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Making The Paris Climate Deal Work: Opportunities For India

17/12/2015 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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TO GO WITH: Climate-warming-COP21-India-energy-solar, FOCUS by Annie Banerji In this photograph taken on August 23, 2015, an Indian engineer walks past solar panels at the under construction Roha Dyechem solar plant at Bhadla some 225 kms north of Jodhpur in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. Under a blistering sun, workers install a sea of solar panels in a north Indian desert as part of the government's clean energy push --- and its trump card at upcoming climate change talks in Paris. AFP PHOTO / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

The world has finally agreed to a global climate deal in Paris and it was followed by celebrations rather than theatrics, as was the case in Copenhagen. The Paris agreement is a strong framework to build on though has been criticised for lacking the necessary tools to ramp up ambition in the short run.

However, when one looks at the various clauses of the agreement, it is clear that it provides a set of "balanced" opportunities for all governments to leverage. The Paris agreement is one that captures the political intent of today and provides the necessary opportunities for the future.

The successful and effective implementation of the agreement would depend on two key factors: the first is the continued intent of the political leadership within key countries to act on climate change. The second crucial peg for the success of this agreement lies in winning the war on interpretation and details.

Transforming intent into sustained action

The Paris agreement, unlike others before it, will not dictate the terms of action to governments but will serve as a guide to them on what is necessary to avoid climate change.

We cannot afford to have a piecemeal approach to climate change within India anymore. Our policies need to be dictated by the imperative of action ...

This key feature of the agreement, though, has a flipside. By merely nudging domestic-decision making in the right direction, its efficacy is heavily dependent on whether the government has an intention to act on climate change or not. It has been seen that a change in guard in a country can result in dramatic changes in its climate policies -- as was the case in the US and, more recently, Canada.

To make this agreement successful in its purpose of limiting rising carbon emissions and minimising the rise of global temperature, governments would have to mainstream actions and policies on climate change in order to ensure that regardless of political leadership, the transformation of the country's economy towards near zero carbon emissions will continue.

For the Indian scenario this implies that we cannot afford to have a piecemeal approach to climate change within the country anymore. Our policies need to be dictated by the imperative of action rather than as a response towards international political moments -- as has been the case for some of the key climate change-related policies and actions.

India is undertaking ambitious action particularly on renewable energy but we have to look at other areas like transport and urbanization simultaneously and with a long-term horizon. If we are to make the best use of this Paris agreement we need to create the policy and regulatory environment within the country that enables foreign and domestic investors, innovators, businesses to see value for them to work on this issue within India. We need those long - term transition plans that help give certainty on the direction of travel. We have done so within electricity sector by putting forward 175 GW but similar goal oriented direction needs to be given in other areas as well including on adaptation to climate change and infrastructure resilience especially in light of recent disasters like Chennai floods.

Defining the details

As said before, the Paris agreement is a legal document that provides only the framework of direction that is to be taken. The details of various provisions, as well as the interpretation of words such as "equity, would have to outlined in the coming five years as the agreement comes into effect only in 2020.

It is extremely crucial for the Indian government to "think fast".... to influence and shape the details of the agreement and leverage it in our favour.

It is extremely crucial for the Indian government to "think fast". The faster we are able to chart out our long-term economic and social direction of travel, the easier it will be for us to influence and shape the details of the agreement and leverage it in our favour. Taking the case of "equity, the agreement leaves a gaping hole in relation to its interpretation and how it would judge "equity" amongst countries when it comes to assessing progress or while allocating responsibility of actions to be undertaken.

Winning the war on interpretation in this agreement would require the Indian government to be extremely nimble and innovative with respect to ideas and concepts around equity. The government will have to move away from its traditional approach to the word and adapt to the framework that is presented in this new agreement.

There are lots of opportunities within the agreement that are up for grabs, like the concept on new market mechanisms. While India has been the second largest beneficiary of the Clean Development Mechanism, the nation has not been a front-runner on scaling up carbon markets. The government can potentially leverage this opportunity by linking existing market mechanisms like Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) as well as building the newly announced global initiative known as the International Agency for Solar Technologies and Application in a way that ensures that this initiative is a future fit for this new market mechanism.

The Paris agreement is all about opportunities. Now it is up to countries to decide whether to leverage these opportunities or to squander this chance at fighting climate change together globally.

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