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Monday Morning Webinar on Climate Summit: Taking Stock

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  • November 16, 2021
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha Centre Coordinator Non-Traditional Security Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses spoke on the topic "Climate Summit: Taking Stock" at the Monday Morning Webinar (held on Tuesday) on 16th November, 2021. The webinar was chaired by Dr. Rajiv Nayan, Centre Coordinator, Nuclear and Arms Control Centre. Deputy Director General, and members of the institute attended the webinar.

    Executive Summary

    The impacts of climate change are being felt in every sphere. With rising temperatures and the world dangerously hurtling towards thresholds limits of 1.5°C to 2°C, there has been an urgent need to deal with the situation. The recently held COP 26 in Glasgow aimed to address climate emergency with set of rules and obligations for states.  Various issues such as climate finance, nationally determined contributions, ‘phasing out’ and ‘phasing down’ of coal and fossil fuels, deadlines for net-zero emissions and much more were discussed.

    Detailed Report

    The chair, Dr. Nayan highlighted the many newly emerged ‘terms’ and ‘ambiguities’ during the COP 26 summit and asked the speaker to enlighten the audience with these terminologies. He also evoked the speaker to contextualize climate change before analyzing the joint statement made at COP 26.

    In his opening remarks, Dr. Sinha emphasized that climate change is well and truly an emergency and the world is grappling on how to deal with it, mitigate it and more importantly, how to adapt to climate change. These as the speaker explained remain highly contested ever since the signing of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. Commenting on the UNFCCC, Dr. Sinha mentioned that it is a multilateral treaty styled as framework convention in which the parties acknowledge the existence of a problem (climate change) and commit to cooperative actions. It was framed in such a manner that as the convention evolves, it would move towards a series of protocols and agreements that would make it more progressive, and then finally an acceptance of stringent obligations would come into force. The Conference of Parties (COP) to UNFCC is the apex decision-making body that takes decisions and lays out pathways to deal with climate change implications. Successive COP summits since 1995, as the speaker explained, has seen a convergence towards climate obligations.

    Dr. Sinha then gave a conceptual, intellectual and epistemological understanding of climate change. He mentioned that humanity is currently living in an informal geological epoch of Anthtopocene, in which human activities directly and indirectly has altered the entire composition of the global atmosphere and has significantly impacted the climate ecosystem. He further mentioned that the developed countries, in particular, have, despite the evidences, been in denial of their high per capita emission trajectory that they have consciously undertaken since the post-industrial revolution. Talking about the colonial projects of resource extraction and colonization of landscape by the Europeans, particularly the Dutch and the British in the 17th and 18th centuries, Dr. Sinha reminded the audience of the colonial powers destructive strategies that massively transformed the landscapes for control and profit. He also mentioned that the world has inherited and become habitual to unsustainable extraction and consumption of resources that is justified through development, comfort and poverty eradication. The speaker categorically stated that if the world needs to look at the future and has to limit the global temperature rise between 1.5° C to 2°C, then the entire system of production, management and governance needs to be transformed. This also includes changes in behavior, consumption pattern and lifestyle alteration.

    Commenting on the nature of statements made by world leaders at COP summits, Dr. Sinha observed that some are profound while some are business-as-usual but some remarkably transformational. He categorized Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements at COP 26 as transformational as other world leaders failed to make any big impression. Interestingly, the speaker highlighted Indira Gandhi’s sensational speech at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environmental (UNCHE) in 1972 in Stockholm, in which she mentioned, “are not poverty and need the greatest polluter?” He said that this statement is rightly being recalled even today by Indian climate negotiators. He clearly underlined that the poor matter and, therefore, development is the key for India.

    While the climate challenges are unique the politics around it is familiar. Explaining this Dr Sinha observed that the climate summits are not alien to linkage politics and power dynamics and has often seen realignment of forces and groupings to emphasize respective countries needs and requirements. It is for this reason that the semantics of the final text of the COP summits are intensely contested. He cited the example of India-China insistence to ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ of coal in the final text draft of COP 26 summit. The speaker thereon enlightened the audience to the overall acceptance of climate science which he noted is influencing the politics to search for possibilities. He quoted, ‘if politics is the art of possible, science is the art of soluble’. 

    Focusing on the key elements of the COP 26 Glasgow, Dr. Sinha highlighted the following:

    • A stronger action to achieve 1.5° C limit.
    • Nations to strengthen their climate action plans and nationally determined contributions (NDC).
    • To ‘phase down’ the uses of unabated coal power and ‘phase out’ inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
    • Developed countries were asked to double the finance for adaptation by 2025 from the 2019 levels. An updated time till 2023 has been given to developed countries to fulfil their commitment of releasing promised $100 billion climate fund to developing countries.
    • Developing countries like India are allowed to use carbon credits for meeting their first NDC targets.
    • Developed countries can buy carbon credits to meet its own emission reduction targets, till 2025.

