Can India Help Shape International Climate Politics?

17/09/2015 12:35 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Joanna Sieranska via Getty Images

Ahead of the Paris conference, climate talks this month have been slow. This was noted by the meeting of Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) in New Delhi, in which India also reiterated that developed countries should not engage in a blame game with their developing counterparts.

Earlier this month, the negotiations at Bonn also advanced at a snail's pace, with no draft text to show for it. "As seen here in Bonn, most parties have just spent time pushing their respective priorities and discussing conceptual issues rather than textual issues," said Sanjay Vashist, director of the Climate Action Network South Asia. He added, "At times, when developing countries including India suggested to co-facilitators to go into textual negotiations, the response was there is also the October session for that."

The events outside the negotiations seem to outpace the process of the climate talks. Stakeholders have already agreed to review climate targets on a five-year-basis in July, while in June theG7 announced that decarbonisiation was now a long term goal.

Meanwhile, as progress was made in June and July, it is worth noting that these were considered the hottest months on record. More than 2.500 people died in India and Pakistan this June from a heat wave. This serves to highlight the urgent need to speed up negotiations, and that India could play a role in doing so. India has been an important participant in the discussion on climate change, with PM Modi even stating that developed nations should not be seen as "enemies" to the environment. But will India also be able to shape negotiations on such critical issues as greenhouse gas reduction?

"India has certainly taken the Paris Agreement pretty seriously and the government has released a national declaration that captures the plethora of initiatives for tackling climate change," says Ritwajit Das, international policy analyst.

Unlike China, India will not announce a peaking year in its "climate action plan". Instead of specifying any timeline to cap its emission of greenhouse gases, the country will, rather, focus more comprehensively on all key elements - including mitigation, adaptation, finance, capacity-building, technology development and transfer, transparency of action and support -- which are identified as vital components of global efforts to fight adverse impacts of climate change.

One-third of the world's poorest people live in India. This makes the nation particularly vulnerable to damage from climate disasters. It might also be fair to ask why there is a lot of pressure on India to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but not on their targets to adapt to climate change.

There are three times as many people in extreme poverty in India as there are citizens in Germany as a whole. This means that adaptation is probably the most efficient way for India to prevent damage.

But climate change will not be stopped by adjusting to it. Can India link its greatest short-term challenge to greenhouse gas reduction? If adaptation means preventing people from damage, India has to: Coal-fired power plants cause more than 100.000 pre-mature deaths in the country.

If India takes adaptation seriously, it also has to move beyond dirty coal. Considering this, India indeed might shape the next climate negotiations towards a more productive path.

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