8 April 2021 – The Hindu Today News & Editorials

1) Deconstructing declarations of carbon-neutrality

India should not join this game as it has to stay focused on development as its immediate need and aspirational goal

GS 3: Climate Change, Environmental Pollution & Degradation

Context:

  • At the latest count by the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), at the beginning of April, 32 countries had declared, their proposed intention to achieve carbon-neutral status by mid-century or thereabouts.
  • Of these, only eight have any firm status, the rest being in the form of proposed legislation or mentions in policy documents.

Temperature goal

  • The temperature goal referred to is the much better-known declaration of intent of the Paris Agreement, of limiting temperature rise to well below 2°C and further pursuing efforts to restrict it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • Paris Agreement
    • Article 4.1 of the that states that “In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”.
  • It is evident that the balance of emissions and removal of greenhouse gases is not sought on a country-wise basis but for the world as a whole.

Current pledges fall short

  • According to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° warming what remains of this global carbon budget from 2018 onwards, for a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to less than 1.5°C, is 480 Giga-tonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq).
  • At the current rate of emissions of about 42 GtCO2eq per year, this budget would be consumed in 12 years.
  • To keep within the 480 Gt budget, at a steady linear rate of decline, global carbon neutrality must be reached by 2039.
  • For a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to below 2°C, the budget is considerably more generous, amounting to about 1,400 GtCO2eq, which provides considerably greater room for maneuver.

Emissions in the West

USA

  • Emissions in the U.S. (not considering land use and land-use change and forest-related emissions) (LULUCF), peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017, with a maximum annual reduction of 6.3% in 2009, at the height of a recession.
  • Even if it did reach net-zero by 2050 at a steady linear rate of reduction, which is unprecedented, its cumulative emissions between 2018 and 2050 would be 106 GtCO2, which is 22% of the total remaining carbon budget for the whole world — so high, that unless others reduced emissions at even faster rates, the world would most certainly cross 1.5°C warmings.
  • It would still owe a carbon debt of 470 GtCO2 to the rest of the world for having used more than its fair share of carbon space in the past.
  • At a very moderate carbon price of $30 per tonne of CO2, this translates to a carbon debt of over $14 trillion, that the U.S. owes the world.

European Union

  • Individual countries will have different dates for a fair net-zero — Germany’s is 2030.
  • If the EU reaches net-zero only by 2050 it would consume at least 71 GtCO2, well above its fair share.
  • Either way, the EU owes the world a carbon debt of about $9.3 trillion (at the same price of $ 30/tCO2) for past emissions.

India has no carbon debt

India clearly should not join this game of carbon neutrality declarations, for a number of reasons.

  • 1) India has to stay focused on development — both as its immediate need as well as its aspirational goal.
    • India’s current low carbon footprint is a consequence of the utter poverty and deprivation of a majority of its population, and not by virtue of sustainability.
  • 2) India’s emissions (non-LULUCF) are no more than 3.5% of global cumulative emissions prior to 1990 and about 5% since 2018.
    • Any self-sacrificial declaration of carbon neutrality today in the current international scenario would be a wasted gesture reducing the burden of the developed world and transferring it to the backs of the Indian people.

Pseudo-scientific narratives against India

    • One variant of the hubris sees India taking the lead in some global ecological alternative driven by frugality, minimal consumption and little technological advance.
    • Another imagines that India will somehow, in very short order, emerge as a global leader of green manufacturing and industry.
  • While the latter is believed by the character of India’s overall growth trajectory, the former is clearly socio-politically infeasible and morally unacceptable.

Conclusion

  • India’s twin burden of low-carbon development and adaptation to climate impacts is onerous and no doubt requires serious, concerted action.
  • India’s approach to eventual net-zero emissions is contingent on deep first world emissions reductions and an adequate and unambiguous global carbon budget.
  • Meanwhile, India must reject any attempt to restrict its options and be led into a low-development trap, based on pseudo-scientific narratives.

2) Abortion is a woman’s right to decide                                                       

The amendment to the abortion laws retains the notion that the state must intervene in what is a woman’s absolute right

GS 1, 2: Social Justice, Women Issues

Context:

  • The Rajya Sabha passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in March 2021.
  • The Bill was passed by the lower house in 2020.
  • This is an important Bill that seeks to enhance the reproductive rights of women in India.

