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  May 18, 2017

CO2 Emissions Decline in India and China

Climate scientist Bill Hare says that China's and India's moves towards renewable energy could counter the negative effects of the Trump administration's climate policies
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Bill Hare is a physicist, climate scientist and IPCC lead author with 30 years' experience in science, impacts and policy responses to climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion. He is a founder and CEO of Climate Analytics, a non-profit climate science institute with offices in Berlin, Germany, Lome, Togo and New York. Bill has contributed actively to the development of the international climate regime since 1989, including the negotiation of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement in 2015. He is also one of the leaders of the Climate Action Tracker, recognised as one of the most credible sources of information on national and global action on climate change.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. While President Donald Trump wavers on whether to remain in the Paris Climate Accord, and while he is also pushing to rollback greenhouse gas cutting regulations here in the US, it appears that China and India are making great strides to slow emissions and meet their Paris agreement pledges. This according to a new report published by the Climate Action Tracker titled, "China, India, Slow Global Emissions Growth. Trump's Policies Will Flatten US Emissions." The report shows that China's C02 emissions appear to have peaked more than a decade ahead of its Paris agreement commitment, and that these emissions may in fact already have stopped increasing and reached its peak.

The report was presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn this week. They are developing the guidelines needed to fully implement the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. With us to discuss important report that has just come out, and how the Trump administration's policies might affect the world, we are joined by one of the authors of the report, Bill Hare. Bill is a physicist, climate scientist, and IPCC Lead Author for 30 years. He has a great deal of experience in science impacts and policy responses to climate change. Bill, I thank you so much for joining us today.

DR. BILL HARE: Thank you for having me. It's great.

SHARMINI PERIES: Bill, tell us about the key findings in your study that was reported to the Bonn meeting?

DR. BILL HARE: Well, I think the most interesting things that we're finding is what's going on in China and India. As you said, Chinese emissions of carbon dioxide [inaudible 00:02:05] from coal use have flatlined, and we project that if those policies in China continue, we may even see Chinese emissions decrease over the next decade, many years before many analysts thought that's possible. That's extremely important, but in another way, what's going on in India is in fact the biggest game in the planet on climate change right now. India's ramping up at a tremendous rate, renewable energy. It's bringing down imports of coal, it's beginning to cancel new, very large scale coal plant, and the overall consequence is that India's carbon dioxide emissions look like slowing very signifcantly in the next decade.

Last year, we calculated for example that we could easily see India carbon dioxide emissions increasing by two or three over recent levels, but now we're saying that it's very likely emissions will only be 100% above recent levels. That's a major slow down and really has big impact on the global C02 emissions pathway for the future. Then, we stuck that against what is going on with the highly adverse developments under the Trump administration, rolling back key aspects of climate policy and action in the United States, and that's definitely going to have a bad impact, but it will probably lead just to a flatlining in US emissions rather than the decrease we've seen in the last years.

Putting that in the global context, it's looking quite clear that the actions by China and India outweigh the damaging effect of what the Trump administration's doing in the short term. It's not an overall optimistic picture, but it's saying that despite what the Trump administration's doing, and the fact that's going to make it harder for the future, the actions by two very big developing countries are really going to have a very positive impact.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. China and India, they're making these breakthroughs in terms of the reductions due to what kind of policies? What are they engaged in that the rest of the world can learn from?

DR. BILL HARE: Actually, very different reasons actually. China is very concerned about air pollution and coal is one of those major sources. Probably one of the incentives for China to shut down coal plant. It's also been a major act on climate change for a long time, with very aggressive renewable energy targets, energy efficiency targets in the economy that it's progressively met. A combination of those factors and almost a strategy for China to be cleaner and greener in the future, more efficient, and provide more rapid increase in [bra 00:04:56] metal and social benefits for its population is part of the whole Chinese story on this issue.

It's ramping up the production of electric vehicles which it sees as a major strategic development in its own efforts to contain greenhouse gas emissions, as well as an international market opportunity. India's got different issues going on, very different stage of economic development, and needs to rapidly increase its electricity supply and delivery to very large population. Most analysts assumed India would be relying on coal, but the very rapid drop in renewable energy technology prices over the last 10 years, which is ongoing, it seems almost every week a new record low is made in the market, has inspired India to really seize that opportunity to massively ramp up the growth of renewable energy.

At the same time, they're announcing targets for electric vehicles. The Prime Minister recently said that he would like to see no more fossil fuel cars sold in India by 2030. That's a story also about India grappling with its economic future. Terrible air pollution in India affecting hundreds of millions of people. Getting rid of coal is one way to deal with that. Moving to more efficient motor vehicles is another. Doing it in a clean and renewable way will help the Indian economy and it will help public health and improve agricultural outcomes through reduced air pollution and so on. It looks like being overwhelmingly beneficial for India.

