Common sense and the climate negotiations

Common sense practices employed in policy and economics are often disregarded when it comes to the issue of climate change. Adhering to the precautionary principle, for example, is an approach used in taking policy action where there is a risk of harm to the public of inaction, despite an absence of scientific consensus. A definition derived from the 1998 Wingspread Conference sums it up:

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

This approach is unfortunately not fully realized within climate change policy decision-making. Although there is consensus in the scientific community regarding the reality of climate change, uncertainty remains about the specific nature and danger associated with these changes. Nonetheless, there is no question that the risk worsens with increasing inaction. Phrases regularly batted about during climate change conversations –“tipping point”, “catastrophe”, “existential threat” – are worrying, and rightly so. Climate change, if unchecked, will wreck havoc on the natural world and its inhabitants (that includes you, humans!).

The use of precaution is a common sense approach to dealing with unknown, potentially dangerous problems.

|priˈkô sh ən|noun: “a measure taken in advance to prevent something dangerous, unpleasant, or inconvenient from happening”

In the case of climate change, precautionary approaches take the form of reducing and/or mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as adapting to current and future impacts of climate change.

On the bright side, there is a global, centralized institution in place to specifically support these activities! Unfortunately, so far this support has not resulted in very much action.

Image from Center for Environment, Development & Technology, Malaysia

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INDIA’s INDC- “Working towards Climate Justice”

India’s INDC (Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution) was released just before the 1 October deadline for COP21. This article voices some preliminary observations.

India’s INDC[1] is ambitious and relies largely on external funding. While targeting an increase of 3.5-5 billion tons of tree-based carbon sequestration by 2030, the INDC supports “Make in India” and invites investments for low carbon growth– as the per dollar emissions reduction is greater in India than in developed countries.

With current emissions less GDP-intensive than developed countries historical emissions, India believes in the common but differentiated responsibility but agrees to reduce its emissions sharply, subject to funding. India also speaks of increased vulnerability, loss and damage due to extreme and creeping weather events to livestock, coasts, crops and health- particularly increased malaria and dengue; leaving the door open to negotiate funding at Paris.

India aspires to increase its Human Development Index (HDI) and access to infrastructure while preserving and improving the environment. As “a large forest cover provides huge ecological benefits, but there is also an opportunity cost in terms of area not available for other economic activities and this also serves as an important indicator of fiscal disability”[2], 7.5% of the state’s grant (approx. 7 Billion USD) from the federal tax pool will be based on the forest cover. This incentive to preserve and increase forest cover does not seem to prevent old growth forests from being replaced with younger trees. In fact, the current government is a strong advocate of a compensatory afforestation scheme that does not prohibit this.

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