Climate change is back on the international agenda. The announcement of a greenhouse gas emissions agreement between the United States and China had been preceded by a European Union commitment to further unilaterally cut carbon emissions. The G-20 summit called on its members to get their own climate change plans ready for the Paris summit next year.
The specifics of these agreements are less important than the momentum they impart to multilateral climate change diplomacy. India needs to pay more attention to this development: The manner in which the environment ministry was blind-sided by the US-China agreement was a striking example of how out of touch Indian officialdom is with global developments. New Delhi should focus on where climate change diplomacy will be going in the coming years. Given the growing problems of air pollution and rising fossil fuel imports, there is a strong case for India to invest more in a renewable energy future.
There is a case for saying India is already doing quite a lot at home in this field, especially with its ambitious solar and energy plans coming to fruition, so why bother with international agreements? The answer is multiple. One, a renewable energy future comes with costs and is made easier with technology. Sensibly negotiated agreements would open access to both.
Two, green bills afflict all countries. Much of international climate change diplomacy is about trying to shift these costs to the wallets of other countries.
Three, international agreements are a good way to lock in long-term policies at home. China’s Xi Jinping is using climate change agreements to carve in stone structural reforms that he wants his country to undertake.
When countries like the US and China sign bilateral agreements that change their energy profiles, they will seek to ensure that other countries do not get an economic edge from these actions. They will seek to multilateralise these actions in a manner that favours them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often said he takes climate change “seriously”. He now needs to take the multilateral side of climate change seriously as well.