emissions developmental path. Equity provides then the framework for effective action.

Intra-national equity
But as much the world needs to design a system of equity between nations, nations of the world need to design a system of equity within the nation. It is not the rich in India who emit less than their share of the global quota. It is the poor in India, who do not have access to energy, who provide us the breathing space. India, for instance, had per capita carbon emissions of 1.5 tonnes per year in 2005. Yet this figure hides huge disparities. The urban-industrial sector is energy-intensive and wasteful, while the rural subsistence sector is energy-poor and frugal.

Down to EarthCurrently, it is estimated that only 31 per cent of rural households use electricity. These are the household, who provide the rich in the world the space to breathe. These are also the households who cannot be indicted to energy-poverty because the world has run out of space.

The fact is that it is the poor, in India, China or Africa, who control the 'unused' entitlements in the global atmospheric-emission market. Connecting all of India's villages to grid-based electricity will be expensive and difficult. It is here that the option of leapfrogging to off-grid solutions based on renewable-energy technologies becomes most economically viable.

If India's entitlements were assigned on an equal per capita basis, so that the country's richer citizens must pay the poor for excess energy use, this would provide both the resources and the incentives for current low energy users to adopt zero-emission technologies.

In this way, too, a rights-based framework would stimulate powerful demand for investments in new renewable energy technologies.

Let us be clear. The challenge of climate change is a make or break situation for the world. It forces us, perhaps for the very first time in our history, to realize that we live together on one Earth. It tells us that the there are limits to growth and more importantly that growth will have to be shared between all. The big question is if we will prove to be equal to the challenge. The answer is that we have no choice. There is no other way.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.