The tussle for shifting responsibility and climate change between G5 & G8

There seems a tussle going on about greenhouse gas emissions and their restrictions between the developed countries grouped as the G8 and the 05 developing countries – China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico grouped as G-5.  At the G8-G5 summit on at L’Aquila, Italy, the developed countries have shown their unwillingness to commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions drastically by 2020, despite scientists across the world and developing countries urging them to do so.

Image: Gino Santa Maria

Image: Gino Santa Maria

With the issue of climate change becoming significant, especially in the run-up to the UN climate change summit to be held in Copenhagen this December, the G5 countries are exerting pressure on the G8 to commit to earlier targets on reducing emissions.

The EU meanwhile said greenhouse gas emission cuts must be adhered to. The European Union reiterated its call for a global goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

Developed economies should cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has told a press conference before the G-8 industrialised nations began the three-day meeting in L’aquil a. Barroso said, too, that the emerging economies must also bear their share of emsission cuts.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, said 1990 should be the base year for setting targets for the reduction of emissions.

Despite the EU call, PM Dr. Manmohan Singh’s special envoy on climate change Shyam Saran had gone on record saying, “There is not much willingness among the developed countries to set the 2020 targets.” He has stressed, “Developing countries want a sharp decrease in emissions – at least by 40 percent by 2020,”

“There is an important political message from the G5 to the developed countries that they have to commit to reducing emission targets by 2020. On climate change, the developed countries have a historical responsibility to pay for the accumulated pollution,” Saran had added.

The G5 demand is that emissions in developed countries be reduced by at least 40 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050.

The argument is that these developed countries have been the biggest polluters of this planet earth and therefore they have a historical responsibility in paying back.

Global NGOs shadowing the G8-G5 summit are sceptical about any positive outcome from the G-5 / G-8 summit and said that any possibility of coming with a 2020 target had been scuttled by Russia, which has long opposed any cap on its greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions would nevertheless be a problem that would extend into the future with some of the G-5 countries also growing into mega economies with huge middle class consumption of fuel and contributing to pollution in a big way during the past decade. The worst would be “suspect” data and information coming out from some, especially from fast developing countries that would try to down play their “culprit role” say environmentalists.

Nevertheless, here is a report from one Asian giant, India, the only SA member in the G-5 group.

Urban Air Pollution in India

The rapid growth in motor vehicle activity in Indian cities has brought in its wake a range of serious Socio economic, environmental, health, and welfare impacts. Of these impacts, those resulting from urban air pollution, due to emissions from motor vehicles among other sources, have been the focus of considerable public concern and policy attention.

In Delhi, for example, air quality has been poor since the late 1980s. Surveys in the mid-1990s showed 24-hr average suspended particulate levels exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) guideline limits almost daily, with peak levels as high as 6–10 times the limit at many sites. Daily average sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels exceeded WHO limits on several days annually, at several sites. Ozone has not been monitored regularly, but limited studies in the 1990s showed that short-term WHO limits were exceeded at some locations (Central Pollution Control Board 1996, 2004, Centre for Science and Environment 2002).

road-pollutionSuch high air pollution levels occur in Delhi and other major Indian cities, because of the concentration of motor vehicular and other energy-consuming activities in these cities and the high pollution intensity of these activities. And because of the large populations in these cities, significant exposures and health impacts result.

It was reported in 1997 that 5 million people in Delhi, and 40% of its children, suffered from respiratory diseases (Centre for Science and Environment 2002). The rapid growth in motor vehicle and other energy-intensive activities in India is important not only because of their locally harmful air pollution effects, but also because of their regional and global impacts.

Acidification and ground-level ozone effects are increasing rapidly in Asia. Even low ozone levels can seriously diminish crop yields, but ozone appears to affect tropical crops more severely than US and European ones. While damage is estimated to be 10% in the United States (except for sensitive crops), it could be 40% for wheat, soybean, rice, and groundnut in countries like India, with profound implications for food security (Roychowdhury 1997).

At the global level, the rapid growth in motor vehicle activity has serious energy security and climate change implications. Transport already consumes nearly half of the world’s oil. Energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions due to transport grew by about a third in just one decade since the 1990s, with nearly half of this increase coming from the low-income countries (Grubler 1994). In India, petroleum product consumption, half of which is accounted for by transport, has very nearly doubled in just the last decade. The gap between local oil production and demand has been rising rapidly, and it is expected that three-quarters of India’s oil requirement will have to be imported in 2006 (Tata Energy Research Institute 1997, and 2002).

