Should India Revise its Climate Commitments?

Introduction


Paris Climate Change Accords, the highly ambitious global contract negotiated in 2015, operates on the principle of ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ (INDC). The undertaking by each country is encouraged to be utterly bold, which invites the criticism of these commitments to be more rhetorical than substantive. However, India proves to be an exception in this regard as it has remained consistent with its promises. In keeping with the central goal of adapting to climate change, India has enhanced its investment in development programs which are being complemented by propagating a sustainable way of living. India has pledged to:

  1. Reduce the emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels

  2. To increase the share of non-fossil-based energy resources to 40% of installed electric power capacity.

  3. To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes through additional forest cover by the year 2030.



Credits: Financial Express


India is Walking the Talk


While studying the biennial assessment report to track India’s progress, we find that it is on track to meet its climate obligations well before the year 2030. India has successfully reduced its GDP emission intensity by 21% and the share of non-fossil sources in the country’s installed capacity of electricity has grown to 38%, just 2% shy of its intended goal. These enhanced capabilities are reflected in its fair share of global effort to remain compatible with the 2°C target.


Thus, India has fared well on its low carbon and climate-resilient development, a target aided by its expansion of renewable capacity, the establishment of solar parks, power projects, and green energy corridors. Initiatives such as International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) are spearheaded by India to promote research and development in renewable energy and reduce carbon footprints.


Further, the Ujjwala scheme has been one of the largest global clean energy drives providing smoke-free kitchens to over 80 million households. The Saubhagya scheme has made LED lights popular, which save 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. This ecological change is being complemented with behavioural changes at the grass-root level. India has done well to meet two of its three self-designed targets, however, its efforts to create additional forest cover have been far from robust, causing the carbon sequestration to only exacerbated over the past few years. Much attention needs to be paid to the formulation of a new strategy that is focused on building environment consciousness and incorporating a circular carbon economy approach.


The Prospect of Revisiting its Ambitions


Since India has a track record of staying true to its commitments with regard to climate change, it is under tremendous international pressure to revise its goals and aim higher. While this proves to be an opportunity for India to step up and emerge as a leader for climate change within the developed and developing countries, its ability to live up to a more ambitious demand remains to be discovered. The COVID19 pandemic has brought on severe social and economic challenges. The standstill of economic and technological growth during the government-imposed lockdown has led to a sharp reduction in emissions and consequently cleaner air with better quality due to drop in levels of pollution. In essence, this crisis has damaged the economy, but it has also presented an opportunity for India to streamline its transition away from coal-based energy to more renewable forms of energy to enhance its electric mobility.


Departing from this cogent analysis, policy predictions indicate that India’s emissions are set to rise in the years ahead to accelerate growth and compensate for the lack of economic mobilization in the country. It is well understood that economic growth propels the demand for energy and development is concomitant with a surge in emissions. Thus, for the short term, India will remain focused on its domestic growth through the use of non-renewable forms of energy as it does not have the infrastructural capabilities nor the requisite resources to do otherwise. For these reasons, it is unlikely that India will embolden a larger commitment towards climate change.


In addition to the extenuating factor of COVID19 figuring in to influence India’s climate commitment, there is a structural factor at the government level which disincentivizes further action. It is purported that the onus of the climate crisis must rest on the shoulders of the Western nations that created it. These developed countries must honour their historical responsibility before they insist on developing countries enhance their climate change commitments. For these reasons, India will surpass its commitments but not revise them at the behest of the developed nations who have themselves failed to live up to their targets.


While this seems to be a fair demand, it appears to be rather short-sighted in the long-term fight against climate change which plagues our collective environment. The trade-off between short-term economic growth at the cost of long-term climate security appears to be rather myopic. After re-evaluating the levels of growth, India should focus on a green recovery program that incentivizes an energy transition away from coal and other non-renewable forms of energy-based mobility. India must chart out a clear pathway for sustainable growth in the post-pandemic recovery structure. This will enable India to not only emerge as the role model for pioneering a sustainable energy shift and dictating global influence but also to reap the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy and stronger climate action.


Conclusion


At the upcoming 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP26) said to take place in Glasgow later this year, the United States under President Joe Biden will substantially increase its climate commitments. This will renew the salience to the Paris Climate Change Accords which had been severely imperilled when the United States pulled out of it under Donald Trump. This rise in global momentum is bound to increase pressure on the Indian government to advance its commitments. While reluctant to do so, India could use this as an opportunity to invest in its capabilities, revise its target and direct efforts towards achieving the more desirable 1.5°C targets as mentioned in the Paris Accords. Voluntarily increasing its climate obligations could be a prospect for India to recreate its leadership within developing countries by using climate change as the key. By pledging to reduce its carbon footprint, India can leverage its position to compel the developed countries to transfer technology and provide financial support to developing countries.


Thus, by leading the campaign for creating a level playing field based on technological access, India can transition its energy base and also help other developing nations fulfil their climate commitments, as is in the interest of the larger global community. Through such measures, India can source soft power in an increasingly climate-conscious world. This is an opportune moment for India to collaborate with other countries, synergize development, strategically calibrate its capabilities and create a comprehensive plan of the energy transition. Implementing these actions could result in the setting of an ambitious yet achievable goal of carbon-neutrality in the coming years.


Author:

Khushi Baldota is a final year student at the Jindal School of International Affairs. Her interests include security studies, public policy and political economy. She can be reached at khushiibaldota@gmail.com or khushiii_31