Science

Can poor countries afford to go green?

TThe 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) ended on November 20 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Nearly 200 countries pledged to set up a ‘loss and damage fund’ to help vulnerable countries affected by climate change. Developing countries have welcomed this development, which has long been in demand. However, developed countries are not satisfied with the level of commitment poor countries have shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and phase out fossil fuels. In a discussion moderated by Prashanth Perumal J., Navroz Dubash and Tejal Kanitkar discuss issues around the cost of going green. Edited snippets:

Q /
What are the likely economic costs of climate change? How can poor countries balance the costs of climate change against the economic costs of reducing fossil fuel use?

A / Navroz K. Dubash: It is well known that the costs of climate change are significant for economies. As temperatures rise, the cost of not addressing climate change is likely to rise. There is enough science to suggest that these costs are high. The issue of balancing the relative costs of trying to mitigate climate change against the costs of climate change impacts is more complex. We should not see mitigation as something separate, but think about the kind of transitions that are needed to achieve mitigation. For example, there is a shift to lower-emission energy systems around the world; that is a technology shift and the cost of those technologies has come down to the point where they are now more or less cost competitive with coal plants. It makes economic sense to invest in these technologies. But the transition is difficult and will be costly. I think that’s how we should frame this, not if but how to get there, and also how those costs will be borne.

A /
COP27 | India greets compensation fund approved at UN climate summit

A / Tejal Kanitkar: First, is the cost of fighting climate change high? Yes. The battle is long and does not only include mitigation costs. Often the focus is solely on estimates of the costs of mitigation. Many of these estimates are speculative and we can make mistakes on both sides. For example, even 15 years ago, we could not have anticipated the sharp drop in solar energy prices that we are seeing today. What makes the fight against climate change much more difficult, however, is that for developing countries, much of our infrastructure has yet to be built. How possible is it to build this using only renewable energy technologies? There is discourse on the opportunities presented by renewable energy, downplaying the serious trade-offs that come with moving away from known technology too quickly.

Q /
Is it reasonable to expect developing countries to match the per capita income of developed countries by using renewable energy?

A / Tejal Kanitkar: Even the basic minimum, in terms of universal well-being, would require much higher energy levels. Much of our infrastructure has yet to be built. We need roads, homes, hospitals, schools, industries, etc. Can this all be done with renewable energy? No, it’s hard. We need other energy sources, which also bring other concerns. The developing world does not have the luxury of unlimited use of fossil fuels, which the developed world had. Climate change is real; we are going to face the consequences. So we must strive for a more considered, purposeful and optimal use of fossil fuels that will enable us to put ourselves on the path to a low-carbon future. This will not be easy, but it is necessary; developing countries are much more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We must use our fair share of carbon to build resilience and create the resources for the transition to a non-fossil fuel future. It is important, however, that our efforts are not used by developed countries to hitchhike us for free, and that the benefits of our efforts flow back to us.

A / Navroz K. Dubash: We don’t have the luxury of unlimited use of fossil fuels or high-carbon energy pathways. If we all chose a low-carbon path to development, the effects of climate change would make development itself much less sustainable and undermine the benefits we seek from development. Does this mean we are committed to a maximum low-carbon path? No. This is where your opinion on the renewable energy options available becomes highly relevant. If you think there aren’t many opportunities, you won’t stray much from a low-carbon path. If you think there are opportunities, you may deviate considerably. The solution really lies in focusing on finding common ground between economic development and efforts to combat climate change.

A /
Editorial | Incremental Gains: On ‘Loss and Damage’ Fund Commitment at COP27

A /
We need to look for opportunities in the space for renewable energy and sustainable urbanization. Let me give examples. We need to build our cities around public transportation and walk and cycle to some extent to achieve lower emissions. Studies have shown that if you internalize the health costs of coal plants, about half of coal plants today are economically unviable. In addition to climate change, there are many reasons to accelerate this transition.

A / Tejal Kanitkar: These are development goals that we need to meet and there will probably be some overlaps. Public transport is a given. But if we frame the whole economy-wide transition in this way, we could end up in a situation where we only seek development options that also have mitigation benefits. That would be dangerous because we have examples of serious compromises in agriculture, for example. Recommending restrictions on providing irrigation to farmers because it would mean more energy, more emissions, etc. is a problem because irrigation leads to higher productivity, which improves farmers’ resilience. So we have to be careful that the idea of ​​mitigation does not overshadow development.

A /
Explained | What is India’s future strategy on emissions?

A / Navroz K. Dubash: I don’t think anyone is arguing that mitigation should be the dominant goal of development policy. The question is, can you approach this as a multi-objective problem, looking at development as a concept that encompasses many things, including growth, distribution, air pollution, local environmental benefits and a low-carbon future? Is it legitimate to include mitigation results or a lower carbon target among the many things you want to manage your policy around? I claim it is. I agree that we need to look at both opportunities and tradeoffs. Look at those opportunities in a clear and objective way, with mitigation being one of many different objectives. It can be weighed less, but we must keep our eye open for it.

Q /
Given the carbon footprint of many green technologies, can they actually help reduce greenhouse gas emissions? And are there solutions to the climate crisis that address the core of the climate problem, which is that it is a global commons problem?

A / Tejal Kanitkar: Analysis of life cycle emissions from renewable energy sources has shown that they are lower compared to fossil fuels. But there are other factors such as battery materials, raw material extraction, etc. whose impact we will only know later when the use of green energy increases. This is the nature of technology and we will need to innovate to address these issues. There are arguments in favor of limiting demand, going back to traditional ways of doing things, etc. I think that while sustainable consumption should guide our choices, the glorification of traditional ways of doing things overlooks the hardships it means for large sections, especially women.

A /
Explained | Who should pay for climate damage?

A /
Yes, the carbon space should be seen as an example of the global commons. Its fair distribution must be the starting point of the way we think about the use of these commons. Policies for imposing emission limits should be designed with this in mind. But no high-income or even upper-middle-income country has been able to achieve high levels of human development without exceeding their share of the carbon space. So just being within our carbon space becomes a challenge for India.

A / Navroz K. Dubash: The use of fossil fuels must go where it yields the greatest welfare gains. Using one ton of fossil fuels yields much more welfare gains in poor countries where consumption is lower. Poorer countries should also try to limit emissions, not just for global reasons, but because they will have all those other associated developmental benefits. Let’s not forget that limiting emissions probably coincides with India’s goal of becoming a more competitive economy in the future. India has made the mistake in the past of focusing on renewable energy deployment and not production. We’re now thinking more in terms of becoming competitive producers in these new low-carbon technology spaces, which is good. It’s a good approach to claim a big carbon space if we need it, but try as hard as you can not to use that claim.

Q /
COP27 | India greets compensation fund approved at UN climate summit

A /
As far as the global commons is concerned, the climate crisis is a problem of global collective action. As a political issue, it requires countries to agree to limit their emissions many decades into the future. Political systems operate on cycles of three, five or seven years. So we have a gap between the scientific and political understanding of the problem. Ultimately, this will be dominated by political insight. I don’t think we will reach a political agreement on the allocation of carbon budgets. What we will have is a political agreement on the means to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future. That is what India needs to focus on.

A / Navroz K. Dubash is a professor at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi; Tejal Kanitkar is an associate professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore

Previous post
Walhalla man killed in crash, coroner says
Next post
Purdue 80 – West Virginia 68 – Victory in Portland