Let’s determine our climate change steps by domestic priorities

  • Kanwal Sibal, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 01, 2015 01:41 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants the concept of climate change to be expanded to include climate justice. (REUTERS)

The climate change issue tests India’s diplomacy at several levels — it is relevant to its standing in the international community, its leading power aspirations, its relations with the United States, and the ability to be on the right side of the international debate while protecting its interests.

Political, economic, moral and emotional positioning colours climate change discussions, with differences persisting between the developed and developing countries. The 1994 United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) enjoined all parties to protect the climate system on the basis of , with the developed countries taking the lead. All parties were to take mitigative and adaptive steps, aided by financial and technology transfers by developed countries who accepted that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first priorities of the developing countries. Since then the developed countries have tried to dilute or wriggle out of their UNFCCC commitments, making negotiations thornier. Their credibility has suffered as a result.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at the recent UN sustainable development summit provide insights into our strategy. He reiterated that CBDR “is the bedrock of our collective enterprise”, and wants the concept of “climate change” to be expanded to include “climate justice”. By calling for “a global partnership to harness technology, innovation and finance to put affordable clean and renewable energy within the reach of all,” he has exhorted the developed countries to fulfil their financial commitments for climate change. He reminded them that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism should be an instrument for global public good and not private returns, implying that market mechanisms and profit-making should not alone determine the collective course ahead. As a way of burden-sharing, he also called for less energy and consumption oriented lifestyles. He conveyed his position to US President Barack Obama too in their meeting in New York.

As regards negotiations at the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP) — although there is no consensus yet on the almost 90-page draft negotiating text, India’s interests are clear: We have to ensure development space for ourselves and protect our right to growth. Our climate change options have to be determined by our domestic priorities — poverty eradication, energy access and decent living standards for all.

On finance, the response of the developed countries has been poor so far. A significant part of the $100 billion they pledged under long-term finance was to flow through the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Currently, only $10.3 billion has been pledged and the amount available for the period 2015-18 is a paltry $2.5 billion. A recent ADB estimate indicates that India would require $7.7 billion annually for adaptation by 2030. We believe that the GCF could be used to meet the full cost of IPRs of selected environmentally sound technologies.

As regards Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) we oppose any ex-ante review that can impose targets on us, but the ex-post review is acceptable. Developed countries want an aggregate review of INDCs before and after the Paris COP with the idea to sum up mitigation contributions and see if they respond to the 2°C target. Our view is that any revisiting of targets should be at the discretion of the countries based on historical responsibilities, current development status, equity and CBDR.

The US has been engaging India robustly on climate change issues. However, concerns that US will put undue pressure on India have been attenuated. While Obama wants a climate change agreement as a legacy of his presidency, he wants to do as much as can be done through executive authority. The US can live with moderate INDCs for the present. Sixty-five countries have announced their INDCs, which are rated as moderate and average. It would be at the review stage that countries would be asked to do more if the agreed targets are not met.

In India’s view, the INDCs should reflect basic principles of UNFCCC and should not be legally binding. We could accept a hybrid model, with the process part legally binding but substance and determination left to countries.

Our INDCs to be announced tomorrow will apparently be comprehensive — covering the need for finance, transfer of technologies, capacity-building, reducing emission intensity, mix of renewables in electricity, lifestyle and sustainability. There will be no departure from our known positions. No sensitive or vulnerable sector will be exposed. There will be economy-wide targets and no sectoral targets, as, for example in agriculture. The development agenda will not be compromised. We will report how we will achieve our targets. The INDCs will contain salient features of what we have initiated already.

Policymakers feel India does not need to be defensive. The international community is aware of our emphasis on renewable and clean energy. We have a framework to accomplish our targets. Many of our programmes, such as Clean Ganga, Smart Cities and the likes, have positive environmental aspects. The world is favourably inclined towards the new momentum in India. Importantly, the Prime Minister has credibility. The big projects he has announced create a positive image of India.

Kanwal Sibal is a former foreign secretary. The views expressed are personal.

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