11/01/2017 7:16 PM IST | Updated 12/01/2017 8:45 AM IST

What 2017 Is Likely To Deliver For Climate Action

2017 will build on the successes of the Paris and Kigali Agreements, but challenges loom large.

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After the giant leap of the Paris Agreement, 2016 began on a euphoric note for climate change action. Countries around the world came together to reaffirm their commitment to taking decisive action to mitigate climate change.

After this rather high-profile start, the story of climate change saw successes in some areas in 2016 and incremental progress in others, which was only possible because of the positive global spirit. The Paris Agreement, wide as it was in scope, set the tone for negotiations in other, specific, sectors.

Achievements in 2016

One of the most significant developments of 2016 was the Kigali Agreement to phase out the use of high global warming potential (GWP) HydroFlouroCarbons (HFCs), a gas extensively used in air conditioning systems the world over. The phase-out of HFCs was seen as a low-hanging fruit in the global campaign to mitigate climate change. An agreement could result in arguably preventing temperature rise due to climate change by up to 0.5°Celsius by 2050.

The rapid coming into force of the Paris agreement reflects the changed sensibilities across the world, and the wide appreciation of the need to act ambitiously and urgently.

Negotiators from 197 nations met in Kigali, the capital of the central African nation of Rwanda to hammer through an agreement. The negotiations, which lasted over a week, sought to align national interests with global aspirations. For India, this was especially important, as the developmental interests of the country needed to be safeguarded.

Much credit can be given to the positive collective intent of the nations that assembled at the Kigali conference. On 15 October, when an agreement was reached, it was one that was strong, ambitious, yet equitable. The agreement will see most nations capping HFC use by early half of the next decade, with others following suit soon after.

The Kigali Agreement was a reaffirmation of the global resolve to mitigate climate change. It saw bold leadership on the part of nations, and a continuation of the spirit of the Paris Agreement.

And it came just weeks after a meeting on the aviation sector in Montreal, where some progress was made. Led by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a specialised body of the United Nations, the negotiations sought to put in place a system to compensate for, and ultimately reduce the carbon emissions by airlines the world over.

The contours of Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), a global market-based measure (GMBM) was formed at this meeting. CORSIA does not place caps on carbon emissions by carriers, but requires them to offset this by purchasing carbon credits. India, notably, with other developing countries such as Brazil, did not join this agreement, citing a burgeoning civil aviation sector that cannot be constrained at this point in such a manner. Unlike the developed world, the potential for air travel in India has yet to be realised, the country reasoned, and it would be unfair to stress the sector at this juncture.

But such is the nature of international negotiations on climate change. The divide between the developing and the developed world manifests itself in many ways, and yet, common ground will be arrived at eventually.

On 2 October, 2016 India ratified the Paris Agreement. Weeks later, on 4 November, the agreement came into force, barely a year after it was agreed to. This rapid coming into force of the agreement reflects the changed sensibilities across the world in addressing climate change, and the wide appreciation of the need to act ambitiously and urgently.

The year ahead

In the coming year, the nations of the world will look to define actions that can be expedited before the requirements of the Paris agreement become operative in 2020. Actions in 2017 should look to strengthen the foundation of this long-term action.

There is hope that the inevitability of climate change, and the impact it can have on both developing and developed countries will convince the most die-hard of deniers.

The financial underpinnings of this action are slowly but surely being put in place. While the Green Climate Fund, responsible to channelling the USD 100 billion promised by the developed countries is far from being fully operationalized, it did go ahead and approve US$315 million for projects and programmes in developing nations.

While the world has moved significantly ahead in its fight against climate change in 2016, events in the political space over the past months have raised some questions about whether this collaborative spirit will continue, or fizzle out.

The United States has been at the forefront of climate change negotiations, with the Obama administration leveraging its not inconsiderable political heft to persuade nations to reach an understanding. There are apprehensions that the new administration in the US may not share the same sense of urgency, and that this can impact not only the momentum of climate change action, but also its financial underpinnings. The contours of the energy policy of the new American administration, the manner in which it handles clean energy funding, and fulfils its commitments to global climate change mitigation financing will something the world shall watch very closely.

China remains the heavyweight in the other corner. Even though the country was aggressive in seeking an ambitious agreement at Kigali, China's dependence on coal, remains a cause for worry. With the country promising to achieve peak emissions by 2030, and already beset with alarming pollution levels, there are expectations that the coming year may see a measure of policy impetus given to moving out of the coal regime with greater speed.

The greatest expectation from 2017 has to do less with politics, but more with economics...

India, however, now has this unique opportunity to emerge as a global leader to combat climate change. Through the plans being put into place to achieve its ambitious NDCs to enhancing international collaboration through the international solar alliance, India is showing the right political intent to benefit its citizens while helping the global community at large.

The greatest expectation from 2017 however, has to do less with politics, but more with economics. As countries boost energy generation from renewable sources, it is just a matter of time before the cost of generating this energy will fall further. This would firewall the renewable energy sector from any fluctuations in the global oil and gas prices, and lay the foundation for a vibrant and cleaner electricity systems around the world. The implementation of innovative market models incentivises the enhanced collaboration between the regulators, corporates and academia—the trio that needs to work together to fructify both local and global plans.

There is also the hope that the inevitability of climate change, and the impact it can have on both developing and developed countries will eventually convince the most die-hard of deniers. It is with this hope that 2017 shall begin. Building on the strong push of the Paris Agreement that was ratified within a year, and the momentum of the Kigali Agreement, 2017 shall seek to strengthen the framework of climate change mitigation built on a foundation of hope, positivity and collaboration.