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India Will Be Facing Several Challenges At Paris Climate Conference

03/12/2015 10:38 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses world leaders at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

As 30,000 diplomats from 150 countries sit around the table at COP21 for negotiations, all eyes are on the three behemoths - United States of America, China and India - the three economic giants who are also the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The comprehensive agenda of COP21(Conference of Parties) is to agree on legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions meant to hold global average temperatures short of a 2 degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial global temperatures. The urgency of this meet is visible to all stakeholders - this is perhaps one of the last opportunities for a multi-national effort to formulate a common policy on halting, if not reversing the catastrophic effects of global warming and climate change. The current commitments on greenhouse gas emissions end in 2020, and Paris talks will charter a global agreement for governments for the decade after 2020, and perhaps beyond.

French President Francoise Hollande eloquently sums it up: "Never have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, since what is at stake is the future of the planet, the future of life."

Will history repeat or will it be different? Unlearning Kyoto and Copenhagen at Paris

Eighteen years back, Kyoto discussions garnered similar hope when it became the first international conference to result in a climate treaty. Kyoto protocol failed miserably - U.S. signed the charter but never ratified it in Congress.

The Chinese economy soared, as did greenhouse gas emissions. But since developing countries were exempted, China was not obligated to act upon their increasing emissions. The resulting logjam led to many developed countries exiting the protocol as well by 2007, when Kyoto protocol was supposed to be implemented. World leaders met again in 2009 with the hopes of a consensus. But the talks were a resounding failure. Developed countries wanted developing countries to pitch in, and the latter took a step back in view of their more imperative goal of development.

Two key points differentiate Paris from the previous two summits

a) Governments are volunteering to limit their emissions. The onus has not remained solely on developed countries, but even developing economies are setting limits.

b) Climate financing is becoming a reality. The Global Climate Fund (GCF) established in 2010 will begin to mobilize money from developed countries, multi-lateral banks and specialized funds to enable a shift to clean technology and sustainability. This form of financial commitment helps developing countries gain trust and become an equal participant in climate diplomacy.

India's stand vs India's role: PM Modi walking the tightrope

PM Modi in his COP21 speech pointed out to the inequity that exists at the roots of climate discussions. "The prosperous still have a strong carbon footprint. And, the world's billions at the bottom of the development ladder are seeking space to grow."

This statement underscored the stand that Mr. Modi took in the rest of his speech, where he repeatedly stressed on the importance of fulfilling development goals in India. 300 million Indians are still living without energy access, and it remains a hard fact that the historical contribution of India to global warming has been an insignificant percentage. The entire affair comes in the backdrop of U.S. Secretary of state John Kerry calling India a "challenge" at COP21.

The demonstration of high-handedness from the superpower state is eerily similar to the tensions that have emerged in face of the unfairness of the disarmament polity between nuclear haves and havenots. The de-facto legalization of the 5 recognised "nuclear weapon states" goes uncontested, while emerging nuclear powers are held morally responsible for not working enough towards getting rid of nuclear weapons.

The hypocrisy of the nuclear diplomacy of giants such as United States, France and United Kingdom is an ominous indicator of these nations parroting a similar rhetoric when it comes to taking up responsibility for climate change. It is expected of them to push the onus on to India, China and other developing economies while the west's historical culpability in global warming will be swept under the carpet. Much like how the prevalent nuclear narrative conveniently overlooks how west introduced and reinforced nuclear warfare to begin with.

However, it is tough to overlook that India's tough position underpins PM Modi's populist agenda to appeal to not just Indian population, but also to the developing economies of Africa and Asia that have recently come under the focus of India's foreign policy.

Mr. Modi also announced a few ambitious climate goals:

1) By 2030, India will reduce emissions by 33 to 35% per cent of 2005 levels, and 40 per cent of our installed capacity will be from our non-fossil fuels.

2) The above will be achieved by expanding renewable energy - for, example, by adding 175 Gigawatts of renewable generation by 2022.

3) India will enlarge our forest cover to absorb at least 2.5 billion tonnes worth of carbon dioxide.

However, there were no further clarifications on how the government plans to implement the above goals from budgetary and policy standpoint. It remains to be seen how Prime Minister Modi meets the aspirations of 1.25 billion people after the commitments he made in his speech at COP21 yesterday. It is tough not to be skeptical in conjunction with tall claims Mr. Modi is known for on on most matters of development. Climate commitment is not Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, and PR words like "greentech" and "solar alliance" will be of little use when oceans start breaching into our coasts.

C`est La Vie Paris

There is an air of optimism about Paris summit - perhaps much to do with the city's own image of love and cooperation. But observers acknowledge that while much is being done on paper, governments around the world have to roll up their sleeves and get to the task. They would be required to align their resources, agencies and metrics to meet the climate commitment. India's role as a responsible leader in the world politics will be under the lens, as it tries to pull off the great balancing act of bringing energy equity to its burgeoning population, while limiting its carbon footprint.

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