After much stonewalling

  • The government’s conduct is particularly appalling since it comes after over a decade of procrastination and obstruction where indigent women in difficult circumstances tried to have abortions done and were stonewalled by government officials and prosecutors.
  • The passing of this Act marks a new phase of the struggle to assert the absolute right of a woman over her body.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP)

  • Provisions in the Indian Penal Code regarding termination of pregnancy were enacted over a century ago in keeping with the British law on the subject.
  • Abortions were made a crime and the woman concerned and her doctor would invariably land up in jail.
  • Section 3 put an outer limit of 20 weeks on the length of the pregnancy and required two doctors to certify that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health or that there was a substantial risk that the child born would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
    • Explanation 1 dealt with rape cases where it was to be presumed that the anguish caused would constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the woman.
    • Explanation 2 laid down that any pregnancy occurring as a result of the failure of contraception would likewise be presumed to constitute a grave injury.
    • Account needed to be taken of the pregnant woman’s actual or reasonably foreseeable environment.
  • Section 5 created an exception to the 20-week limit whenever such an abortion was immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
  • The 1971 Act was based on “The Report of the Shantilal H. Shah Committee to Study the Question of Legislation of Abortion” 1967, which set out the limitations of technology which made it hazardous for women to have abortions done after the 20th week.
  • This limitation disappeared with the phenomenal improvement in technology and processes rendering it possible to carry out abortions safely right up to full term.
  • Thus the excuse of “safety of the woman” was no longer tenable to be used for restricting women’s rights.

 

The after-effect

  • The central government has been criminally negligent in allowing the law to stand as it has for five decades.
  • It has pushed women seeking abortions underground where terminations are carried out in unhygienic and dangerous places and in horrific situations.
  • Even today about 800,000 illegal and unsafe abortions are performed every year in India, many of them resulting in morbidities and death.

Court Judgments:

  • The decision of the Bombay High Court in Nikita Mehta vs the State of Maharashtra, saying that it was not open for the courts to double guess the statutory restrictions, sparked the debate around the right to abortion in India.
  • From 2008 onwards, over 300 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
  • The Court then routinely allowed abortions way past the 20 week limit. In Murugan Nayakkar vs Union of India & Ors, the abortion was permitted at 31 weeks, very close to full term.

Issues with the New Law:

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 fails miserably on the main count while introducing few collateral progressive measures.
    • First, the Act fails to recognize the absolute right of a woman over her body in taking decisions regarding abortions and reproductive health.
      • It still reserves to the state the right to dictate to the woman that she cannot have an abortion at will.
    • Second, even though the limit has been pushed back from 20 to 24 weeks, this comes with the same state conditionalities as before.
    • Third, 24 weeks is not rational given today’s technology where abortions can be done safely up to full term.

Medical boards are obstacles

  • By far the biggest failure of the government lies in enacting section 3(2B) which requires the pregnant woman to approach a medical board in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities and where she has crossed the 24-week limit.
  • These boards impose insurmountable obstacles to the woman seeking late abortions.
    • First, what used to be an exchange between the pregnant woman and her gynecologist who would take a decision as to safety, has now been replaced by a board of a minimum of three doctors? This is totally unnecessary and breaches privacy.
    • Second, and this is indicative of complete non-application of mind, the Act provides in section 3(2C) for a single board for a State.
      • Given the millions of abortions taking place in India past the deadline, it is impossible for one board to handle all cases.
    • Third, assuming multiple boards will be established, the records show that no State has the finances or the human resources to maintain the operation and functioning of these boards.
    • Fourth, the right to seek termination is restricted to “such category of women as may be prescribed by rules”. One wonders what categories of women would be permitted termination of pregnancies!

Conclusion:

  • The main objection remains; that boards are totally unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, and pregnant women like they used to do, should be left alone to consult their gynecologist in late-term pregnancies and carry out their abortion under the certificate of their own gynecologist that the abortion can be performed safely.
  • This is the trend worldwide and in the courts. The Indian government needs to wake up and educate itself on women’s emancipation worldwide.