Climate Finance and Climate Justice: The Twin Anchors of India’s Climate Commitments at COP 26
Heena Samant, Research Assistant, VIF
Background

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP 26), one of the most anticipated dialogues in the sphere of climate change was held from 31st October till 12th November. This anticipation can be attributed to several factors, firstly, the fact that the summit was supposed to be held last year but instead got postponed due to the pandemic for November 2021. Furthermore, the recent publication of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report in August 2021 which clearly states that planet earth does not have much time left to experience the much more worsening effects of climate change had all the eyes on the 26th United Nation’s climate change annual conference.[1] The summit was also expected to finalize the Paris Rulebook which is another reason why it did hold huge significance globally. In addition to these, two of the main goals of the conference did make headlines even before the summit began which were, that all countries which are party to the conference should try to reach to net-zero emissions by 2050 and the much-debated subject of climate finance.[2] With the summit coming to an end, many have regarded it as a disappointment and have considered it as a progress rather than a success.[3] Nonetheless, COP26 has definitely been a turning point in enhancing climate actions and it was able to put together a set of decisions which has been termed as the Glasgow Climate Pact.[4]

India, as far as the 26th Conference of the Parties is concerned, had extended its full support to the UK for a successful summit.[5] Prior to the conference, New Delhi, saw few important visits by Mr. Alok Sharma, COP26 President, and Mr. John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate of the Biden administration as well as some very important announcements such as the setting up of a National Hydrogen Mission in order to make the country a global hub for green hydrogen production and export. [6] At the conference, India was supposed to be confronted with one of the most important issues which was to declare a net zero emission target by mid-century and there were a lot of discussions about the subject. For instance, New Delhi has time and again reiterated that although it’s not part of the problem, it has always wanted to be the part of the solution.[7] Besides, this has been very much visible in its commitments towards global as well as domestic actions on climate change such as setting up of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT) along with various initiatives taken by the government at the domestic level. However, before the summit began, there was some talk doing the rounds that may be it is time for New Delhi to take a more substantive action which moving further meant committing to net zero emissions and giving a target for that. Additionally, the fact that India is now the third highest emitter of carbon only to be behind the United States and China, both of which have already given a target for becoming carbon neutral, had put India in a difficult spot.[8] According to the advocates, who strongly believed that India should go ahead and declare a net zero emission target, wanted it to defy the deadline and declare the target 20 to 30 years later than the given deadline. For example, Montek Singh Ahluwalia in his paper titled, ‘Getting Net-Zero Approach for India at COP26’, encouraged the idea that India should be committing itself to a net-zero emission target but only by 2060-75 as its greenhouse gas emissions will peak by 2035.[9] On a similar note, Sanjeev Ahluwalia in his paper, Sharing the pain at Glasgow, argued that India should declare its net zero emission target by 2080 and also described this deadline as an ‘asymmetric schedule’.[10] It, however, seemed highly unlikely that India was keen on committing to such an ambitious pledge at COP26, as historically New Delhi has been a firm supporter of the fact that the Developing and the Developed nations have different levels of obligations and responsibilities to reduce greenhouse (GHG) emissions and slowing down global temperature rise.[11] Hence, the world eagerly waited for what decisions and announcements New Delhi would make at COP26.

India at COP-26

On 1st November 2021, not sticking to the deadline and surprising the world, India committed to achieving a net zero emission target by 2070.[12] The announcement was made by India’s honorable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi during his speech at the Summit. In addition to this, there were other ambitious announcements made by him which were as follows:

  • India will reach its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030.[13]
  • India will meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.[14]
  • India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now onwards till 2030.[15]
  • By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 percent.[16]

These five nectar elements were also described as the ‘Panchamrit’ by the honourable Prime Minister, whose purpose is to deal with an immeasurable issue such as climate change.[17]

Additionally, the Prime Minister also proposed a One-Word Movement to draw everyone’s attention to an important subject such as recognizing that lifestyle has a big role in climate change. [18] Another powerful point raised by the Prime Minister was that of climate finance and climate justice, the two core principles on which India has based its policies in tackling climate change. He asserted that the past promises made by the developed world regarding climate finance have been proved to be hollow and now since many developing nations are raising their ambitions on climate action, world ambitions on climate finance cannot be the same.[19] India made itself very clear that it expected the developed countries to provide a climate finance of $ 1 trillion at the earliest and track its progress just like that of climate mitigation. [20]

These commitments made by New Delhi can be described as bold and strong ambitions in the fight against climate change. It also did put an end to all speculations that were raised ahead of the Summit. In fact, with these announcements, it shined and stood out from the rest of the countries. It showed that it has the capability to become the next global superpower in the fight against climate change which was earlier predicted by UN Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres. [21] It also demonstrated that a country of 1.38 billion, can deliver on both economic development and climate change as observed by Nicholas Stern of Grantham Research Institute. [22] As mentioned above, New Delhi, in its commitments stuck to its two core principles of climate finance and climate justice and was very clear in pointing out that global climate actions are just not about mitigation but also about adaptation.

