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Delhi shrugs off soot label

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By JAYANTA BASU
  • Published 9.12.10
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Cancun (Mexico), Dec. 8: India is resisting attempts by European Union and US negotiators at the UN climate change conference here to add soot particles into the list of greenhouse gases implicated in altering the world’s climate.

The attempts by the EU and the US follow scientific studies, including one by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration last year, that have suggested that the Indo-Gangetic plain has become a hotspot for emissions of soot, also called black carbon.

The NASA study had suggested that winds can push black carbon and dust, which absorb heat from sunlight, towards the base of the Himalayas where they can accumulate and contribute as much or even more to global warming than greenhouse gases.

But India is opposing efforts to label black carbon as another “greenhouse gas”.

“We will not allow black carbon to be included in the list of greenhouse gases as demanded by some negotiators," India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh said, adding that India is responsible for only four per cent of global black carbon production.

However, Ramesh said, India has decided to launch a national programme to monitor, model and measure black carbon. This exercise, expected to begin around mid-December this year, will make use of international scientific expertise, he said.

“In our case, it is less about climate change and more about public health, though its effect on the Himalayan glaciers remains a concern," the minister said. Old diesel vehicles and the traditional clay-and-oven stoves are among sources of black carbon in India.

Last year, NASA scientists have observed that rapid melting of snow in the western Tibetan plateau that begins each year in April and extends to October coincides with the time when concentrations of black carbon and dust transported from India and Nepal are most dense in the atmosphere. Over some areas of the Himalayas, the rate of warming is more than five times faster than warming globally, William Lau, a senior NASA scientist had said.

Early this year, physicist Surabi Menon at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and her collaborators had reported that airborne black carbon from India is a major contributor to the decline in the snow and ice cover on the Himalayan glaciers.

Studies suggest that the amount of black carbon emissions from India and China have climbed dramatically over the past few decades -- almost in tandem with the economic growth in the two countries.

Ramesh said India hopes to begin using satellites to monitor greenhouse gases as well as black carbon from 2012 onwards.

Emissions report

The world appears heading towards spewing at least five gigatonnes extra carbon dioxide than the benchmark level required to prevent the Earth warming beyond 2 C, a report from the United Nations Environment Programme has revealed.

The UNEP report tabled today here at the UN climate conference has computed the impacts of all cuts and curbs of emissions pledged at a similar meet in Copenhagen last year and found that under the best scenario, the world will overshoot the required target by five gigatonnes.

“Compared to what was pledged in Copenhagen, another 40 per cent increase of emissions cuts is required to keep the temperature rise to 2 degree C -- and every body has to contribute” said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director.

Negotiations still fluid

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With ministerial meetings just beginning at the conference, the status remains fluid though various leaders have expressed hope for a "legally non-binding but a forward looking treaty emerging from Cancun.

"I do not expect governments to reach an all encompassing global agreement in Cancun, but we need to see progress in all fronts -- climate adaptation, protecting forests, technology and some elements of finance," said UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon.

And there have been some movements in various sectors. A technical team has reached an overall agreement on how climate-friendly technologies could be shared across countries. The US has agreed to contribute to a "green fund" -- beyond whatever it pledged at Copenhagen.

But many negotiators fear that these advances may be undone if the conference adopts an "all-or-none" approach -- meaning all decisions are linked to each other. With no agreement on the future of the Kyoto Protocol -- the international treaty that legally binds industrialised countries to emissions cuts -- this kind of a linked decision-making could prove to be a dampener, negotiators said.

“It seems the challenge to the political negotiators over the next few days is to delink the contentious issues for future dialogue and take decisions wherever there is agreement” said a senior bureaucrat of Mexico.