India Ahead of 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26)
Heena Samant, Research Assistant, VIF
Introduction to COP 26

2021 is a crucial year for global climate change negotiations as the much awaited 26th UN Climate Change Conference is scheduled to be held from 31st October till 12th of November in Glasgow, United Kingdom. This Summit holds great significance because of various reasons. Firstly, the parties to the framework are expected to update their plans for reducing emissionsin accordance with the Paris Climate Accord of 2015. [1] Next, one of the goals of the conference is to secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, which, in other words means that the countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. [2] Thirdly, the UNFCCC is expected to make a review on climate finance which is whether the wealthy nations have been able to deliver $100 billion a year in accordance with the Paris Accord. [3]Lastly, the upcoming Summit is believed to be the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control. [4] This Summit becomes all the more important in the wake of the publication of the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) titled Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis which clearly states that planet earth does not have much time left to experience the worsening effects of climate change. [5] To be more specific, the report states that “Global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.” [6] India, too, has extended its support to the United Kingdom, who will be hosting the Conference this year, for a successful Summit. [7]

Significant Developments in India ahead of COP26

As far as India is concerned, many significant developments have taken place in the field of climate change, so far, ranging from the visit of COP 26 President Mr. Alok Sharma twice this year as well as that of Mr. John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate of the Biden Administration. New Delhi, also participated in various forums like the Leaders Summit on Climate organized by the Biden Administration in April and the G20 Climate and Energy Ministerial Meeting which was held in July. For India, the highlight of the Leaders’ Summit was the launch of “India-U.S. climate and clean energy Agenda 2030 partnership” to help mobilize investments, demonstrate clean technologies, and enable green collaborations. [8] On the other hand, India took an assertive position at the G20 Climate and Energy Ministerial Meeting, during which it urged the G20 nations which have per capita greenhouse gas emissions above the world average to reduce their per capita emissions and bring them down to the world average over the next few years which will vacate the carbon space to some extent and support the developmental aspirations of the developing nations. [9] Additionally, an important announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 75th Independence Day Speech where he declared the setting up of National Hydrogen Mission in order to make India a global hub for Green Hydrogen Production and export. [10]

New Delhi, has time and again reiterated that it has been doing its part to meet its goals under the Paris Agreement. This was very much evident in the speeches made by PM Modi at various forums and Mr. R K Singh, Union Minister for Power, new and renewable energy of India at the G20 Climate and Energy Ministerial Meeting. For instance, Prime Minister Modi in his address at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate, not only did mention about India’s ambitious renewable energy target of 450 GW by 2030, but also spoke about the various bold steps which the country has taken in the areas of clean energy, energy efficiency, afforestation and biodiversity. [11] Similarly, in his address at the G20 Climate and Energy Ministerial Meeting, Shri R K Singh said that India has made significant progress in meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) targets and added that against the targeted emission reduction of 33-35% by 2030, India has already achieved emission reduction of 28% over 2005 levels and that it has also attained 38.5% of installed capacity from renewables. [12]

India being recognized as an important player in the fight against Climate Change

Globally, New Delhi has encouraged various initiatives like the International Solar Alliance (ISA), LeadIt, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). [13]By doing so, it has brought itself to a position where internationally it is being recognized as an important player for global climate change negotiations. The fact that both Mr. Alok Sharma and Mr. John Kerry visited India twice this year in a matter of few months’ time speaks volume about the same. It has been argued that both the leaders welcomed and supported India’s renewable power ambition of 450 GW by the end of the decade. In fact, Mr. Sharma during his second visit to the country in August expressed the willingness of the UK to collaborate with India in its ambitious green hydrogen project. [14] In one of his statements, Mr. Sharma said that:

“India has a vital role to play as the world comes together in Glasgow to demonstrate renewed action under the Paris Agreement. India’s leadership including through the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Coalition for Disaster Resilience Infrastructure (CDRI) is hugely important as we look to build global resilience ahead of COP26 and beyond.” [15]

While there is no doubt about the fact that India is playing an active role in the fight against climate change and is also being acknowledged by the world for the same, another argument which seems to be surfacing is about the state committing to net zero emissions. It has yet to make any announcement regarding it. New Delhi is the third highest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) behind China and the United States. [16] China has already committed to a target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2060. [17] On the other hand, the United States announced in April that it will aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by between 50% and 52% by 2030 based on 2005 levels, already setting its path towards net zero emissions by 2050. [18] This has put tremendous pressure on India and all eyes are now on the upcoming COP 26 conference to see what decisions will the country make regarding net zero emissions. It is being argued that both Mr. Sharma and Mr. Kerry tried to persuade their concerned Indian counterparts for the same during their recent visits to India.

Will India Commit to Net Zero Emission Target by 2050?

Historically, New Delhi has been a firm supporter of the fact that developing and developed countries have different levels of obligations and responsibilities to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing down global temperature rise. [19] At present, India’s position seems to be the same. In one of the statements, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Mr. Bhupender Yadav said that “India believes that climate actions must be nationally determined and strongly advocates that the differentiation and operationalization of flexibility provided in the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement for the developing countries should be at the core of decision making.” [20] Additionally, after the publication of the recent IPCC report (AR6), Shri Yadav said that reaching net zero alone is not enough, as it is the cumulative emissions up to net zero that determine the temperature that is reached which has been brought out in the IPCC report and that this proves India’s position that historical cumulative emissions are the source of climate crisis that the world faces today. [21] It was also evident in the speech made by Mr. R. K Singh at the G20 Energy and Climate Ministerial Meeting, where he spoke about vacating carbon space for the developmental aspirations of the developing countries by those countries whose per capita GHG emissions are high as mentioned above.

