ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Proverbial Frog

This is with reference to the incisive article, The Paris Agreement (EPW, 16 January 2016), by T Jayaraman and Tejal Kanitkar. Climate change is truly the toughest public policy problem that humanity has ever faced. The challenge is complicated as well as large because for climate negotiators both saving planet Earth and keeping current lifestyles have equal weights. The protracted climate change negotiations held so far are leading us nowhere with nations entangled in the classic prisoners dilemma. Every country suspects the motives of others; each agrees to take measures only if it is assured that others are also doing so. Developed countries are dumping the crises they created on others and then talk of shared responsibilities. The developing countries are in a double bind as they not only have the burden of growth to ensure decent levels of well-being for their people, but must achieve this under a constraint on fossil fuel use that has no parallel in the global history of industrial growth and development. This apart, climate activists lack the ability and/or courage to take on their own countrys government or people.

As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, a carbon space of 2,900 Gt (gigatonnes) is available to stay below the 2OC mark. But the world has already emitted 1,900 Gt of CO2 between 1850 and 2011, mostly by burning coal for energy. If the voluntary commitments to cut carbon emissions, as expressed in their intended determined contributions, made by all countries which participated in the COP21 in Paris are taken together, the world will emit another 748.2 Gt of CO2 by 2030. So the world is left with very limited space to emit greenhouse gases, if it wants to stay within a not-too-dangerous threshold. However, these commitments are not legally binding. Will we then see effective action?

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