Daily Current AFfairs 02.09.2021 (Where liberalism and nationalism are placed in Asia, India must commit to net zero emissions)

Daily Current AFfairs 02.09.2021 (Where liberalism and nationalism are placed in Asia, India must commit to net zero emissions)


1.Where liberalism and nationalism are placed in Asia

India and China have used the present world system to fashion their rise, with no alternative based on Asian nationalism

Liberalism and nationalism mean different things to different people, and the two concepts are often considered mutually exclusive. Over 70 years after Indian independence, it is worth recalling that the British claimed that their empire rested on liberal foundations and the transfer of power to nationalists evidenced this claim. But liberalism often clashed with anti-colonial nationalism; the greatest material support to anti-colonial movements during the Cold War came from the illiberal Soviet Union.

A ‘cause’ of war

After the rise of the nation state, wars were attributed to the power and expansionist policies of nations. In Europe, nations were in almost constant conflict, and Japanese nationalism led to wars, particularly with China. In the early period of the last century, nationalism was regarded as the root cause of war, but this was an oversimplification, since many, especially Marxists, would argue that capitalism, which led to colonialism, was equally if not mainly responsible. In Europe, as the national idea spread, it became ethnic-oriented and increasingly illiberal, with an exception being Giuseppe Mazzini’s nationalist activism.

The early decades

Before Indian independence, nationalism was regarded with suspicion; Rabindranath Tagore had considered it a malign ideology, making a subtle distinction between the Nation of the West, which he critiqued as a mechanical and soulless, and the Spirit of the West representing Enlightenment values of internationalism and universalism. There were alternative strands of thinking; Vinayak Damodar Savarkar contrasted his espousal of Hindutva nationalism with Buddha’s universalism, the latter’s non-violence being regarded by him as weakening Indian patriotism, since “Buddhism had its centre of gravity nowhere”.

Jawaharlal Nehru saw merit in nationalism as the focus of the Independence movement. In 1950, he asserted that “the strongest urge in Asia …is the anti-colonial urge and the positive side of it is nationalism”, and in 1953, “nationalism has been and is a very good thing. It has been a great liberating force in certain stages of a country’s history”. Yet, he feared that extreme nationalism among colonised peoples could degenerate into fascism and expansionism.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party’s dogma harks back to the thinking of Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, representing Indian cultural nationalism and attempting an impossible balance between the projection of hard power and promotion of peace. Nationalism may take various forms but essentially, it is about collective identity, whereas liberalism implies the defence of individual freedom and self-determination, the state’s role being to protect the private sphere. In practice, liberalism has advantages and disadvantages; it can underpin universal rights and Adam Smith’s natural laws of economics, but its appeal is mainly to the professional educated class, and lacks nationalism’s emotional appeal.

Asian democracy

Asian politics are politically conservative when the economy is booming, shown by lengthy autocratic governments in China, Singapore and Vietnam, whereas the Asian financial crisis of 1997 led to a democratic impulse in Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and intermittently in Thailand. Democracy in Asia is not shaped by the liberalism of the West; the centrality of civil and political rights is less dogmatic and a degree of state intervention considered acceptable when it comes to individual autonomy.

The liberal tradition contributes the ideas underlying the post-Second World War international system, embracing democracy, free trade, international law, multilateralism, environmental protection and human rights. Problems arise when such ideas become a doctrine for nation-building irrespective of context, with western intervention in the developing world and its consequences of turmoil and Islamist extremism and terror. The current example of Afghanistan is a case in point.

Power hierarchy

Liberalism is now attacked in the West by both the far-right populism illustrated by former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the left represented by such as Senator Bernie Sanders who regard the global situation as the neo-liberal preserve of the rich and powerful. Despite American diplomatic rhetoric, there never has been a community of mutually supportive liberal democracies. International relations are conducted at the axial point of an egalitarian order of law and a hierarchical order of power: the United Nations represents this tension in the differing principles on which the Security Council and General Assembly are based. This is why the reform of the UN to include India, Japan, Germany and a few others as permanent members of the Security Council proves so difficult to achieve.

In a future Asia

How will nationalism and liberalism be reflected in a future Asia? Both India and China were at the receiving end of western imperialism and emerged as supporters of principles of international society reflected in the Panchsheel, namely sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference. This implies rejection of western efforts to qualify sovereignty by making it dependent on human rights protection. The Non-Aligned Movement and Afro-Asianism were efforts to project a soft power model, but soon China, India and Pakistan joined the nuclear weapons club of hard power. The two leading Asian nations, India and China, used the present world system to fashion their rise while protesting against the control of the United Nations and world financial institutions but have not formulated any alternative based on Asian nationalism. Their current rivalry makes such a desirable outcome a remote prospect.

2.India must commit to net zero emissions

The country will need to take a stand on climate change action or risk being cast globally as an outlier

India is at the risk of being cast globally as an outlier on climate action, with a negative fallout. With over 50% of the global economy already committed to net zero emissions by 2050 — and China committing to be so before 2060 — this is not where you want to be.

The pace and scale of climate action is only set to increase, with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report unequivocal on the need for urgent and stronger responses. Events around the world underline the point — towns washed away in Germany, subways turned into storm water drains in China, forests fried in the United States and so many more lives lost to flooding in India.

Massive opportunities

It is not only governments that are increasing climate action. The business world is too, not just to protect themselves against the risks of climate change but also to take advantage of the massive opportunities arising as the global economy shifts to net zero emissions. Last year, investors injected over $500 billion into climate transition. In my country, Australia, the number of major companies that have put in place a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 has more than trebled in the past year.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November in Glasgow is shaping up to be the most important climate meeting since the Paris Agreement in 2015. It is squarely focused on supercharging global ambition and action on climate change, as all countries, including India, agreed to do in the historic Paris Agreement.

Over 100 countries have already committed to net zero emissions by 2050, with more expected at COP26. Two key holdouts are India and Australia. In the case of my country, under mounting pressure at home and internationally, the government is moving toward such an announcement and I am confident they will do so by or at COP26.

I am not so confident about India. From what I hear through networks from my time as the Australian High Commissioner to India and as Australia’s Ambassador for the Environment, India is resolutely not committing to net zero by 2050, including on the basis that as a developing country, it needs to see significant support from developed countries for climate action as part of making any such commitment.

Perhaps this is negotiating tactics. Either way, I fear India may shoot itself in the foot by resisting net zero by 2050.

First, India itself has a national interest in ambitious global and national climate action. Like Australia, it is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change and, therefore, should be among the more active against the threats. India faces harmful impacts related to sea level rise, heat stress, drought, water stress and flooding, biodiversity and natural disasters. Climate change is not coming — it is here.

Second, as a rising power, India naturally seeks stronger influence globally. Being an outlier on the global challenge facing our generation does not support this aim. India is already the third largest emitter in the world, and is set to be the largest as the United States, China, and the European Union are all now signed up to net zero.

This will become a significant drag on India’s international diplomacy. This applies not just to key relationships like with the U.S., where President Joe Biden’s administration is mainstreaming climate action into its economic, foreign and security policy, but also with much of the Group of 77 (G77) states, who are increasingly concerned to see climate action, and in multilateral groupings such as the United Nations and ASEAN-APEC.

No longer a trade-off

Finally, as the famous phrase goes, “it’s the economy, stupid”. There is no longer a trade-off between reducing emissions and economic growth. Solar energy costs have fallen 90% in recent years, providing the cheapest electricity in India ever seen. Also, given the negative impacts, addressing climate change in India’s economic development is now central to success, not an added luxury to consider. For example, agricultural policy that does not consider adaptive approaches to maximise productivity in the face of increased flooding and drought due to climate change is derelict.

The transition of the global economy to net zero emissions is the biggest commercial opportunity in history. In just the energy sector alone, an estimated $1.6 to $3.8 trillion of investment is required every year until 2050. China gets this, which is why it is investing heavily in gaining an advantage in the technologies of the new economy, be it renewable energy and storage, electric and hydrogen transport, low emissions industry, green cities or sustainable agriculture.

It is not as if India is at a standing start. It is set to significantly exceed its Paris Agreement commitment of reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030, providing ready room for higher ambition. India is impressing the world with its leading roll-out of renewable energy and target for 450GW by 2030, linked to its leadership on the International Solar Alliance and recent national hydrogen strategy. Indian corporates are also stepping up, with the Tata Group winning awards on sustainability, Mahindra committing to net zero by 2040 and Reliance by 2035. There is plenty on which to build.

And India should not be expected to build alone. India’s national interests on climate action are now engaged in ways that go significantly beyond waiting for donor support to drive ambition, notwithstanding reasonable arguments about historical responsibility, per capita emissions and equity. With growing wealth and stature, India is increasingly disinclined toward handouts. But that does not mean well-targeted donor investments and international partnerships should not be a factor in raising India’s climate ambition.

This could come in many guises, from stronger political engagement and dialogue to policy support in areas of mutual challenge such as energy policy, carbon markets and post-COVID green economic recovery. Practical support and cooperation in areas like rolling out renewable energy and integrating it with the national grid, zero emissions transport, decarbonising hard to abate sectors like steel, cement and chemicals and decarbonising agriculture offer significant scope to raise ambition. As does working with India on innovative green financing for decarbonising investments, including using donor support to mobilise private sector finance, green bonds and climate transition funds. Whichever it is, they need to be lasting partnerships that deliver results.

Yet, in the end, India’s tryst with destiny rests in its own remarkable hands, as it always has been. In a land where the earth is called mother, and Mahatma Gandhi, major religions and the Constitution enshrine environmental care, commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 should almost be foretold. The world hopes we will see it soon.

Patrick Suckling was Australia’s High Commissioner to India and Ambassador for the Environment. He is a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) and senior partner in Pollination, a specialist climate advisory and investment firm. This oped draws from his recent paper for ASPI on Catalysing India’s Climate Ambition

Why in News

Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) titled Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.

  • It is prepared by the scientists of Working Group-I. The two remaining parts would be released in 2022.
  • It noted that global net-zero by 2050 was the minimum required to keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius.
  • It sets the stage for the Conference of Parties (CoP) 26 conference in November 2021.

Key Points

  • Average Surface Temperature:
    • The average surface temperature of the Earth will cross 1.5 °C over pre-industrial levels in the next 20 years (By 2040) and 2°C by the middle of the century without sharp reduction of emissions.
      • In 2018, the IPCC’s Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C had estimated that two-fifths of the global population lived in regions with warming above 1.5°C.
    • The last decade was hotter than any period of time in the past 1,25,000 years. Global surface temperature was 1.09°C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900.
    • This is the first time that the IPCC has said that the 1.5°C warming was inevitable even in the best case scenario.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) Concentrations:
    • They are the highest in at least two million years. Humans have emitted 2,400 billion tonnes of CO2 since the late 1800s.
    • Most of this can be attributed to human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.
      • The effect of human activities has warmed the climate at a rate unprecedented in 2,000 years.
    • The world has already depleted 86% of it’s available carbon budget.
  • Impact of Global Warming:
    • Sea- Level Rise:
      • Sea level rise has tripled compared with 1901-1971. The Arctic Sea ice is the lowest it has been in 1,000 years.
      • Coastal areas will see continued sea-level rise throughout the 21st century, resulting in coastal erosion and more frequent and severe flooding in low-lying areas.
      • About 50% of the sea level rise is due to thermal expansion (when water heats up, it expands, thus warmer oceans simply occupy more space).
    • Precipitation & Drought:
      • Every additional 0.5 °C of warming will increase hot extremes, extreme precipitation and drought. Additional warming will also weaken the Earth’s carbon sinks present in plants, soils, and the ocean.
    • Heat Extremes:
      • Heat extremes have increased while cold extremes have decreased, and these trends will continue over the coming decades over Asia.
    • Receding Snowline & Melting Glaciers:
      • Global Warming will have a serious impact on mountain ranges across the world, including the Himalayas.
      • The freezing level of mountains are likely to change and snowlines will retreat over the coming decades.
      • Retreating snowlines and melting glaciers is a cause for alarm as this can cause a change in the water cycle, the precipitation patterns, increased floods as well as an increased scarcity of water in the future in the states across the Himalayas.
      • The level of temperature rise in the mountains and glacial melt is unprecedented in 2,000 years. The retreat of glaciers is now attributed to anthropogenic factors and human influence.
  • Indian Sub-continent Specific Findings:
    • Heatwaves: Heatwaves and humid heat stress will be more intense and frequent during the 21st century over South Asia.
    • Monsoon: Changes in monsoon precipitation are also expected, with both annual and summer monsoon precipitation projected to increase.
      • The South West Monsoon declined over the past few decades because of the increase of aerosols but once this reduces, we will experience heavy monsoon rainfall.
    • Sea Temperature: The Indian Ocean, which includes the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, has warmed faster than the global average.
      • The sea surface temperature over Indian ocean is likely to increase by 1 to 2 °C when there is 1.5°C to 2°C global warming.
      • In the Indian Ocean, the sea temperature is heating at a higher rate than other areas, and therefore may influence other regions.
  • Net- Zero Emissions:
    • About:
      • It means that all man-​made greenhouse gas emissions must be removed from the atmosphere through reduction measures, thus reducing the Earth’s net climate balance, after removal via natural and artificial sink, to zero.
      • This way humankind would be carbon neutral and global temperature would stabilise.
    • Current Situation:
      • Several countries, more than 100, have already announced their intentions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. These include major emitters like the United States, China and the European Union.
      • India, the third largest emitter in the world, has been holding out, arguing that it was already doing much more than it was required to do, performing better, in relative terms, than other countries.
        • Any further burden would jeopardise its continuing efforts to pull its millions out of poverty.
      • IPCC has informed that a global net-zero by 2050 was the minimum required to keep the temperature rise to 1.5°C. Without India, this would not be possible.
        • Even China, the world’s biggest emitter, has a net-zero goal for 2060.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  • It is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change.
  • It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
  • IPCC assessments provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climate related policies, and they underlie negotiations at the UN Climate Conference – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

IPCC Assessment Reports

  • Every few years (about 7 years), the IPCC produces assessment reports that are the most comprehensive scientific evaluations of the state of earth’s climate.
  • So far, five assessment reports have been produced, the first one being released in 1990. The fifth assessment report had come out in 2014 in the run up to the climate change conference in Paris.
  • The Assessment Reports – by three working groups of scientists.
    • Working Group-I – Deals with the scientific basis for climate change.
    • Working Group-II – Looks at the likely impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation issues.
    • Working Group-III – Deals with actions that can be taken to combat climate change.
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