India will have to step up climate diplomacy
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) hosts an annual event, the World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS). Its focus this year was, naturally, on the climate crisis. The summit was inaugurated by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. Leaders from Guyana, Maldives, the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU), apart from the United Nations deputy secretary-general (S-G), the United States (US) Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, and India’s external affairs and environment ministers spoke at the summit. This heavyweight participation from across the globe clearly testified to India as a major climate stakeholder.
PM Modi strongly underscored India’s resolve to fight the climate crisis with concrete action. He noted that India’s emissions intensity of Gross Domestic Product had fallen by 24%, well on the way to the committed 33%-35% reduction by 2030. Moreover, India is on track for its huge target of 450 GW of renewable energy generating capacity by 2030. He also underlined climate justice. And he couldn’t be more right. More than 75% of the carbon space available to humankind has already been taken up by emissions, current and over time, of the US, Europe and China, with countries such as India — with huge development imperatives and small carbon footprints — needing carbon and policy space.
For years, India was known in climate circles as an obstructionist but, in 2015, India strongly facilitated the Paris Accord and today it is, perhaps, the only country in the G20 that is well on its way to realising its Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs). This was acknowledged at WSDS with the former Maldivian president and global climate leader, Mohammad Nasheed, noting that India’s (renewable) target is “the biggest improvement in terms of climate benefit of any country on earth”.
Studies show that despite the Covid-19 slowdown, even an aggregation of NDCs leaves the world short on the Paris commitment of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. The election of President Joe Biden and the US re-joining the Paris Accord has given the international climate scene a new impetus to aim for even higher ambition. Net-zero emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2050 is the new mantra. This goal has already been accepted by EU, UK, Japan, South Korea and is in tandem with US thinking. The Chinese have announced they will meet the target by 2060.
At WSDS, India was strongly urged to move in that direction. Nasheed said: “127 countries responsible for 63% of emissions are considering or have adopted net-zero targets. Now, India, Prime Minister.” Kerry was explicit, saying, “We all have to adopt the notion of zero emissions.” And his finger pointed towards India when he noted that “90% of the world’s emissions come from somewhere other than our country (US)” and “70% come from somewhere other than China”. Strange as this may appear, but the US and China could be on the same side in global climate negotiations for enhanced mitigation.
And, this time, it will also be about the credibility of commitments with UN deputy S-G Amina Mohammad saying that she looked forward to “seeing the path that you (India) will chart to get to net zero emission”.
Ministries in India are notorious for working in silos. Climate is an honourable exception with the ministries of environment and external affairs working together for years. These ministries need to be even stronger in partnership for more intensive engagement across the globe, including through coalitions that push Growth with Renewable Energy, Entrepreneurship and Nature (GREEN). The International Solar Alliance needs to add to this push.
Kerry’s appointment exemplifies the western tradition of special envoys for major issues of interest to them. On one occasion, India, too, has had a special envoy for climate, and on another, the principal scientific adviser led the Indian participation at the major economies meeting (on climate). Such an appointment of a special envoy is something that the government may wish to consider again.
India also needs to strongly step up the projection of its most laudable climate actions and bring adaptation to focus in the climate discourse. This is most essential at key climate negotiation venues and at points of UN convergence. An excellent beginning has been the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure and India’s well-regarded environment institutions, including think-tanks, could play a useful role in complementing governmental efforts. These actions need to be kickstarted immediately given that, in 2021 itself, India will be involved in several high-voltage global events. These include the G7 meeting for which the UK has invited PM Modi and where President Biden will be present, the India-EU Summit and Conference of the Parties-26, which will be held in Glasgow in November. In any case, the global discourse on climate is not just about environment or even energy, but involves global governance in which India now has a high stake.
India’s climate leadership, steered by PM Modi, is rightly acknowledged and lauded. It’s time for climate diplomacy by India.
Manjeev Singh Puri is a former ambassador and has served as lead negotiator for India at UNFCCC. He is currently a distinguished fellow, TERIThe views expressed are personal
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