For India, now the challenge is that this level of deep de-carbonization push will need several investments across renewable energy, energy efficiency and new energies like green hydrogen and alternatives like bio-fuels. [23] Additionally, in order to fulfill these targets a focussed and phased approach is needed supported by climate finance as promised by the developed world. [24] In essence, a dedicated plan and robust implementation of strategies is what will help India achieve its targets. [25]

There was also a last-minute intervention made by India to water down language on “phasing out” coal to merely “phasing down” in the deal agreed in Glasgow. [26] Union Environment and Climate Minister Shri Bhupender Yadav disagreed with the language on fossil fuel subsidies in the COP26 draft deal during the negotiations and also said that the deal lacked balance.[27] The argument presented by the leader was that to expect the developing nations to make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when they still have to deal with their developmental agendas and poverty eradication is a heavy demand. [28]

This move by India has faced sharp criticism. As the summit came to an end, President Alok Sharma said that both China and India needed to justify their actions to the nations that are more vulnerable to the effects of global warming. [29] Switzerland, on behalf of the Environment Integrity Group expressed disappointment and added that “we do not need to phase down but phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies”. [30] Similarly, Australian climate scientist, Bill Hare, argued that “India’s last-minute change to the language to phase down not phase out coal is quite shocking”. [31]

However, there are other experts who have observed these developments in a more pragmatic manner. For instance, Brandon Wu, the director of policy and campaigns at Action Aid described India’s intervention as a “reasonable response” as it firmly believes that all fossil fuels must be phased down in an equitable manner and that by not including other fossil fuels like oil and gas, the draft deal would have disproportionately impacted it.[32] Additionally, UN’s climate change chief, Patricia Espinosa, described the use of coal and fossil fuels as a “huge step forward”.[33]

Nonetheless, from India’s standpoint the summit proved to be a success as it articulated and put across the concerns of the developing world quite succinctly and unequivocally. [34] This was expressed by Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Shri Bhupender Yadav in his blog post published on 14th November. He also added that New Delhi presented `the way for a constructive debate and equitable and just solutions at the forum. [35] As far as watering down the language from “phasing-out” of coal to “phasing-down” in the draft agreement of the conference is concerned, Shri Yadav emphasized that New Delhi was only speaking on behalf of the developing nations and pointed out that the amendment was approved by consensus.[36]

Conclusion

India by committing to net-zero emissions by 2070 did put an end to all the speculations which were doing rounds before the summit started. In fact, Prime Minister Modi’s remarks at the summit clearly gave a full account of India’s actions and vision regarding its fight against climate change. New Delhi, also focussed on one of the most important issue of climate finance which forms the basis of the developing world in their fight against climate change. As a matter of fact, the arguments that the country presents and supports, which is that there should be a balance and fairness in the way an immeasurable issue such as climate change is dealt globally, is quite reasonable. For India, the conference was definitely a success as it was able to assert the above-mentioned arguments succinctly.

As far as COP-26 is concerned, at the end of the summit, the Glasgow Climate Pact was established which emphasized that stronger actions in the current decade is critical to maintain the global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius. [37] It can be appropriately described as a progress as far as global climate actions rather than a success. This has been attributed to the last-minute intervention made by India and China on watering down the language from “phasing out” to “phasing down” of coal. However, one tends to forget about the clear divide which exist between the developing and the developed world in the fight against climate change. The issue of climate finance is key for any successful climate talks. Unless this commitment is fulfilled by the developed nations we may see more of unsuccessful outcomes at such conferences. However, since there was a mention of coal and other fossil fuels at COP26, there is a hope that in future climate talks and negotiations will have a more justified and balanced outcomes, hence saving the planet from devastation.

