[op-ed snap] It’s time to make deep emission cuts

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Geography | changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies & ice-caps) & in flora & fauna & the effects of such changes.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Eemian interglacial period, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Mains level: Climate change and measures required to limit it


Context

  1. In 2016, the earth’s temperature was 1.3°C warmer than in pre-industrial times
  2. This was as warm as in the Eemian interglacial period some 125,000 years ago — when sea levels were 6-9 meters higher than they are today

Future scenario

  1. Even if countries take the action they promised at the Paris climate change conference in 2015, the world would be about 3°C warmer by 2100
  2. This is well above the 2°C temperature guardrail to avoid dangerous climate change

Can this be avoided?

  1. Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that the earth can stay below 2°C
  2. How? The world would somehow make use of significant amounts of ‘negative emissions
  3. What is it? These are ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or even change the earth’s radiation balance through geoengineering
  4. Along with this, there would be increased use of renewables and improve the efficiency of energy services

Approaches that could remove or absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

  1. Better agricultural practices that leave carbon in the ground
  2. Use of biochar
  3. Undertaking afforestation and reforestation
  4. One method that is widely discussed is bioenergy for fuel in combination with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)
  5. This involves the use of plants as fuel
  6. The released carbon dioxide is then captured and safely stored indefinitely
  7. Limitation: Due to competition for land for food and other purposes, and due to technological limitations, this approach is believed to be inappropriate for extensive use
  8. Some scientists have been discussing the possibility of injecting cooling aerosols at a large scale in the atmosphere, but these geoengineering technologies pose huge risks and are also not long-term solutions

What if these approaches fail?

  1. If BECCS and other approaches for negative emissions fail, we are likely to see a 4°C increase in global temperatures
  2. The poorest countries will experience the worst impacts of climate change

Problems with negative emissions

  1. Policymakers do not fully recognize that widespread deployment of negative emissions is a central assumption in many climate models and the scenarios that are now being advocated to keep to a 2°C rise
  2. Negative emissions also create a moral hazard problem, where we expect (future) others to bail us out while we continue to lead profligate lives

Another problem: Peak emissions

  1. Even if global emissions were to go down to zero by 2050 through some Herculean feat, there would be a considerable amount of warming that the world is already locked into
  2. The adverse effects of these would be severe and difficult to adapt to
  3. This is already in evidence all over the world with several seasons of intense storms, droughts, floods, fires and their aftermath

What is required now?

  1. Policies need to support practices that
  • successfully keep carbon in the ground,
  • prevent deforestation,
  • support agricultural practice that sequesters carbon and
  • promote sustainable land use practices that reduce emissions

2. We also need a carbon tax

3. ‘Lifestyle’ and other consumption activities that may have hitherto been outside the radar of climate policy would have to be considered

4. Policies should nudge the more prosperous communities towards less carbon-intensive lifestyles, either through taxes or incentives or both

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols
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