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Special Content

Special article vol.29

Climate Change and Paris Agreement

‘One in six species on earth could be threatened with extinction from climate change unless steps are taken to reduce global warming emissions’, says a study reported in Science magazine.

India became 62nd country to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change signed by 191 countries during the 21st Meeting of Conference of Parties (COPs) held in Paris. Let us see how this process began and what the Agreement is.

Scientific assessments of global climate change are made by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a representative organization of scientists from member countries. The IPCC made predictions about future climate and its first report brought out in 1990 was discussed in the Rio Earth Summit held in 1992. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) became an international environmental treaty (also known as a multilateral environmental agreement) that was opened for signature at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and came into force in 1994.

The treaty aimed to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system." Since then Conference of Parties (COPs) meetings for climate negotiations take place every year among Annex I and non-Annex I countries parties.  The first climate change protocol has been Kyoto Protocol introduced in 1997 in the third meeting of Conference of Parties (COPs) held in Kyoto Japan. The Protocol came into force in 2005. India ratified it on 16th Feb. 2005.

The Kyoto Protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to fight global warming and is based on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). It puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It introduced Clean Development Mechanism a programme of action among the Annez I countries and non-Annex I countries.  The Kyoto Protocol assigned legally binding emission reduction targets to Annex I countries so as to archived 5.2 percent reduction of emissions over the 1990 level. The reduction was to be achieved between the period from 2008-2012 as Kyoto Protocol phase I. The non-Annex I countries were not given any mandate but precipitated in the CDM.

The IPCC has since revised its scientific assessments for climate change from the first report in 1990 and the fifth assessment report has been released in 2013. The IPCC assessments are interpreted in the COPs meetings to achieve convergence on protocols and guidelines. The issue of Post Kyoto Protocol became the agenda soon after Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005 and has been deliberated in each COPs. Soon after beginning of Kyoto Phase I, the talks intensified in the COP-15 held in Copenhagen in 2009 for a binding on emission cut during its Phase II. 

In a continuing process in the COP held in Warsaw in 2013, countries were urged to offer their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the Post Kyoto 2020 actions.

India’s INDCs submitted on October 2, 2015 to the UN Secretariat and came into discussion along with the others in the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (CoP-21). An historic agreement known as Paris Agreement was agreed by 195 nations to combat climate change and unleash actions and investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future. The Paris Agreement main aim is to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to drive all efforts to limit the temperature increase even lower to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

 On October 2, 2016 India has again registered its presence in the International arena by ratifying the Paris Agreement as 62nd country. To come into force, the Paris Agreement needs ratification from 55 countries that account for at least 55 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. The current ratification status is still short for the agreement to come into force as it represents 53.11 percent of the emissions. The USA and China have already ratified the agreement in September 2016.

Incidentally, USA had not agreed to ratify the first agreement i.e., Kyoto Protocol. There is hope that requite condition of 55percent will be met by the next session of COPs meeting COP-22 to be held in Marrakesh, Morrocco during November 2016. This would be the further step as developing monitoring & verification protocols as well global funding for fighting climate change. No doubt there will be strict compliance of the commitments made once the Paris Agreement is in force and we should be prepared for it. Adoption of climate friendly technologies would be one of the agenda. To decide on what technologies let us have a look at the science of climate change.

Science of Climate Control

Science has been at the core of climate change phenomena from the beginning. Increased accumulation of greenhouse emissions from anthropogenic activities is known to have caused global warming i.e., a rise in global average temperature. Science has been however dormant in most of the deliberations except for some like Copenhagen Accord 2009, which is based on scientific predictions of safe limit of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, agreed as 450 ppmv, this got translated into allowance for maximum rise in the global temperature up to 2°C.

It is well established that greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide are potential global warming threats and are accepted physical manifestations of increasing anthropogenic and developmental activities around the globe. The global temperature has risen to 0.84 degree Celsius according to IPCC fifth report and global emissions in carbon dioxide equivalent are crossing 400 ppmv. Sector wise global GHG emissions studies have indicated that energy supply and demand sectors have a 66-68 percent share in total emissions.  There are three ways to reduce these energy sector emissions. On the supply side technologies for use of carbon free or fossil fuel free sources like renewable sources and nuclear fuel are being adopted.  For example India has announced gigantic target of achieving 175 GW of capacity by 2022 from solar, wind, biomass, waste, ocean and geothermal sources. On the demand side, the option to emission cut is by energy conservation and improving energy efficiency of process and product technologies in industry and manufacturing sector. The use of fuel efficient automobiles, mass transport systems and electric vehicles in transport sector and green buildings in building sector are other possibilities in this context. As a third option technologies for carbon dioxide mitigation like carbon dioxide sequestration are evolving for coal dependent economies. The carbon dioxide sequestration involves science of capturing of excess carbon dioxide and technology of fixing it away from the atmosphere to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations from the energy sector. Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) is not only underground storage but also terrestrial carbon fixation and carbon utilization. Captured carbon dioxide is sequestered by means of surface processes or by sub-surface storage and/or by utilization in recovery of energy fuels and minerals. To illustrate it further, injection of carbon dioxide in depleted oilfields for producing enhanced oil can provide an economic synergy to the carbon dioxide sequestration process. Enhance oil recovery designed to minimize carbon dioxide emissions back to atmosphere with appropriate incentives would have an important role in assuring energy security. Underground storage of carbon dioxide like oil fields, unmineable coal seams can provide additional fuel for energy and also prove to be potential reservoir for carbon dioxide storage. On average three molecules of carbon dioxide are absorbed in coal and displace one molecule of methane (CH4) resulting in gaseous fuels like enhanced coal bed methane recovery. Research studies are being carried out in USA, Japan, China as well as in India. The carbon dioxide utilization technologies provide an option to manage captured carbon dioxide from its point sources in the atmosphere. It is becoming an attractive proposition, as it is risk free option and results in value-added products. The chemical and biological routes of utilization are under development. Chemically, as such, carbon dioxide has low chemical reactivity, but it is possible to activate it towards chemical reaction by application of temperature or pressure or by use of appropriate catalysts. The carbon dioxide can be converted into production of fuels like ethanol or methanol or fertilizers, as feedstock in food processing and carbonated drinks, etc. In biological route carbon dioxide in photosynthesis helps in producing carbon sinks and increase forestation. In a bio-reacting medium such as microalgae in waste water or oceans it can also be converted into fuels, pharmaceuticals, and other value added products. Adoption of carbon dioxide sequestration technologies is however, cost intensive and has high energy penalty and remains a topic of further scientific investigations.

International Energy Agency future outlook study has predicted that carbon dioxide sequestration may have as much as a share of up to 17percent by 2050 in cutting down carbon dioxide footprints. In the context of UNFCCC Intense scientific topics like carbon dioxide sequestration have been formally cited and referred in COPs from time to time. Suggested as climate mitigation option carbon dioxide sequestration is expected to make fossil fuel based electricity sustainable as clean energy. Subsidiary Body of Science & Technology Advice (SBSTA) held its first in-session workshop on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in 2006.  Since then CCS has been the agenda of SBSTA workshops each year. As of now CCS in geological formations projects has become eligible under the clean development mechanism (CDM). Durban COP-17 held in 2011 legitimized CCS as valid technology for both developed and developing countries and established precedence-setting regulatory framework to some extent. The technologies are still under development. I would conclude by saying that while negotiations would continue on what technology cooperation and technology development & deployment should be the target, it is essential that we address the scientific, technological and regulatory issues in depth.


(The Author is Former Adviser & Senior Scientist, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. Email: maltigoel2008@gmail.com)