As countries across the world finalize the negotiating briefs for their respective delegations headed to the 26th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow (UK), this commentary discusses what is likely to be India’s stand on the key agenda items.
India will struggle to balance its domestic interests, in particular vis-à-vis enhancing energy security, with its responsibilities as a key stakeholder in the larger community of nations; indeed its responsibility to a larger humanity. India believes that COP 26 should result in enhanced commitment to the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 percent, as compared to pre-industrial revolution levels and, in pursuit of this goal, set a global target of net zero emissions by 2050. However, this cannot be applied universally to all COP members irrespective of their levels of development, responsibility for historical emissions and the scale of vulnerability to climate change given their geographical location, density of population and other such factors. In other words, the UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (the CBDR principle) must be followed in ensuring equitable burden sharing in achieving the net zero goal. India can accept the net zero as a global goal for 2050 but it cannot accept this as a national goal at present.
India’s Energy Matrix
There will be calls for the world to give up coal altogether as a fossil fuel post COP 26. This is an unrealistic expectation for an energy-starved country like India, where over 50 percent of electricity is still generated from coal.. However, India has a good record in limiting its reliance on coal-based power and ensuring that the newer plants are either super-critical or ultra-supercritical, as these are more efficient and less polluting than sub-critical plants. Domestically, although India does not have a formal carbon tax, it has levied successively higher cess on coal production (currently at rupees 400 per tonne).
India also has some of the highest rates of tax on other fossil fuels, like petroleum and natural gas, in relation to per capita incomes. Overall there is a constant push towards greater energy efficiency and a shift to renewable sources of energy but the transition is financially costly and technologically challenging. This is where India will push for a global Climate Change regime which can help accelerate its energy transition without putting a constraint on its developmental prospects. India has impressive targets, pledging to achieve 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy (RE) by 2022, which includes 100GW of solar power. The target has been ramped up to 450GW of RE by 2030, enabling the country to generate 40 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources. India has also taken the lead in promoting solar energy globally and its International Solar Alliance has attracted several partners. These initiatives will be showcased at Glasgow but it must be acknowledged that there has been a setback to achieving some of the declared goals thanks to the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Of the 175GW projected for 2022, the current RE capacity is about 95GW and it is unlikely that the target will be fully met.
Steering the Climate Agenda
The advanced industrialized economies will attempt to keep attention focused on mitigation of emissions and downplay other items on the Climate Change agenda such as Adaptation to Climate Change that has already taken place and will continue to take place in the foreseeable future. There is the challenge of ensuring that developed countries significantly ramp up their commitments to provide both finance and technology to enable developing countries to embrace more ambitious targets for their own climate-related actions. India will likely take the lead in reorienting the discourse at Glasgow towards these critical agenda items.
For a large cohort of developing countries, their emissions are negligible in global terms but they are heavily impacted by global warming. They are experiencing more frequent extreme climatic events, including rise in temperatures. Some will be affected by the resultant rise in sea levels, in particular small island developing states. Food and water security will be affected, in some places like the Indian sub-continent, due to the melting of glaciers or the ingress of sea water into low lying coastal plains. Urban infrastructure may need to be “climate proofed” to cope with sudden storm surges or flash floods. For developing countries, therefore, adaptation costs are already rising and yet there is hardly any serious global effort to meet this challenge. India can play a leadership role in this regard, mobilising the large constituency of developing countries to insist on Adaptation being given equal billing in the deliberations.
The UNFCCC mandates the developed countries to make significant contributions to developing countries in the form of enhanced financial flows and technology to enable them to raise the level of their Climate Change actions. These commitments have not only not been met but in the run up to the Glasgow conference, but there is little to indicate that significant progress will be made in this regard. For mitigation there is an insistence on quantifiable and reviewable targets. On Adaptation, Finance and Technology there continues to be strong resistance to similar quantifiable commitments. Developing countries like India will of course do what they can within the limits of their own resources. But they will have legitimate expectations of support if they have to ramp up their Climate Change action including for mitigation. Hence, we can expect India to raise these issues strongly at the COP 26 deliberations .
As a former Chief Negotiator on Climate Change for India, I believe that it may be possible to get a global aspirational goal of net zero by 2050 but not necessarily its adoption as a national target by all major economies. I do not expect that much attention will be given to meeting the Adaptation challenge. On finance, I would be happy if there is at least a pledge to maintain a flow of US$100 billion per year in Climate finance up to 2025. I expect very little by way of technology transfer in the area of green and climate friendly technologies. It is best to have modest expectations.
About the Author
Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary of India and served as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Climate Change 2007-2010.
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