Consensual climate inaction

As statements go, it was a bit of a let down.

Of course you‘d expect the Commonwealth Academies of Science to be excruciatingly polite and careful.  And when you’ve got 18 academy Presidents, a Secretary-General, and a Chairman signing up, the consensus on content tends to be a tad conservative.

On March 12, the Commonwealth academies of Science issued a “Consensus statement on climate change.” This comes a month before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London where Commonwealth leaders will apparently discuss sustainability and climate change.  So the statement is clearly intended to provide guidance to the Meeting’s participants.

Here’s what the statement says:

The Commonwealth academies of science call upon Commonwealth Heads of Government to use the best possible scientific evidence to guide action on their 2030 commitments under the Paris accord, and to take further action to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions during the second half of the 21st Century [1]

The statement goes on to say that the academies “stand ready to provide sound scientific advice on issues relating to climate change.”

But this narrative just echoes the language of the Paris Agreement where Parties to the Agreement aim to take action to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emission during the second half of the century.

So essentially the academies are simply asking their member states who are party to the Paris Agreement to comply with their commitments under the terms of the Agreement—commitments set out in their Nationally Determined Contributions to reducing emissions.

This is not good enough.

Here’s why. The statement from the academies references the 2017 Emissions Gap report issued by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). In the 2017 version of the UNEP report, the ‘gap’ refers to the difference between what has been committed to by parties to the Paris Agreement—and what is required in order for the agreement targets of 1.5 to 2°C to be on schedule by 2030.

The gap is large. To limit warming to 1.5°C by 2030, parties to the agreement must further reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 16 billion tonnes a year. That’s about a 30 percent greater reduction than the aggregate targets proposed in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as they stand right now.

A more recent assessment by Climate Action Tracker points to an even greater reduction if the 1.5°C limit is to be achieved. The CAT data shows that a reduction of at least 40 percent is required [2].

So the Commonwealth heads of Government do not need to contact the academies for “sound scientific advice on issues relating to climate change.”  They can find everything they need to know from the 2017 UNEP report and the CAT assessment published in November 2017.

The UNEP report clearly shows what needs to be done.  It outlines the emission reduction potential of six sectors: agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry, and transport. The total adds up to a reduction of more than 30 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030.  Easily more than we need .[3]

Action not words

Here’s what the Heads of the Commonwealth countries should agree to do:

  1. At COP22 leaders of 49 developing countries committed to working to achieving 100% renewable energy, and about half of the NDCs submitted after Paris included targets set for renewable energy. The Commonwealth countries should follow suit—setting renewable energy targets and developing an action plan to achieve them.
  2. Phase out coal. The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Portugal have committed to closing their remaining coal-fired power plants in the coming decade. The Commonwealth countries should do the same. Coal is a global health hazard. Smog-choked cities are not the way to go.
  3. Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels. By the end of 2016, more than 50 countries have committed to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.  Subsidy reforms were instituted in Angola, Brazil, Dominican republic, Egypt, Gabon, India, Iran, Kuwait, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Zambia.  All the Commonwealth countries should commit to this policy and act.
  4. In addition to renewable energy targets, Commonwealth countries should have energy efficiency targets and a clear action plan to achieve them. This is a win-win strategy. Efficiency improvements almost always pay off.
  5. For those countries where rural electrification is a priority—which means they need more energy not less, they should be following the lead of the African countries where photovoltaic minigrid systems managed through mobile money and smart meters are successfully tackling this problem. Villages without electricity should be a thing of the past. Reducing emissions doesn’t mean cutting back on providing energy. It means providing energy without the greenhouse gases. Renewable energy.

The jewel in the crown

The largest commonwealth country in terms of population and a leader in so many ways when it comes to adapting to climate change, India’s Nationally Determined Contribution makes a forceful and impressive statement. The country has an ambitious renewable energy program, a strong focus on energy efficiency—including transportation where mass transit and urban transportation are priorities. Green India Mission is increasing the area of forests. But the size of the population and the scale of the work that needs to be accomplished presents a formidable challenge [4].

The problem is coal.

It’s not about the emissions of carbon dioxide. It’s about the health impacts of urban smog and foul air that kills thousands of people including young children every year. The urban environment becomes intolerable.

Clean coal is a mirage. Supercritical technology may be more efficient when measured at the power plant, but moving huge quantities of coal across the country by rail and disposing of all the waste is a massive problem and an environmental nightmare. And even with the best emissions control tehnology you still have carbon dioxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide and yes–mercury.

Coal?  You have to let it go.  The fuel that powered the industrial revolution and its dark satanic mills has no place in the 21st Century.  And surely not in India.


Going deeper….

[1] The statement from the Commonwealth Academies of Science can be found at:

[2] The Climate Action Tracker report can be found here :

[3] See:  The Emissions Gap Report 2017, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is available at:

[4] India’s Nationally Determined Contribution can be found at :



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