ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Equity and Social Justice in a Finite Carbon World

Any serious analysis of any facet of global warming without a mention of capitalism is incomplete to that degree. A major study that was a background paper at a recent conference on climate change in Mumbai is undoubtedly a pioneering addition to the global warming literature. However, the policy paper is disturbing not just because of the generosity of emissions it allows to countries, but also for what it lacks - a discussion of the multifaceted aspects of equity and sustainability and of the logic of industrial capitalism, issues that lie at the heart of global warming.

The climate science debate has been enriched and extended by a recent, pioneering paper, “Global Carbon Budgets and Burden Sharing in Mitigation Actions” (Kanitkar et al 2010), which, in an earlier incarnation, was the key background paper at a conference on Global Carbon Budgets and Equity in Climate Change in Mumbai on 28-29 June 2010. The importance of the paper (hereafter TISS-DSF p aper) lies not just in its contents, described briefly below, but also in the fact that the meeting was attended by the Minister of State for Environment and Forests (MoEF) Jairam Ramesh, by members of the Prime Minister’s National Panel on Climate Change, and by a host of other luminaries from India and from outside. It is very likely that the paper’s perspectives will provide significant intellectual inputs in the articulation of India’s position in f uture climate negotiations; it is now, not coincidentally, also on the MoEF web site.

First, the paper, in brief.1 It builds on the idea of a carbon space, meaning the volume of carbon dioxide (CO2), measured in billions of metric tonnes, that humans could safely emit within a given time p eriod, in this case over the half century 2000-2050. It fixes that budgeted space to be distributed among nations and regions b etween 2000 and 2050 at 393 billion metric tonnes (Gt) of carbon (p 44), that is, 1,440 Gt of CO2. The figure is based on a study published in the journal Nature, which sought to model probabilities of what quantum of emissions between 2000 and 2050 would limit warming through this century to an average 2o C above pre-industrial temperatures, a level that is accepted, though not universally, by many climate scientists and others as a dangerous level of warming. In their paper in N ature, Meinshausen et al (2009) argued that “Limiting cumulative CO2 emissions over 2000-50 to 1,000 Gt CO2 yields a 25% probability of warming exceeding 2oC – and a limit of 1,440 GtCO 2 yields a 50% probability”.

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