Part of my presentation on climate law at some university:

A question has been bothering me for quite some time now. The question is, whether it is better to do something – something that gives only an illusion of reaching a solution to a problem or, to do nothing about it? The paper was an attempt to clarify some issues around this problem.

What do I mean by actions “that only gives an illusion of reaching a solution” – by vacuous actions? I believe any solution that does not incorporate and take into account the core of the problem can never meaningfully solve the problem and hence are only empty posturing.

In case of climate change then, what are the core issues that any meaningful action must incorporate? There are several, but here I have only focused on four – three general and one India specific (but a derivative of a general issue).

The first one has to do with total global carbon budget. To keep global mean temperature below the catastrophic threshold of 2°C there is only a limited amount of greenhouse gases we can emitte. The global carbon budget for 2°C according to IPCC Working Group I is less than 700 GtCO2 and for 1.5°C is around 400 GtCO2.

But the divergence from this fact and core issue starts to appear in the IPCC itself when the Working Group III in it’s modeling assumes that we have a budget of around 1600 GtCO2 – almost three times the actual. All actions to mitigate climate catastrophe must take this fact into account.

The second part of the core of the climate problem has to do with carbon removal technologies. There are many variants of these technologies and the scientific community has been telling us again and again that none of them exist . Atleast they can not be deployed in the scale required in given time. But the IPCC Working Group I assumes these technologies in its modeling – this brings our global carbon budget significantly further down. This fact must also be taken into account in any set of meaningful actions.

Third, the recent IPCC special report on 1.5°C says that what is now required to avoid the worst possible catastrophe is a “rapid and far reaching transition in all aspects lf human activity” which is “unprecedented in human history”. It doesn’t recommend patching up older actions, policies and legislation.

And sadly, I haven’t came across any discussion of these issues in last two days in the conference. There is a limit to hiding behind the language of differentiated responsibility after which it morphs into irresponsibility.

The fourth point – about India. Using some older model I have tried to show in the paper that even in best case scenario, India has the carbon budget of around 40 GtCO2. Which means even if USA and the EU decarbonise rapidly and reach net-zero around 2040, to avoid climate cascade into an inhabitable planet India can only emit for 10 more years at current rate.

Any meaningful action in India must take this into account – otherwise it’s just a masquerade for business as usual.

What I have been trying to say is that we cannot negotiate with or fool laws of physics. And if we cannot do that, the only options we have are to either follow IPCCs recommendation of rapid and unprecedented transition in all aspects of human life or to embrace extinction.

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