Live Mint, December 21, 2023

By Pradeep S. Mehta

It’s time for a whole-of-mission approach to the planet’s crisis. The West wants fossil fuels choked while the Global South eyes solutions in carbon dioxide removal, renewable energy and nuclear power along with direct efforts to compress emissions. Widen the agenda

Climate change was the buzzword of the past month or so, but tragically, its link with biodiversity was not. This is in spite of the fact that both issues are dealt with mainly by the same government ministry all over the world. Unless the world approaches both together, we will continue to face a dismal future. We need to break silos and find solutions that will cover both issues, as we seek to promote the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet and Profits.

The 28th Conference of the Parties (CoP-28) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that concluded in Dubai left a trail of both progress and frustration in its wake. It signifies a step forward in the global fight against climate change, albeit a cautious one. The summit’s focus on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) deserves applause, even as it faces flak from purists who see it as a distraction from the dire need to ditch fossil fuels entirely.

However, let’s face it, the climate debate is riddled with hypocrisy. The finger of blame for stalling progress often points towards petro-states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, conveniently ignoring the insatiable appetite of the rich everywhere for fossil-fuel energy. Europe, the world’s self-proclaimed green champion, still relies on fossil fuels for half its electricity and even burnt the dirtiest of them, coal, during its post-Ukraine war energy crisis. The North American per capita carbon footprint is a staggering 17 tonnes per year, compared to less than one tonne in Africa. Can we truly demand a swift phase-out when development in the Global South hinges on affordable energy largely supplied by fossil fuels?

The reality is harsh: Transitioning away from fossil fuels is a marathon exercise, not a sprint. Developing nations like India cannot afford such abrupt shifts. Their energy needs necessitate continued reliance on fossil fuels, at least in the near term. Demanding a rapid phase-out without offering tangible, well-funded alternatives is akin to asking children to walk before they can crawl.

Reportedly, more than $85 billion was committed to climate financing at the summit, but only $792 million was pledged for the Loss and Damage Fund. Even the formulation of the Fund, worth peanuts so far, went through much futile debate. Looking at the history of rich countries’ promises, confidence placed even in these amounts coming through would be suspect.

So, where does this leave us?

Transitioning away from fossil fuels is non-negotiable, but it must be a just, orderly and equitable process. CoP-28 acknowledges this in its focus on “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems.” However, to truly succeed, we need a multi-pronged approach.

Firstly, CDR must become a key weapon in our arsenal. The 400-gigatonne carbon budget we have left before exceeding the 1.5° Celsius warming threshold demands aggressive carbon removal, not just reduction. India, with its burgeoning scientific talent, should invest heavily in CDR research, exploring avenues like carbon dioxide conversion into industrial inputs and bio-based methods for producing ethylene.

Secondly, relying solely on Western funding and technology would be naive. We in the Global South need to foster indigenous climate innovation. CUTS International has suggested a worldwide plan in its campaign for Innovative Finance for Climate and the Planet; ( It has called for the creation of an agnostic ‘Fund of Funds’ by leveraging various innovative non-government finance sources. Furthermore, a Global Alliance for Leveraging Innovative Finance has been proposed to achieve this goal.

Let’s also acknowledge the crucial role of nuclear power. Despite reservations, it remains a low-carbon, emission-free source of energy that can significantly aid the transition. Investing in advanced nuclear technologies can address safety concerns and unlock its potential as a clean energy partner. Despite public resistance, Germany is reviving its nuclear energy plants.

While progress was made on carbon removal, calls for rapid fossil fuel phase-out were met with scepticism, recognizing the Global South’s reliance on fossil fuels and the Global North’s hypocrisy. Innovation in CDR, renewable energy and nuclear power, along with tackling unsustainable production and consumption, is crucial for a successful journey across climate and biodiversity conservation.

While CoP-28 was not a revolutionary summit, it nudged us toward a united front. The glaring need now is to shed hypocrisy and embrace practical solutions.

A combined CoP for climate and biodiversity, focusing on the environment as a whole, could be one answer. In terms of logistics, it would also cost much less than organizing two separate meetings every year.

Estimated at $4-6 trillion annually, climate and biodiversity finance needs a 600% increase to meet 2030 targets. Our proposal of a ‘Fund of Funds’ envisions money from both public and private sources that can work in conjunction with innovative solutions like green bonds, blended finance, carbon credits and a financial transactions tax.

The costs of inaction skyrocket daily. Action isn’t optional, it’s a desperate need. The time for empty promises is over. The future demands action. Let’s get it done.

(Shivendra Shekhawat of CUTS contributed to this article.)

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