End Notes:

[1]IPCC 2021. ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis Summary for Policymakers’, Sixth Assessment Report, [Online] Available at:
https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM_final.pdf.
[2]UN Climate Change Conference 2021. ‘COP26 GOALS’, [Online] Available at: https://ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/.
[3]Environment 2021. ‘Climate deal struck at COP26 with coal compromise pushed by India’, The Hindu, [Online] Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/climate-deal-struck-at-cop26-with-coal-compromise/article37482280.ece.
[4]Amitabh Sinha 2021. ‘Explained: What COP26 achieved, didn’t’, The Indian EXPRESS, [Online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-key-takeaways-cop26-glasgow-climate-pact-7621847/.
[5]Vibha Sharma 2021. ‘India extends full support to UK for successful COP26 in Glasgow’, The Tribune, [Online] Available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/india-extends-full-support-to-uk-for-successful-cop26-in-glasgow-298984.
[6]Press Information Bureau 2021. ‘The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 75th Independence Day’, Prime Minister’s Office, [Online] Available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1746070.
[7]Elizabeth Roche 2021. ‘India has not contributed to global warming but wants to help find solution: Environment Minister’, mint, [Online] Available at: https://www.livemint.com/news/india/india-has-not-contributed-to-global-warming-but-wants-to-help-find-solution-environment-minister-11631893678433.html.
[8]Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Country 2021. World Population Review, [Online] Available at: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-country.
[9]Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Utkarsh Patel 2021. ‘Getting to Net Zero: An Approach for India at CoP-26’, Centre for Social and Economic Progress, [Online] Available at: https://csep.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Getting-to-Net-Zero_An-Approach-for-India-at-CoP-26-14-Sept-21.pdf.
[10]Sanjeev Ahluwalia 2021. ‘Sharing the pain at Glasgow’, OBSERVER RESEARCH FOUNDATION, [Online] Available at: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/sharing-the-pain-at-glasgow/.
[11]Urmi Goswami 2015. ‘Paris COP21: Recognition of “common but differentiated responsibilities” key achievement of India’, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, [Online] Available at:
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/paris-cop21-recognition-of-common-butdifferentiated-responsibilities-key-achievement-of-india-/articleshow/50173196.cms.
[12]Press Information Bureau 2021. ‘National Statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at COP26 Summit in Glasgow’, Prime Minister’s Office, [Online] Available at:
https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1768712.
[13]Ibid.
[14]Ibid.
[15]Ibid.
[16]Ibid.
[17]Ibid.
[18]Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21]United Nations 2020. ‘India a ‘Global Superpower’ in Fight against Climate Change, Secretary General Says at Memorial Lecture, Calls for Shift from Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy’, Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, [Online] Available at: https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sgsm20222.doc.htm.
[22]Akshat Rathi and Archana Chaudhury 2021. ‘Modi Surprises Climate Summit With 2070 Net-Zero Vow for India’, Bloomberg Green, [Online] Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-01/india-will-reach-net-zero-emissions-by-2070-modi-tells-cop26#:~:text=Indian%20Prime%20Minister%20Narendra%20Modi,reach%20net%2Dzero%20by%202070.&text=It's%20a%20chance%20for%20India,economic%20development%20and%20climate%20change.%E2%80%9D.
[23]Somesh Kumar 2021. ‘COP26 and energy transition: An outlook on India’s stance’, Business Standard, [Online] Available at: https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/cop26-and-energy-transition-an-outlook-on-india-s-stance-121111600726_1.html.
[24]Ibid.
[25]Ibid.
[26]Malu Cursino and Doug Faulkner 2021. ‘COP26: China and India must explain themselves, says Sharma’ BBC News, [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-59280241.
[27]TIMESOFINDIA.COM 2021. ‘India criticises fossil fuel language in COP26 draft deal’, THE TIMES OF INDIA, [Online] Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-criticises-fossil-fuel-language-in-cop26-draft-deal/articleshow/87688893.cms.
[28]Elizabeth Piper and Andrew Cawthrone 2021. ‘India criticises fossil fuel language in COP26 draft deal’, REUTERS, [Online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/india-says-consensus-over-cop26-climate-deal-remains-elusive-2021-11-13/.
[29]No 26.
[30]Jayashree Nandi 2021. ‘India leads negotiations as COP26 deal is done’, Hindustan Times, [Online] Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-leads-negotiations-as-cop26-deal-is-done-101636915102562.html.
[31]No 3.
[32]Hannah Ellis-Petersen 2021. ‘India criticised over coal at COP26- but real villain was climate injustice’, The Guardian, [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/14/india-criticised-over-coal-at-cop26-but-real-villain-was-climate-injustice.
[33]No 26.
[34]Bhupender Yadav 2021. ‘COP DIARY| India Walks the talk’, Bhupender Yadav Blogs, [Online] Available at: https://bhupenderyadav.in/blogs.html.
[35]Ibid.
[36]Express News Service 2021. ‘Phase-down vs phase-out at COP: Bhupender Yadav stresses ‘national circumstances’, The Indian EXPRESS, [Online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/phase-down-vs-phase-out-at-cop-bhupender-yadav-stresses-national-circumstances-7638091/.
[37]No 4.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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