The Role of Transport in Urban Air Pollution Indian emissions inventories are not reliable; for example, transport emission inventories have tended to account only for vehicle exhaust, not for other vehicle and transport system sources, and have employed emission factors that do not adequately represent actual vehicle populations or in-use conditions. Besides, there are discrepancies between inventories generated by different agencies (Badami 2001).

Notwithstanding these issues, the available data show, in Delhi, for example, that motor vehicles are predominant in terms of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. And although their share of particulate and sulfur dioxide emissions is considerably lower than that of other sources (Centre for Science and Environment 1996, 2002), their contribution to these emissions and more generally, the contribution of urban transport to air pollution are likely growing in Indian cities, given the rapidly growing motor vehicle activity. Note that the bulk of transport-generated particulates is PM10, which is strongly linked with morbidities and mortalities associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases (Shah and Nagpal 1997).

While more recent model vehicles have been entering the market with economic liberalization since the 1990s, Indian motor vehicle technology has been decades behind global practice, and in some instances, 1950s and 1960s vintage vehicles continue to be manufactured (Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers 2002). Motor vehicle activity in India has therefore been characterized by high pollution intensities.

The vast majority of M2W vehicles, which form the bulk of India’s motor vehicle fleet, and for-hire motorized three-wheeled (M3W) vehicles have until recently been powered by highly polluting two-stroke engines. Tests conducted in the early 1990s showed that these vehicles, which typically carry one to four persons, produced higher carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon and one-fourth the particulate emissions per kilometer relative to buses, which are themselves heavy polluters, especially in terms of particulates (Indian Institute of Petroleum 1994, Shah and Nagpal 1997).

In addition to their high pollution levels, M2W vehicles are used intensively and, consequently, have accounted for significant shares of transport emissions. In Delhi in the mid-1990s, for example, these vehicles accounted for 60% of vehicle-kilometers (but as little as 16% of passenger-kilometers) in motorized passenger vehicles and approximately 30%–50% of exhaust carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, and particulate emissions from all motor vehicle activity. Their contribution was marginal only in terms of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, for which buses and other diesel vehicles were primarily responsible (Badami 2001).  Thus, M2W and M3W vehicles have represented a serious problem in terms of emissions per passenger-kilometer. Additionally, M2W vehicles alone consume around half of all gasoline nationally.

Fuel (and lubricating oil) quality have also contributed significantly to transport air pollution. Until the mid-1990s, when significant improvements in fuel quality began to be implemented, lead content was excessively high (Table 3). Lead in gasoline has been a serious public health concern globally, because it is released predominantly in the form of PM10, and even low lead levels can cause neurological effects in children, which can persist even after exposure ends (Centre for Science and Environment 1996, Faiz and others 1992). Benzene, a known carcinogen implicated in adult leukemia and lung cancer, and for which the WHO specifies no safe limit in air (Faiz and others 1992), was not controlled in Indian gasoline until recently (Table 3). Ambient benzene levels in Delhi in the late 1990s were an order of magnitude higher than those allowed by the European Union (Centre for Science and Environment 2002).

Levels of sulfur, an important constituent in particulate emissions, were excessively high in Indian gasoline and diesel until the mid-1990s, and several orders of magnitude higher than in their US and Californian counterparts at the same time (Faiz and others 1996).

Another important issue in the Indian context is that of gasoline evaporative emissions. There are no evaporative controls on the fuel distribution system, or on vehicles except cars produced from 1996 (Ministry of Surface Transport 1996). Indian gasolines have a high volatility and the vast majority of gasoline vehicles are carbureted, not fuel-injected. These facts, along with India’s high ambient temperatures, heighten the potential for evaporative emissions rich in reactive hydrocarbons, which participate in the formation of ground-level ozone.

The effects of vehicle technology and fuel quality have been exacerbated by in-use operating conditions. Congestion has increased rapidly in Indian cities, because of inadequate road infrastructure, modal separation, transport system management and traffic control. In Delhi, for example, the average speed for motorized passenger vehicles ranged from 12 to 20 km/hr in the 1990s (Rail India Technical and Economic Services Limited and Operations Research Group 1994). Besides causing time and productivity losses, congestion can increase fuel consumption, and carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions per vehicle-kilometer, by 200% or more (Faiz and others 1992).

From a report by Madhav G. Badami / School of Urban Planning and McGill School of Environment, McGill University,


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