India needs to take the lead

PROGRESS: “There are serious plans to reduce the carbon intensity of Indian production, construction as well as energy consumption through more energy-efficient vehicles.” In this file photo, smoke billows from the chimneys of the Indraprastha Thermal Power Station in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Gurinder Osan

The latest marathon negotiations on climate change recently finished in Lima, Peru. Many outside observers feel that the centrepiece of Lima, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), neither to be reviewed nor externally monitored, are too weak to have any real impact on climate change.

Despite this, the Indian delegation expressed satisfaction over the result. So has the U.S, which is understandable since little is really being asked of it in terms of commitments. But what is India seeking?

Let’s look at the situation. India is a warm and primarily subtropical country where agriculture and drinking water depend on the monsoons. Northern India depends on river systems which are sustained by melting Himalayan glaciers. The country has a long coastline. It is also regularly exposed to extreme weather events — floods, droughts and hurricanes — and suffers from the presence of mosquitoes and other vectors that can carry infectious diseases.

Global warming leads to changes in weather patterns that could make the monsoons more erratic and extreme weather events more likely. With glaciers melting more rapidly, there will be more floods followed by water scarcity. Rising sea levels due to warming will threaten our coastal cities and low-lying villages. Higher temperatures could reduce yields of some major crops while bringing in tropical diseases that have not been endemic in the country so far. Rising emissions, especially in urban areas, have worsened pollution and made the air in many Indian cities unhealthy.

More vulnerable

India is far more vulnerable to global warming than developed countries which are located in cooler temperate zones. So, it needs strong collective international action to limit climate change and global warming more than these countries do. Making the economy more energy-efficient, which will reduce carbon emissions, is in the country’s own interest. Even the energy-guzzling U.S. produces four times more GDP per unit carbon dioxide emissions than India does — many energy-efficient EU countries produce six times more. If ‘Make in India’ products require four times as much carbon-based energy, can they be internationally competitive? Moreover, unless India reduces carbon intensity, its rapidly growing imported oil and coal requirements will weigh heavily on external payments, and pollution in cities will worsen. But if it improves carbon efficiency to current U.S. levels, the GDP could grow four times without an increase in CO emissions.

There is now growing recognition of this and there are serious plans to reduce the carbon intensity of Indian production, construction as well as energy consumption through more energy-efficient vehicles. Progress is being made. But wouldn’t it be logical to leverage domestic actions we need to take in our own interests to promote commitments by major emitting countries, accountable within an international agreement?

Against this background, what issues have we emphasised on in the climate change negotiations? The key ones have been equity and historical responsibility of the developed countries; hence Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), financial aid and green technologies to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Recently India called for adaptation to be given the same priority as mitigation. On equity it has argued that developed countries, which are responsible for most of the additional CO in the atmosphere following the industrial revolution, should provide the solution. But developed countries like the U.S. stress that the developing countries of today — China, India, Brazil and others — are responsible for more than 50 per cent of global CO emissions. Unless a collective effort is made, CO emissions cannot be reduced sufficiently to limit global warming to 2 degree Celsius — the temperature that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global body that tracks the science of climate change, has said is the threshold which could trigger dangerous effects.

Regarding financial aid and concessional technology transfer, does giving high priority to them really make much sense in terms of India’s interests? Following a decision of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, India rejected development aid from most donor countries for over a decade. Do we seek aid from them now?

On technology, most green technology is owned by private corporations. Budgets in developed countries are under pressure and there is not going to be much additional money for climate aid. Whatever is available to lease or purchase green technology, or for mitigation and adaptation, will go to African and other Least Developed Countries and Small Island States. India should welcome receiving aid but at the same time cannot expect to get much climate aid. Sub-Saharan African countries, smaller Latin American and Caribbean countries, and Small Island States are more concerned about their future in a world of erratic weather and rising seas than they are about historical responsibility. Moreover they know that their emissions are small, and little will be asked of them, and that their limited financial requirements are likely to be substantially covered by a combination of additional climate finance and multilateral aid. So India’s approach that only developed countries should have binding international commitments does not get much resonance; developing countries are often fragmented in these negotiations.

Improving energy efficiency

The only significant climate-related financing India has received is through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under the CDM, Indian entities receive payments from developed country enterprises for CO reductions that the latter can use to meet their carbon reduction obligations. But this will only work in future if there is a strong new climate agreement. Otherwise the carbon market will collapse and our CDM financing, which is significant, will dry up. Without Indian leadership, there will be no climate change agreement. India needs to improve its own energy efficiency. It should leverage this necessity to lead the way to a meaningful international agreement in Paris. Its policy goal should be to reduce the dangers of global warming for its people and get financial and other benefits from climate change agreements through, for example, an enhanced CDM. Unfortunately India’s current approach is achieving neither. Perhaps it is time for some fresh thinking.

(Uday Abhyankar is a former Indian diplomat and UN official.)

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 4:08:44 AM |

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