    Focusing on Prime Minister Modi’s Panchamrit at COP 26, Dr. Sinha firmly believed that India’s intention has been to be part of the solution and not the problem and therefore the mixture of five nectar elements of India’s climate action is extremely noteworthy. This raises India’s credibility as a climate-conscious country and proves India’s determination and value of commitment to climate action. The key elements of Panchamrit was then explained: 

    • India will reach its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts by 2030.
    • India will meet 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.
    • India will reduce the total projected carbon emission by 1 billion tonnes from now till 2030.
    • Till 2030 India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 per cent.
    • Finally, by the year 2070 India will achieve the target of net-zero emissions.

    Dr. Sinha emphasized that India is now the driver of climate change narrative, unlike the previous times when India was seen as climate denier. He mentioned that India’s actions are immediate (2020-2030) unlike many countries including EU who have made future net-zero targets the mantra. it is the current decade itself that defines those. Finally, in his concluding remarks Dr. Sinha mentioned that it is important to note that given all the difficulties that prevail, hope will always remain in bringing changes that the world requires in near future but hope needs to be backed by deeds and actions and not mere pledges.

    Thanking Dr. Sinha for his enlightening lecture, the chair made several critically important comments. Dr. Nayan mentioned that currently, the climate summit is moving away from the semiotic rhetorical structure to a more norm building process. He talked about climate realignment that is taking place and critically highlighted the role of OPEC countries (currently led by Russia) in the climate debate and argued that these countries still remains the custodian of the world’s fossil fuels and how these oil producing countries respond and shape the climate change debate will be interesting to observe.

    Comments and observations from the participants followed thereon:


    Bipandeep Sharma commented on the issue of sea-level rise and its impact on the small island territories and states in the Indian Ocean Region.

    Dr. Nihar Nayak observed that COP26 was an action-oriented summit. Referring to all the historical pledges made by the developed countries, he highlighted that the developing countries are very dissatisfied regarding the unmet climate commitments of the developed countries. He also highlighted the number of groups that emerged within the countries at COP summits and thereon mentioned a significant transition from climate mitigation to climate adaptation in COP 26 summit. He further highlighted the number of agreements signed at COP 26 some of which included methane emission reductions, reduction in deforestation and transitions to net-zero carbon emissions. Finally, commenting on India’s position on COP 26, Dr. Nayak mentioned that COP 26 is basically a commitment and a collective responsibility that each state needs to take. 

    Col. (Dr.) DPK Pillay in his remarks highlighted India’s position on climate change. He mentioned that much of the bulk of carbon emission has been led by the developed world. He asserted that India being the 7th largest country, is barely responsible 3 per cent of emissions that take place. He mentioned that India is far ahead of developed countries in reducing carbon emissions in terms of the solar alliance, afforestation and renewable energy.

    Capt. Anurag Bisen (Indian Navy) mentioned that the Glasgow Deal fails to hold into account the developed countries commitment to climate financing. He also asserted that there has been a general tendency to shift the climate narrative against India in the climate summit but India has maintained its firm stance.

    Dy. Director General Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi, AVSM, VSM (Retd.), gave his observations and highlighted that with the rising temperatures and sea-level rise most of the island territories would be submerged underwater in times to come. He also highlighted glacier melt and breaking away of massive as a reflection of climate urgency. Commenting on the role of the Indian Army and its contributions to address the issue of climate change, Maj. Gen. Bakshi asserted that a lot has changed in the last 20 years. He underlined several afforestation initiatives by the army and a significant transition from coal and kerosene-based heating systems (at higher altitudes along the India-China and India-Pakistan border) to LPG based heating system.

    Question and Answers.

    In his response, Dr. Sinha re-emphasized on the role of science and technology and its interface with climate change. Finally, Dr. Sinha mentioned that the world can have different pathways to deal with climate change but the overall vision is quiet clear that climate change is an emergency. Dr. Sinha concluded that targets are still achievable provided pledges turn to deeds, it requires a collective action of states but more importantly a change of mindset of western developed countries. 

    Key Takeaways:

    • Climate change is now an emergency and needs immediate collective action of states.
    • In successive COP summits since 1995, an upward graph of stringent obligations have been employed to the framework of convention.
    • Humanity is currently living in a geological epoch of Anthtopocene, the roots lie in high per capita emission trajectory of the developed countries.
    • There has been a series of realignment of forces between states at COP summits.
    • India-China’s insisted on ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ of coal in the final text of COP 26 summit.
    • COP 26 has asked countries to ‘phase down’ the uses of unabated coal power and ‘phase out’ inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
    • Developed countries have been given the timeline 2023 to deliver on their commitment of promised $100 billion climate fund to developing countries.
    • India has committed to its own approach of ‘Panchamrit' to address climate change.


    Report prepared by Bipandeep Sharma, Research Analyst, Non-Traditional Security Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi.