06/12/2015 8:14 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

COP21: India Should Stand Its Ground In Battle Between Moral Duties And Realism

BERTRAND GUAY via Getty Images
Visitors walk at the information booth of India during the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change, on November 30, 2015 at Le Bourget, on the outskirts of the French capital Paris. More than 150 world leaders are meeting under heightened security, for the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), also known as Paris 2015 from November 30 to December 11. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAY / AFP / BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

Only days after the deluge of rain that grounded and flooded the city of Chennai and its surrounding areas, political leaders from around the world are preparing to sit down on Monday to see where the world stands on that elusive climate deal. Climate negotiations have never been an easy task, despite the consequences that the planet faces; these negotiations have been as difficult a challenge to global diplomacy as any other man-made war.

To put it in perspective, during the Bali climate conference (13th UNFCCC meet) in 2007, the world saw the small country of Papua New Guinea stand up to the United States in a gallant manner when its delegation member Kevin Conrad asked his American counterparts to 'get out of the way' if they're unable to lead. While the US had determined that it was not in favor of the document being presented at that moment, Conrad's statement perhaps caused Washington enough embarrassment for them to shed some of their rigidity. On the question of giving finances to fight climate change, which caused them to disagree on the draft and in fact is still the main contention point to this day, the US agreed later to join further discussions and deliberations on the matter in an effort to at least save some face on that day.

Since November 30 when leaders of more than 180 countries descended on Paris for what many believe is the last chance for a wholesome, global climate deal, India has found itself on the receiving end of much pressure. Delhi's stand on the issue has been labeled as a 'challenge' by the US, while Western media has labeled it as an "obstacle" to a deal and gone up to the extent saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi could make or break US President Barack Obama's "climate legacy". If some of the Western press coverage is analyzed, it is almost as if India's stance, which is in the interest of its more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, should get out of the way.

If some of the Western press coverage is analyzed, it is almost as if India's stance, which is in the interest of its more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, should get out of the way.

It was never a secret that India would be the center of attention at COP21. However, the narrative towards some sort of agreement by December 11 will require compensations from both the developed and developing markets, the former taking the lead role. The developing world today is asking for billions of dollars in critical funding from the developed nations in order to orchestrate a side step from fossil fuels to clean energy.

But the challenge is not so simple. India has nearly 300 million people without regular access to electricity. Even though Indian data has suggested a big upsurge in number of villages being connected to grids, the fact remains that the number of households receiving power still remains very low. India's definition of electrification undermines the country's own challenges at the climate conference, which basically means the gravity of energy needs in India may be far greater than being portrayed at the moment. If the Indian government were to amend this definition, subsequently reworked data would provide clearer optics on how deep the challenge of energy security is, thus justifying further for its demands of more funding from developed nations for solutions


Pressures on India over its carbon emissions are not unjustified, but they do weigh into the moral side of the argument much more than the realist one. The abhorrent air quality in Delhi that is visible as a grey curtain above its skyline is proof enough that pollution is now being debated at the highest levels of public and political discourse of the country, and is fast becoming a make-or-break issue for political parties.

However, with its poverty, young population looking for jobs and a growingly ambitious middle class, India is not in a realistic position to offer any grand bargains. But this is also where the question arises whether it even needs to? On per capita basis Indian emissions are extremely low compared to China and the developed world, and the Indian 'rich' still have a far smaller carbon footprint than the rich countries' poor.

So, a lot of the debate on what will finally be achieved on December 11 once the conference comes to a close in Paris can be divided between a David and Goliath style duel between moralism and realism, and who is David and who is Goliath here is still unclear. No one is denying that strong steps taken in global unison are need of the hour to curb climate change, but the debate is not just about legalities and finances but is also now a fundamental challenge to our global governance framework. After all, climate change does not distinguish between the ideas of 'developed' and 'developing'.

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