COP26 summit: India's climate destiny depends upon negotiations in Glasgow

India has turned the climate limelight on itself by announcing ambitious plans to set up 450 gigawatts (Gw) of renewable energy (RE) capacity by 2030. As nations gather for the global climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow at the end of this month, much expectation is riding on India with immense pressure from the developed world, especially the host country United Kingdom, and the United States of America, one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases.   John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate change, has long pressed India to declare a headline “Net Zero&rd.....
India has turned the climate limelight on itself by announcing ambitious plans to set up 450 gigawatts (Gw) of renewable energy (RE) capacity by 2030. As nations gather for the global climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow at the end of this month, much expectation is riding on India with immense pressure from the developed world, especially the host country United Kingdom, and the United States of America, one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases.

 

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate change, has long pressed India to declare a headline “Net Zero” target, when the amount of greenhouse gas produced is offset by an equivalent amount removed from the atmosphere. Kerry, who in 2015 was a staunch critic of India’s stand to not phase out coal usage, is now an admirer of the country’s strides in renewable energy (RE). He even des­cr­i­bed India as the “red hot destination” for RE investment.

 

So far, Indian ministers and officials have made it clear that the country cannot declare Net Zero, given the country’s development needs. Significantly, this target entails no future investment in coal or fossil fuels. According to government data, India’s per capita carbon emissions per year is 1.96 tonnes compared with 8.4 tonnes for China, 18.6 tonnes for the US, 7.16 tonnes for the European Union and a world average of 6.64 tonnes.

 

Yet there has been pressure on India to update its “nationally determined commitments” (NDCs), which it declared during COP21 in Paris, 2015 (see chart). But a senior climate expert said though they are unsure if India will declare a Net Zero commitment, the country has its hands full with the 450 Gw target. “It doesn’t seem like India will make any announcement with regard to the coal-fired plants and it is an absolute surety that the country will face flak for it. There will be immense pressure on India to declare a Net Zero but we have to be smarter than that,” he said.

 

He cited the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) report, which till last year said India’s climate actions were sufficient, and then suddenly changed its rating and tagged it “highly insufficient”.

The report said, “India has not yet submitted updated 2030 targets [in its NDC] to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Its current NDC target would be well overachieved with current policies. We rate India’s emissions intensity target as ‘Hig­hly insufficient’. The ‘Highly insufficient’ rating indicates that India’s climate policies and commitments are not consistent with any interpretation of a fair-share contribu­tion and lead to rising, rather than falling, emissions.”

Senior officials, however, pointed out that it is not mandatory for India to update its NDCs till 2023. There is still no confirmation if India will revise its NDCs to add retirement of coal and fossil fuels, or declare a Net Zero target.

 

While the debate over a headline target rages, experts pointed out that India’s climate mitigation plan should run deeper and longer than that. From adaptability measures to tackling loss and damage caused by the climate crisis and a strong stance on climate financing by the Global North, which bears the responsibility for over 90 per cent of the stock of carbon in the atmosphere, all should be part of India’s ammunition at the COP26 negotiations.

 

Ulka Kelkar, director, climate programme, World Resources Institute, said India should have both a long-term and short-term strategy to balance its climate mitigation plan.

 

“If we were to execute 450 Gw of renewable energy, even that is not easy. There are multiple initiatives and projects that will encompass the 450 Gw target,” Kelkar asked, adding, “Storage and power transmission for this renewable energy source also require investment, and someone needs to be near it. Will it be India or private companies or will we be assisted by multilateral agencies such as ADB, World Bank or financing instruments from the developed world?”

 

The big question over funding has been haunting the developing world, including India, since the 2009 COP in Copenhagen. The developed economies led by the US pledged $100 billion in climate financing for the developing countries to shift to a low-carbon future and fund their climate mitigation and adaptability plans.

 

Harjeet Singh, senior advisor, climate impact at the Climate Action Network (CAN) International, said the $100-billion investment number came out of thin air with no real analysis and (since then) there are several financing numbers floating around.

 

He said India’s NDC or climate action plan mentioned the need for $2.5 trillion by 2030. African nations estimated that they will need $1.3 trillion per year by 2030. The recent UNFCCC report on needs assessment brings up a figure of $6 trillion just for 40 per cent of the climate plans submitted.

 

“India should be more specific about the $2.5-trillion figure. It should detail how much money is needed for mitigat­ion, technology, adaptation and for add­ressing loss and damage. It should also be explicit in how much it will mobilise on its own and what portion must come from international sources,” Singh said.

 

For its financing needs, Indian officials are planning to pursue the developed world, but the country is also leading the group of Like-Minded De­v­e­loping Countries (LMDCs) to set up a fund for “loss and damage” caused due to the climate crisis.

 

“We are asking the developed eco­nomies to compensate these areas that are the most vulnerable to climate-related impacts and for the expenditure on preventing and managing such mishaps. We will have the support of 24 LMDCs, especially island nations, on this,” said a senior MoEFCC official.

 

Officials said India is willing to contribute to the fund, if any is set up to compensate for the loss and damage caused by extreme climate events. “The ‘polluter pays principle’ should apply here. It should be the historic polluters. But if we are asked to contribute, we will. Our threshold of carbon emissions is anyway low, so we can,” said an official.

 

Singh said it makes sense for India to lead this initiative. “With a 7,500-km-long coastline, more than 50 per cent of the population engaged in agricultural activities, and so many economic sectors, which are climate-sensitive, we need to have a plan for proactively managing climate disasters,” he said.


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