India needs to put on the table some ideas on how to move the stalled climate negotiations forward while safeguarding the interests of developing countries

(Image by COP20)

(Image by COP20)

Amidst high expectations, the UN climate summit started in Lima with a view to lay down the pathway to an ambitious global deal in Paris next December. The momentum was built upon the Secretary General’s Summit in New York in September 2014 which was preceded by a historic march of people at New York and cities around the world to urge governments to address the problem of catastrophic climate change.

Most of us who are linked to climate change advocacy expected actions and political will to fast forward the negotiations to achieve the global deal in Paris. This means, governments need to sort out the critical elements of the deal which has far reaching consequences in their respective national circumstances.

As some experts have pointed out, current climate change negotiations have boiled down to securing what governments see as economic interests of their countries. So every government is assessing losses due to the climate change actions they need to take as prescribed by science. For developing countries like India, such decisions are deemed crucial as they will directly affect the country’s development pathways.

There are plenty of studies done by various organisations that show this approach to be flawed. But empirical assessment of the hypothesis about the link between development and sacrifice a nation has to make for undertaking climate actions is yet to be proved beyond doubt. So countries play it safe at the negotiations.

Make in India and the outcomes of Lima

The current government in India has already set forth targets for the country as it came to power. It’s stated goal of making India a manufacturing hub and thereby reverse the downward spiral of economic performance will increase India’s per capita emission from current levels. The increase will occur from the fact that the country needs to develop its basic infrastructure of roads and rail network, the city mass transit network, and the overall connectivity to increase fast mobility across the length and breadth of the country.

This requires huge growth of sectors which have high greenhouse gas emissions. It is going to happen at a time when the world is pressuring India and other big developing countries to take on absolute emission cuts so as to keep global warming within a two-degree Celsius temperature rise, on average.

In this scenario, if India is to achieve the aim of transforming itself into a world manufacturing hub, it has to invent innovative ways of doing so while minimizing its emissions footprint.

The outcomes of Lima round has been acknowledged as satisfactory by Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The key to this remark is attributed to the recognition of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (CBDRRC) as the key elements of the future deal. This is a basic tenet of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Lima was supposed to set forth this aspect anyway. But countries like India and others have been unhelpful in making substantial progress on this. Primarily due to the lack of ideas and background work of these countries at the negotiations, this crucial issue got stuck, and did not advance beyond being recognized.

India has failed to realize that the more it delays on putting its own perception of operationalising equity in the context of a future deal, the more its domestic goal of making India the world’s manufacturing hub gets into rough weather. This is primarily because the operational aspect of equity and CBDRRC will ensure a country’s future emission permits. This will be crucial to design the pathways for India’s different sectors to achieve the objective of growth under a constrained emission scenario.

Finance and technology support

In its domestic policymaking, India needs to set forth its own low carbon pathways to development. In this regard international support on finance and technology are crucial. The current climate negotiations and development have very little to offer for India in this regard. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), with all its pledges and support, will only be able to meet a very small fraction of what is needed by developing countries. So a country like India has to generate its own avenues of support.

Climate negotiations can be a positive catalyst in this regard. But the Lima summit has not generated enough momentum on finance and collaborative solutions to the technological needs of countries like India.

It has been very clear that India expects very little from the current discussions on finance and green technology transfer. The problems of improving the electricity grids, providing solutions to the infrastructure through low carbon methods are still not being addressed in the technology discussions. The investments and financial support required for implementing these will not be coming from the GCF funds.

Achieving these goals will require large-scale private sector involvement and bilateral investments. The negotiations can play vital role in establishing effective bilateral investment options. Unfortunately, the Indian government has not been strategic enough to ensure such bilateral flows through the dynamics of the negotiations. India should believe that the mere size of the country and demand it generates in different sectors is a huge market for many developed countries. Therefore, it should use its cards strategically to ensure such flows of finance and technology through appropriate strategic partnerships at the negotiations. Due to the current stand of India on different issues such opportunities are drying up.

Domestic issues and negotiations

At the domestic policymaking level, India has been sending mixed signals to the rest of the world. On the one hand, it has diluted its environment clearance laws. On the other, it has set targets for solar by 2019, and has initiated the process of making an ambitious renewable energy law. It has consolidated the renewable and power ministries into one, and has formally added climate change to the remit of the ministry of environment and forests.

These last steps would have been effective had India done its homework better before the Lima negotiations. Throughout 2014, India’s strategy drew attention of the world for all the wrong reasons. It has been stumped by the China-US declaration on emissions control. Most of the time it is left defending itself, rather than putting ideas on table for the world to consider.

This year is crucial, and the Indian government needs to undo its past deeds. India needs to set the agenda on issues it has been championing. It has to win friends across the various blocs of countries to reap benefits both inside and outside the negotiations process.

There have been concerns about the fate of the December 2015 Paris summit due to the logjam in Lima. Political compulsions overshadowed the progress on thematic issues in Lima. It seemed that the countries are too bothered about securing their short-term interests rather than go for ambition in emission reduction. Pledges outside the UNFCCC process have not been able to provide the necessary momentum to the negotiations.

For India, there are a number of issues that need to be sorted out. The core is to strike the right balance between domestic goals and international obligations under a new deal. Then, its actions to move towards a low-carbon pathway have to be properly designed to meet the international collaborative target of temperature limit and also meet development goals. Currently these pathways are heavily loaded towards solutions through nuclear and other traditional fossil fuels. These are at best temporary and India should explore the ways and means to achieve its full renewable energy potential.

Energy poverty in the country has been the main reason for a number of development challenges, and therefore has to be made a priority. The Paris deal should provide enough incentives for India to create opportunities to meet the energy requirements of the future in a climate friendly manner.

Further, purely from a negotiations perspective, India has to set forth the agenda for discussion. Till date it has done only lip service to the issues on equity and CBDRRC. It is time for India to put ideas about these two crucial issues on the table.

The other important issue is the submission and assessment of adequacy of the actions India will take by itself – in UN-speak, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Current discussions on this are very fluid and this is the time when India can play a vital role with new ideas about INDCs. Off the record, Indian bureaucrats have been confirming that they are prepared with the INDCs, but there is no public announcement. INDCs will form a very important pillar of the new deal in Paris, so putting ideas on the table for discussion may help set the agenda. When government delegates meet in Geneva this February to start working on the Paris deal, they should be talking about such ideas to move the stalled negotiations forward. Let us hope our leaders actually come up with something meaningful ideas, rather than just play with words.

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