However, the big question, that the world is waiting to be answered, is whether India will pledge to net zero emissions or not at the upcoming Glasgow conference? While the answer to this is uncertain, a lot of discussions are taking place among the experts and there seems to be mixed opinion about the subject. For instance, a recent paper titled ‘Getting Net Zero Approach for India at COP26’ co-authored by Montek Singh Ahluwalia strongly advocates that India should declare its ‘net zero’ target at COP26 and further contends that New Delhi can achieve it by 2065-70 as its GHG will peak by 2035 but that will also depend upon rich countries doubling climate finance to $200 billion per year in the next few years. [22] Another interesting argument made in the paper that India needs the space to emit GHG in order to fulfil its developmental aspirations does not hold any “diplomatic ground” as there are many viable non-emitting energy alternatives available. [23] A similar argument is presented by another leading climate change expert, Arunabha Ghosh, who promotes the idea of India committing to net zero emissions but not necessarily by 2050 as what is important is to set the goal, so that it can be matched by sector targets in short- and medium-term. [24] On the contrary, describing the net zero emission concept as a “grand distraction”, Center for Science and Environment Director General, Sunita Narain, rejects the idea altogether. [25]

Conclusion

It is being argued, particularly, after the publication of IPCC’s AR6 report that bringing the countries together to commit to net zero emissions by mid-century is the only way to maintain the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius but preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius. Moreover, looking at the trend many countries have moved in this direction and have gone ahead and declared their net-zero carbon emission targets. This brings India under the banner and what it intends to do in future as at present it stands at the third highest carbon emitter of the world. While New Delhi’s arguments seem logical, setting a goal to become carbon neutral is become a necessity and is the need of the hour. Additionally, net zero emissions also align with India’s efforts to combat air pollution which has become a major public health issue in recent years. As India is one of the countries which is going to be hit hardest by the effects of climate change, it should seriously consider moving towards the current trend and declaring its target for net zero emissions.

End Notes

[1]UN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE UK 2021. ‘What is a COP?’, [Online] Available at: https://ukcop26.org/uk-presidency/what-is-a-cop/.
[2]UN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE UK 2021. ‘COP26 GOALS’, [Online] Available at: https://ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/.
[3]Alison Doig. ‘What is COP26, who will attend it and why does it matter?’, Energy & Climate INTELLIGENCE UNIT, [Online] Available at: https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/international-perspectives/what-is-cop26-who-will-attend-it-and-why-does-it-matter.
[4]No 1.
[5] Avik Roy 2021. ‘Willing to partner with India on its hydrogen goal: COP 26 president Alok Sharma’, Hindustan Times, [Online] Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/cop26-alok-sharma-hydrogen-energy-climate-change-green-climate-fund-101629213956153.html
[6] IPCC Sixth Assessment Report 2021. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf.
[7] India Today Web Desk 2021. ‘India backs UK for successful COP 26 Summit, says it believes in climate action’, India Today, [Online] Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/science/story/india-backs-uk-for-successful-cop-26-summit-says-it-believes-in-climate-action-1842445-2021-08-18.
[8]Ministry of External Affairs 2021. ‘Address by Prime Minister at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate 2021’, [Online] Available at: https://mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/33820/Address_by_Prime_Minister_at_the_Leaders_Summit_on_Climate_2021.
[9]Press Information Bureau 2021. ‘G20 Energy and Climate Joint Ministerial Meeting’, Government of India, [Online] Available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1738317.
[10]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’, Government of India, [Online] Available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1746070.
[11]No 8.
[12]No 9.
[13]No 8.
[14]No 5.
[15]British High Commission 2021. ‘COP26 President visits India ahead of landmark climate summit’, [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cop26-president-visits-india-ahead-of-landmark-climate-summit.
[16]Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Country 2021. World Population Review, [Online] Available at: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-country.
[17]Nandini Sarma 2020. ‘Net Zero by 2060: What it means for China’, OBSERVER RESEARCH FOUNDATION, [Online] Available at: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/net-zero-by-2060-what-it-means-for-china/.
[18]Oliver Milman 2021. ‘Biden vows to slash US emissions by half to meet ‘existential crisis of our time’, The Guardian, [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/22/us-emissions-climate-crisis-2030-biden#:~:text=Shortly%20before%20the%20start%20of,to%20also%20raise%20their%20ambition.
[19]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.
[20]Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 2021. ‘India extends full support to the UK for a successful COP26 to be held in Glasgow in November’, Press Information Bureau, [Online] Available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1746903.
[21]Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 2021. ‘India welcomes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report’, Press Information Bureau, [Online] Available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1744221.
[22]Chetan Chauhan 2021. ‘India can achieve net zero carbon emissions target by 2065-70: Study’, Hindustan Times, [Online] Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-can-achieve-net-zero-carbon-emissions-target-by-2065-70-study-101632076022693.html.
[23]Ibid.
[24]Simrin Sirur 2021. ‘India should commit to net zero emissions, but not by 2050, climate experts say’, The Print, [Online] Available at: https://theprint.in/environment/india-should-commit-to-net-zero-emissions-but-not-by-2050-climate-expert-says/735047/.
[25]Centre for Science and Environment 2021. ‘Raise your domestic ambition, Mr Biden. Walk the Talk: CSE asks as the US president’s global climate summit begins’, Press Release, [Online] Available at: https://www.cseindia.org/raise-your-domestic-ambition-mr-biden-walk-the-talk-cse-asks-as-the-us-president-s-global-climate-summit-begins-10805.

(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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