Global climate governance and India’s role

Aryan Gandrai
The IPCC in its 6th assessment report says that human activities are causing climate change and the earth is warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius and if it is business as usual then it would be 2-6 degrees by the end of the century, the UN secretary general has called this “code red for humanity” having geographical, socio-economic and political consequences. The climate catastrophe is a reality and a truly global threat, the largest security threat seen in contemporary times. The solution sought was a global effort through the institution of UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCC) based on the ideals of “sustainable development.”
Yet, even after 50 years of Stockholm conference and 30 years of UNFCCC (Rio summit) the nations have not acted in “concert”. The crisis is proliferating, the “lip service” and the “lofty goals” at the climate high table are not yielding any significant changes on ground as seen in the failure of the recent COP-27 at Egypt in devising a strong joint statement. The world is divided between the “developed and developing countries”.
The Issues inhibiting global environmental governance are manifold first being, Climate justice, the question is “who is responsible for the damage and who ought to contribute towards its mitigation?”, the developing countries take the view of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) and historical responsibility of the developed countries, having ushered into industrial growth first and damaging the environment, squeezing the “carbon budget”. The developed, while accepting the gravity of situation maintain that since it was not known back then, there should be shared responsibility of all towards climate change mitigation and adaptation specially those like China and India, the fast-growing economies and the largest emitters (1st and 3rd respectively)
Second, the developed countries in order to make their economies clean and green have practiced “carbon shifting”, the shifting of greenhouse gas (GHG)emission intensive industries to developing economies having liberal regulations. At the same time, access to new age cutting technology have enabled developed nations to make profits out of “carbon fixing”. It is an ongoing unequal exchange of “green washing” veiled as climate action.
Third, the bone of contention is not just the acceptance of responsibility but also capacity to undertake mitigation and adaptation measures, which requires finance and technology specially to the developing countries both the small island developing states (SIDS) facing the brunt of sea level rise and other economies to build climate resilient infrastructure and adopting new clean-green sources of energy. In this respect, the promise of 100 billion dollars made at Copenhagen summit 2009 is not just unfulfilled but also insignificant given the “trillions of dollars” required not just in adaptation and mitigation but also “loss and damage” (compensation) as highlighted in the recent COP 27.
Fourth, the failure of Kyoto protocol as a top-down mechanism was sought to be rectified with the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) based on a “ratchet mechanism” (incremental) at the COP 21 (Paris) is now being seen by experts as going against a binding effort, a luxury the world cannot afford given the laxity being shown in the achievement of these targets. Whereas long term “net zero” targets are mirages, the need is to devise achievable, quantifiable, incremental and binding targets in the short run.
Fifth, the main drivers of climate change and global warming are the fossils like coal, petroleum and natural gas. Different countries with different levels of economic development, energy needs and geoeconomic interests have taken conflicting stands. In the COP 26 at Glasgow India was instrumental in revising the “phase out” coal to “phase down” reflecting the needs of the developing world whereas in the COP 27 this year India’s call for gradually phasing down all types of fossils and not just coal was resisted by not just European nations (gas dependent) but also China and Saudi Arabia (oil sale). At the same time, given the impact of Russia Ukraine war, countries like Germany are going for “carbon backsliding”, reopening closed coal mines.
Sixth, a “denialism” of climate change by few world leaders is one of the most pressing factors inhibiting any global governance. The most recent example was the withdrawal of USA from the Paris deal in 2017 under its then president who described climate change as “hoax”.
Being a ‘post-colonial state’ with absolute as well as relative poverty, economic development is ‘sine qua non’ making India the 3rd largest emitter of GHGs, yet despite hosting 17% of the global population its share in global emissions is only 5% (per capita CO2 emission at 1-2 tonnes, China – 7 tonnes and USA – 15 tonnes). India is ranked 7th in the global climate risk index, it understands the varied and voluminous impacts of climate vulnerability.
Former PM Indira Gandhi, at the Stockholm conference in 1972 remarked that “poverty is the biggest polluter”, India’s approach has been consistent that it seeks climate action and at the same time socio-economic growth in the spirit of “sustainable development.” As leader of the global south, India has been collaborating with likeminded developing countries (LMDCs) and BASIC (Brazil, India, south Africa and China) putting up a united front against the developed nations in terms of desisting any form of abdication of responsibility and at the same time India has shown willingness to contribute towards climate financing as seen in the COP 27.
According to the climate performance index India is ranked at 10, despite its lack of capacity it undertook ambitious targets at the Paris summit and achieved most of them, finally updating them. The “Panchamrit” unveiled by PM Modi at COP 26 Glasgow and subsequent incremental revision of its INDCs with a carbon “‘net zero” target by 2070 shows India’s willingness to be both an example to the developing world, to undertake climate action as well as to the developed world of being an achiever. At the forefront of building climate action institutions India is bringing both developed and developing nations on a platform through which substantive actions, futuristic and innovative ideas can usher into heightened co-operation among nations achieving real changes on ground. Institutions like coalition for disaster resilient infrastructure ( CDRI) and the international solar alliance ( ISA) are aimed at strengthening the climate adaptation and mitigation capacity of the poorest nations yet involve developed nations like USA, France Uk displaying India’s willingness to build a consensus for global governance.
PM Modi has given the idea of “LiFe” (lifestyle for environment today) as a global mass movement. It is about a pattern of development which is economically prudent, socially desirable and environmentally wise. It involves banking on traditional practices like ‘zero budget natural farming’; ushering into a “circular economy”; of modern technology harnessing renewable energy sources; an emphasis on “one health approach” and an overall reduction in consumerist tendencies. India’s own experience with the “swach bharat Abhayan” shows that institutional diktats can only bring changes if the people join, it is about ” Jan bhagidaari” , the prime minister has appealed to the people of the world to inculcate environmentally sustainable behaviour as a way of life. In this respect, India has negated the distinction of developed and developing countries and called for “human unity”.
India, banking on its civilisational ethos of ” vasudhaiv kutumbakam” (the world is one family) and its present stature as one of the fastest growing economies and a geopolitical “swing state” having economic, military, cultural as well diplomatic clout. India is truly a leader of the developing world, of the global south and at the same time an equal partner of the developed comity of nations having “multi vector engagement” in the form of leadership of Non alignment movement, tough stances at the WTO and UNFCCC and at the same time engaging with the developed world in the form of G20 and being regular invitee to the G7 summits. Above all it is the achievement in the realm of “climate action” which makes it an example of a developing nation undergoing growth that is sustainable, it is being looked at as a potential consensus builder between the developed and the developing world.
In 2023 as India takes up the leadership of the G20 – its motto of “one world, one family and one future” is appropriate for the global climate governance that our mother earth is yearning for, let the land of Budha and Gandhi guide the world towards a peaceful and prosperous future.
(The author is pursuing MA Political Science at Delhi University)