Climate Equity and India


By Ankan De and Supriya Singh


Today is supposed to be the final day at COP 21 where the countries of the world have converged to draft what is supposed to be an agreement demonstrating the commitment of the World in dealing with the challenges posed by Climate Change. But going by the ground reality at COP, we see a scenario where negotiators perceive the Paris agreement as just another agreement and not the “historic last” chance bid by humanity to safeguard its future.

There has been a disturbing trend observed at COP 21 where policy makers have consistently ignored the science which is supposed to have informed the policy making process. The negotiations have not included any clear reference to a global carbon budget forming the basis of formulation of targets or effort sharing plans. This undermines the Principal 7 of the Rio Convention (1992) which states that all countries have historic responsibilities which in turn are evaluated based on three benchmarks:

  •  1990 emission – covering a third of emissions
  •  1950 emissions – covering two-thirds of emissions
  •  1850 emissions- covering all emissions

1990 became a year of political importance when scientists were able to obtain proper knowledge of how humans were affecting Climate Change and the first talks to reduce emissions and reductions began during the same period.

The world over time has also had an awakening in terms of understanding the roles of different countries of the world in the Climate Change context and concepts such as “Climate Justice” and “Equity” are thus themes which have subsequently been explored and discussed at great lengths. The key focus of this aspect of the discussions is that all countries of the World will be affected by Climate Change and they must thus take actions to counter these impacts. However not all countries are at the same level of development, they do not have the same amount of wealth or resources and neither are they empowered with appropriate technical capacities which would enable them to deal with developing situations. It is also true that there is a historic responsibility which developed countries have towards the rest of the world with respect to emissions. Thus there ought to  be a loud call to action, especially the developed ones should rise to the occasion so that operationalization of Equity and fair shares is feasible based on the  overarching historic responsibilities and respective capacities. This approach also paints a very real picture of the world and only highlights the vast gap which exists between the developed world and the developing/least developed world. The situation thus demands progressiveness with respect to actions and we have to look at both Science and the Equity together to triangulate actions needed to close the gap. This can be realized if the countries decided to aggregate their targets in the years 2020, 2030 and 2050. So what would enable this to be achieved?

An increase in the countries Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), with appropriate scaling up of public finance as it stands. It is also important to include in the text, the means of implementation. International co-operation and collective action is not only essential but imperative to realize effective action. This can be achieved through clearly defined legal commitments in the form of financial targets and outlined technology transfer. But the inclusion of both mitigation and adaptation as well as loss and damage is equally important. All countries must scale up action for a sustainable energy transition but there are few factors impeding the progress. The rich countries are in a position where they are still emitting more than ever and their emission seem unlikely to reduce drastically. This raises the question of carbon space for poor countries that need to develop.

At the crux of INDCs and the idea of equity lies the fact that there is no Benchmark of comparing them as they are based on the principle of self-differentiation. There is thus no scope of INDCs to be defined for adaptation or finance. This thus warrants for a post implementation review process to be put in place to look at the gaps in achieving these intended targets and at the same time to also review the INDCs pre implementation to determine the adequacy.

The Climate Action Network, a strong civil society voice at the negotiations, has called for an ambition mechanism for both pre and post 2020. This necessitates stock taking of backward and forward actions in overall implementation. If a delivery mechanism is not agreed upon in the agreement it will not result in implementation. Amit Narang the Indian Representative at the United Nations shared his views as well. He stated that India is the 3rd highest emitter but her per capita emissions are very low in comparison to other countries. Even In 2030, this situation is unlikely to change.

While there is a push for reduction in use of Fossil fuel based energy in India and the rest of the world, coal cannot be written off the energy chart of India and other countries. Coal isn’t an entirely India centric phenomenon. Given that the American rhetoric has been completely dominated by the fossil fuel lobby, it is ironic that the negative focus is being placed on India in spite of India presenting progressive and ambitious INDCs. If international coal use figures are anything to go by, the USA is using more fossil fuel than ever before in its history.  It is likely that the present trends will continue and the loud call for a complete shift from fossil fuel will not be answered by big emitters like the US.

While there is a large discussion on exploring the de-coupling of growth and resource consumption, we find that the Climate Change rhetoric does not adequately address the issue in the context of growth and the increase of emissions. Top consumers in India consume as much as the poorest of Americans. The coal narrative is a deliberate attempt by the US to dilute India’s ability to push for stronger action from Developed countries and to divert attention away from the finance issues emerging from the negotiations. This will allow for the US to have greater flexibility in diluting the section of the text which would address its financial commitments. There aren’t other issues and thus coal is being used to sideline India. The real need of the hour is to build a narrative which incentivizes the world to move towards renewables and away from the cancer of fossil fuel subsidies.

There is need for productive strategies instead of reactive ones. The world ought to look upon India as an opportunity and not as a threat. The larger challenge here is not to lose sight of the main aim – the survival of the human race. We can only pray that the esteemed leaders and stewards of the world recognize what is at stake here and work on a strong agreement which walks the talk.


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