SHARMINI PERIES: Yeah. Bill, the reductions that are happening now, both in India and China, what data and how are you measuring it? Is it based on national data provided by the state? Or, do you have a way of gathering this information that's outside of that?

DR. BILL HARE: That's an interesting question. We rely on multiple sources for emissions historically, from China and India. We put together the best sources. There's, of course, a lot of discussion about the actual level of emissions in both countries, so we do our best to cope with those uncertainties by matching international and national sources, and finding what we think is the most scientifically best method of blending that data. We also look at projections from the countries, we look at the countries' own projections of what their policies are doing. We compare that with outcomes and where it's appropriate, we make changes to those projections to reflect the most recent policy developments.

In the case of India, very recently announced draft electricity plan. We managed to include in our analysis, which led to the conclusion about the very rapidly slowing growth of C02 emissions in India.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Then, when you look at India's policy, in fact if you literally look at it, the impact of India's policies, if you arrive in Delhi for example, in the middle of the night, the smog and the air pollution is so thick that you can cut it with a knife. You don't see a direct impact, so cities like Delhi have to deal with a transformation of their policies and people like Jim [inaudible 00:08:33] at the Political Economy Research Institute has done some work in this area and has made some recommendations to the city governments in terms of ways in which they can reduce the emissions, sometimes simply as putting less cars on the road. I understand there's something like 15,000 cars put on the road, new cars put on the road every single day in India. How do we tackle those kinds of issues and the municipalities that need to get involved?

DR. BILL HARE: Well, India's a very big and complicated country with many different states and cities. Each are trying to deal with it in their own way. You're quite right, that when you go to New Delhi, you see firsthand, very severe problems that have been caused by the present form of energy production, transport and so on. I think the kind of policies that India's progressively introducing, both at the national level and on a state by state basis, are ultimately going to solve these problems.

It's very slow and I think many who visit India regularly, and I know friends and colleagues who live in New Delhi or other places, frustratingly slow, actually. But the trend is there I think. If they can really keep rolling back coal and particularly work on improving the efficiency of motor vehicles, going towards electric vehicles, then the basic source of pollution will reduce. The question of how people get around and transport, it's a major infrastructure challenge for India, and innovations in the last decades, like the Delhi subway show that India's capable of pulling off first rate, world class public transport systems.

But that's not universally rolled out in India for a whole lot of reasons. Capital shortages, political issues and places. Not unlike the problems that actually I have to say are encountered in all of our developed countries as well, but the challenges are much larger.

SHARMINI PERIES: Speaking of developed countries, let's turn to the US. You're predicting a flatline, even if Trump pulls out of the climate change Paris Agreement? If he rolls back on on emission reduction, as was promised to us by the Obama administration, you are still thinking that it will be flatlined, but this is not really good news just because it's flatlined, is it?

DR. BILL HARE: No, it's definitely not good news. I mean, the US has been on a downward path now for some years and that should continue. It must ultimately resume a downward path in its emissions in order to play its essential role in meeting the Paris Agreement long term temperature limit of limiting warming, holding warming world below two degrees and bringing it to 1.5 degrees. But in the short run, we don't see emissions increasing from the United States. Flatlining is a bad thing at this stage, because actually action should be accelerating. We're beginning to see the very strong signs of climate impacts all around the world now, and also in the United States.

It's a bad thing to happen, but it's not going to offset the good things that are happening globally in the short run, and we're all quite optimistic that in a few years the US might resume its leadership pathway. You have to remember the reason why in part China and India are moving forward and have played such a constructive role in the negotiation and implementation of the Paris Agreement is because of US diplomacy over a long period of time. I think benefits of that won't be lost quickly, but there's a very big risk I think that what the Trump administration's reversals of previous policies, that the US will begin to lose its leadership role in this issue.

That's not just a political problem. It could emerge as a technological and economic issue for key US industries. The automotive industry is a key example. What if China, India, the Europeans really crack on with introducing electric vehicles, ultra low emission vehicles, and the US is left behind? American car manufacturers might find themselves in a very difficult position within a very short period of time, actually.

SHARMINI PERIES: Important point, Bill. I thank you so much for joining us, and this is a topic we at The Real News will be continuing to cover on a regular basis, in fact daily. We also have a new bureau we are launching on climate change here at The Real News. We look forward to having you back and to have your analysis and to continue this discussion, particularly as you just pointed out on the issue of industries and how we cope with the new and evolving industries and how they have to shift in order to make and meet the commitments that we need to make in terms of reducing global emissions. I thank you so much for joining us today.

DR. BILL HARE: Thanks for having me. Bye.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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