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India a Credible Actor on Climate Change

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  • September 03, 2015

    As the world is preparing for a legally binding agreement on climate change in Paris this December, countries are submitting their respective INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) as decided at the Conference Of Parties meeting (COP 20) at Lima in December 2014. India being a deciding nation for any workable climate agreement is all prepared to submit the same ahead of the Prime Minister’s scheduled speech on climate change at the UN General Assembly this month. But a sense of misgiving emerged on India's stand on climate related issues when the Chief Economic Advisor, Arvind Subramaniam, suggested, in a note to the Prime Minister and Finance Minister, that India should not insist on climate financing for adaptation from the developed world.1 However, at a high level round table held on 27 August 2015, Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, reiterated that India will continue asking the developed countries to meet their obligations to provide finance and technology to developing and least developed countries in order to better adapt to the changing climate.2

    Often criticised as an obstructionist or stubborn negotiator, India now holds considerable credibility as a leader when it comes to climate related pledges. India continues to maintain that the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is the most justified framework to deal with climate change negotiations and that it should not be rewritten even if the world were to come up with a substantial climate agreement at Paris in December 2015.3 The rationale for this stance is that the UNFCC framework focuses on the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and equity based on historical emissions by the developed world. These principles provide a fair opportunity for every developing nation to grow accordingly. Thus it is supported by most of the emerging economies like Brazil, South Africa and China. The axis of India's approach towards climate related issues has always been a sustainable one. It was India’s concern for the environment and ever growing need for fossil fuel that led to the formation of the Indian Renewable Department Agency in 1987, years before the formation of the UNFCC in 1992.4 India now shares ample number of joint statements and bilateral agreements with major nations to attest its approach towards climate change. Such steps signal that India is action oriented when it comes to climate policies and shares this vison with many states. India supports any agreement which identifies the six elements under UNFCC, i.e., mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity building, and transparency of action and support, in a balanced manner.

    India is approaching COP-21 at Paris from a position of strength and sustainability. It has always been proactive in the realm of steps taken to combat the issues related to climate change. The new government, under Prime Minister Modi, is spearheading the agenda of climate change and related issues in each and every foreign visit. The record of India’s action oriented approach is exemplary. The decision to hike taxes on petroleum products in spite of the steep decline in international energy prices is one example. Another novelty is India insisting on informal talks to be held among states before the climate talks in Paris.

    India is moving towards the Paris talks with a comprehensive set of INDCs. This consists of a two phased approach. The first phase covers mitigation. Being the principal phase, it focuses on the policies already implemented by the government to mitigate the challenges of climate change. The National Solar Mission with 2,970 MW of Grid Connected Solar generation and 364.27 MW5 of off-grid solar application,6 the National Mission for Enhanced Efficiency with PAT cycle-1, which covers 478 plants in eight energy intensive industrial sectors, and the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 introduced in 2013, to promote the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles are the principal programmes to be followed through in this phase.

    The second phase covers adaptation, which includes: the National Wind Mission which has an initial target of producing about 50,000 to 60,000 MW of power by the year 2022; the Sustainable Habitat Mission which focuses on energy conservation in old and new buildings; the Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem Mission to maintain track of the ever changing glacier systems; the National Adaptation Fund which devotes Rs. 100 crore for supporting projects at the Centre and State levels; the National Health Mission which deals with climate impacts on human health; the National Mission for Coastal Areas to formulate integrated coastal resource management plan and map vulnerabilities along the entire shoreline; and the National Mission for Waste to Energy to incentivise efforts towards harnessing energy from all kinds of waste to lower dependence on coal, oil and gas for power production. This phase principally focuses on adapting to the effects of climate change and cultivating a sense of awareness among the people with respect to the changing climate.

    A holistic view of India’s policy with respect to climate change satisfies a major commitment which neither the U.S. nor China fulfils. India’s two-phased approach satisfies the Durban Platform’s second mandate and its commitment period (most of the mitigation related missions of India are targeted for 2020). Therefore, India is expecting an agreement which guarantees the provision of affordable technologies for the developing world to adapt to the changing climate.

    India’s stand on climate change is in tandem with the stances of both the north and south. Indeed, it stands as a bridge between the developed north and the developing south.

    Satyam Malaviya is a Research intern in the Non Traditional Security Centre, IDSA

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.