science_questioningOn the 2nd of June India stood up once again to question the science stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one of the top scientific bodies to prove the existence of climate change. And although it sounds ridiculous, if you look deeper into the Indian argument there is some legitimacy. Or so I believe.

Now when we hear that the IPCC science is being challenged, we automatically assume that means that the challenging party thinks that climate change isn’t happening. That is not the case here. India signed off on the IPCC because it accepted the reality of climate change as described by the report.

So what is India challenging?

The IPCC reports, besides only talking about the impacts of climate change, also state a pathway of emissions reductions for developed countries required to limit emissions to a point of 450ppm equivalent. This scenario gives us a 50% chance of avoiding disastrous climate change, defined as a limit to global temperature increase of 2 degrees. The pathway they stated for a 450ppm scenario was that developed countries need to reduce emissions by 25-40% based on 1990 emissions levels by 2020, and a “significant” deviation from business as usual in developing countries.

However since the report being released, some of the scientists, who are a part of the IPCC, last year came out with a study that gave a recommendation for developing countries – to deviate 15-30% below their business as usual scenario. Where did those numbers come from? That is the contentious point for the Indians.

Mr Pradipto Ghosh, one of the Indian delegates referred to the IPCC report saying that “box 13.7 is being quoted by certain countries as a recommendation to burden sharing”. The scenario is something that came out in a study from one set of European researchers. It takes in a range of different studies and comes out with that scenario of deviation from business as usual for developing countries. Burden sharing should be calculated based on historical responsibility and the capacity to pay.

The IPCC as a body has not endorsed this, but it is talked about this as if it is a recommendation from the IPCC”. And that is what the key thing is to remember – we need to stick to the science.

So you see why I understand where they are coming from?

This should not mean that developing countries are absolved of all duty to not look after their emission levels or to not develop sustainably. India can’t continue on its business as usual trajectory and needs to ensure it doesn’t lock itself into a high carbon development pathway. India understands that they need to look after its emissions. However we must ensure these calculations based on science and equity approved by the IPCC.


The only other point to note is that in the short term it will be easier and cheaper to have developing countries develop sustainably as they haven’t locked themselves into high carbon infrastructure. Hence feasibility is possibly what these numbers have been influenced by.

So India is not questioning the science of climate change, but the science of the specific targets countries are asking the developing countries to take on.

My Question:

Equity vs. feasibility – which way do we go?