India formally joined the Paris climate agreement, this past weekend, helping bring the most ambitious effort to curb climate change ever closer to being a binding agreement.
Currently, 62 countries representing 52 percent of the world’s emissions have submitted their proposals for combating climate change. Once the total reaches 55 percent, the agreement becomes binding. The European Union, which is a leader in renewable energy, has not signed on yet, but is expected to do so.
The global climate change plan was initially agreed to last December in Paris by more than 180 countries and, learning from the failures of past attempts, organizers adopted a do-it-yourself sort of approach. Rather than forcing every country to impose the same climate-fighting measures, each country is able to devise a model that suits their abilities and reflects their responsibilities.
Critics argue that this approach gives countries far too much flexibility to do nothing. But the science of climate change is beyond debate and most world leaders acknowledge that decisive action must be taken.
Plus, this flexibility makes it less likely that a handful of stubborn countries will ruin the entire agreement by not signing up. Further, the arrangement requires countries to increase their commitments as time goes on. So, theoretically, over the next decade, tackling climate change will become more plausible.
India’s plan features two main provisions: switching to renewable energy and planting more trees to act as enormous carbon sinks.
The message of Gandhi Ji inspires all of us. India will always work with the world to overcome climate change & create a green planet. https://t.co/IgGDJwPG4m— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 2, 2016
Ultimately, India wants at least 40 percent of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. It will develop its own technologies, but it’s also calling on other countries to share existing technologies to accelerate the transition. In fact, India’s efforts are estimated to cost $2.5 trillion by 2030 and the country is asking for other countries to chip in.
Chipping in is a theme of the entire climate agreement. The wealthy countries who are most responsible for the current climate crisis — the US, for example — are expected to raise billions of dollars to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change.
For many observers, India’s role is essential to the success of the global plan, and is emblematic of the many challenges that lie ahead. India has more than 360 million people living in in extreme poverty, the largest portion in the world. To reduce this vast poverty, India is rapidly developing and its greenhouse gas emissions are rising exponentially, especially as it mines and burns dirty coal.
Currently, the average US citizen’s carbon footprint is many times more than the average Indian citizen’s. As India develops, per capita emissions keep going up. So the dilemma is: how does India maintain its economic growth and improve the welfare of its people while not adding to its environmental impact.
This is not just an Indian problem. The climate is shared by everyone and those most responsible for its deterioration have to step up and share the burden of transitioning to a sustainable world.
In the past this would have been an impossible problem,. but renewable energy has improved dramatically in the past several years.
Earlier this year, scientists reached a breakthrough in the development of a new material for solar power that is far more efficient than the prevailing materials. Offshore wind farms are proving to be much more reliable at generating energy than their on-land peers. And while hydroelectric power is problematic in many ways, some countries such as Costa Rica have been able to use it to almost eliminate reliance on fossil fuels.
It’s fitting that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to announce his country’s acceptance of the climate agreement on Gandhi’s birthday. Gandhi was a man who believed in seemingly impossible causes and made difficult sacrifices to achieve his goals.
To keep climate change from reaching dangerous levels, the Paris climate agreement is aiming to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Each year, this goal becomes harder to reach as emissions continue to rise.
For the world to stay under the 1.5 degrees mark, the persistence and clear-eyed realism of Ghandi will need to be adopted.