Glasgow, climate, and why India must be the voice of the developing world
As expected, rich countries have now announced they cannot walk the talk — it was actually a formal commitment — to provide $100 billion a year as funding for emerging and poor economies to help mitigate the climate crisis. They have reset the deadline from 2020 to 2023, but, again, there is no guarantee as such. Not surprisingly, most in Asia, Africa and Latin America are hugely disappointed.
During COP15 in Copenhagen, way back in 2009, the developed countries promised $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries meet their climate targets. They elaborated that the funds would come from a range of sources, including public, private, bilateral and multilateral. But, barring a few exceptions, most rich countries, as observed by many, never looked serious enough in their promise.
The climate crisis is a reality. Our planet is unable to breathe. The three poles — the Arctic, Antarctica and the Himalayas — are all melting. Oceans are warmer than ever before. Many species of animals and plants have disappeared forever. The clock is ticking. We, all nations, need to act. But, to succeed, the whole global climate narrative needs to be based on equity, justice and democracy. Hence, the following points will be in order.
First, the climate narrative building cannot be the prerogative of only the rich countries. This has to be a democratic exercise, involving all countries, rich or poor, small or big, which is, needless to say, not the case at present. The net-zero emissions agenda has many great aspects, but the fact remains it has been set in the most undemocratic manner, without consulting most of the poor countries — India and even China are still poor in many ways. Engaging and involving everyone always makes a global agenda more sustainable.
Second, countries such as India are being asked to dump the use of coal and even consider applying brakes to all oil and gas exploration and production. Coal is the only key domestically available source of energy in the country. Over 86% of oil is imported. More than 54% of natural gas is also shipped into the country from distances as far as the Arctic and the United States. In solar, too, the story is not very different, with India’s dependence on imports for equipment such as modules and cells being almost 90%. How can India exit coal without heavily compromising its energy security in such circumstances?
Third, energy transition, that is, thetransition from fossil fuels to renewables, may be smoother and faster for economies such as Germany and Norway or Sweden, but for most other economies, it will take decades. India is a fossil fuel economy and will remain so for a very long time to come, in spite of phenomenal progress the country has made in renewables, particularly in solar. The best foreign, defence, and economic policies for India have only one prerequisite at the core: grow at a minimum of10% for the next 20 years, which would be impossible without burning more coal, oil and gas — however, responsibly, meaning in the most environment-friendly manner.
Fourth, building some kind of global energy governance order will go a long way in achieving a sustainable world climate order. Climate and energy are two sides of the same coin, and this needs to be recognised as soon as possible.
There is an old saying, “Different Village, Different Customs”. In other words, the transition to the net-zero will be different, and at different paces in different countries. Bigger developing countries such as India and China, therefore, will need to stand up and speak for smaller and poorer developing countries at COP26 in Glasgow. Most smaller poor countries just do not have the wherewithal and diplomatic capacities required to argue their case successfully in the rich and powerful countries-dominated negotiations such as COP26.
Thanks to belligerent China, many in the Western world now look upon India as a close friend or even an ally they can count upon in global projects of all kinds. Well, that may or may not be the case, but Glasgow, in any case, is far more crucial than any other global project on the table right now. India must go there as a voice of all small and poor developing countries and must ensure that any successful outcome is based on equity and justice for all, especially the poorest in the South. And, equally importantly, make sure that any further resetting of the $100 billion a year financing by the rich for the developing countries is firmly disallowed.
Narendra Taneja is a New Delhi-based energy and geopolitical expert
The views expressed are personal