Understanding the Indian Position at the Paris Negotiations

By Santosh Patnaik

During the recently concluded Paris summit, blueprint to deal with climate change in the coming decade has been prepared. During the negotiations, India was portrayed in the Western media as a stumbling block to an ambitious climate deal. New York Times ran an article explaining that Prime Minister Modi may make or break the legacy of President Barack Obama. India’s coal consumption to produce power was being painted as a potential spoiler to reach the 1.50C temperature target. Overall India had become the punching bag sparing this time around China, which had reached a deal with the United States in November 2014.

Systematic Defaulters of Responsibilities

The narratives not discussed often are that the United States and the other industrialized nations have been the systematic defaulters of their responsibilities to deal with climate change. The United States did not ratify Kyoto protocol and Canada conveniently withdrew from it to save face for not meeting emission reduction targets. Kyoto protocol which squarely put the onus on developed economies to reduce emission failed miserably and salvaged to some extent thanks to the lowered industrial activity around the world. Currently the United States is the 2nd largest emitter contributing 14% of the greenhouse gas emissions while China leads the list with 26%. India stands at 4th position after the European Union with only 5.67%. At present, the US energy system is fueled by coal and other fossil fuels with per capita coal consumption 5 times of that of India. China’s giant economy is being built by burning coal with per capita coal consumption quite close to the United States.

In addition, developed countries have failed to keep their promise to provide $100 billion for mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries. India has debunked the claims of OECD report which asserts disbursal of $62 billion in climate finance. The developed world has systematically dodged their historical responsibility and to accept ambitious emission reduction targets. Instead the burden has been shifted to developing countries compromising their developmental space. The $100 billion climate finance by 2020 is another element that is hard to come by with the developed world relying on dubious accounting methods such as counting the face value of loans and repackaging ODA to fit into the concept of climate finance to claim that they have provided 62 billion of climate finance.

India’s Position

Evidently rich countries have a poor track record of playing for the team that aims to save the planet from catastrophic climate impacts. This leaves developing countries in a fix to safeguard a large section of population from severe climate impacts and to carry on with economic development. In this context, India’s negotiating position in Paris could be understood.

Firstly, as per the convention India believes that the emission reduction is the responsibility of developed countries and their developing counterparts should be provided the carbon space to grow and bring people out of climate vulnerability. Hard pressed by developmental challenges, India is keen to delay taking up binding targets as far into the future as possible. As a result, time and space will be available for economic growth, employment generation, poverty eradication and so on.

Secondly, it appears that India considers that a critical mass of alternate opinions of developing countries exist that could counter the dominant opinion of developed countries. The synergy between developing countries to join forces making developed countries deliver on their promises is crystalised. Moreover, though developing country Parties belonging to different negotiating groups based on national priorities and political positioning, they have successfully united to raise the concerns regarding their dues from developed world. India aligns itself with G77+China, BASIC and BRICS groups with different political dynamics and group objectives to satisfy its needs.

Finally, India cautious about the political ramifications of an aggressive approach and has largely been defensive in the climate negotiations. Taking on the Western powers is not the game plan for India. Rapid development has been the sole objective and India has followed the same narrative in political decision-making as well as in the climate change negotiations as well.

India has put up a strong fight back in Paris when targeted and has shown leadership in more than one occasion. India’s role in the creation of International Solar Alliance and Breakthrough Energy Coalition puts India as a positive player at the international level. Moreover, the Paris agreement itself marks India’s role in shaping policy decisions at the highest level. India’s INDC has put up ambitious targets in terms of solar energy contribution to the total energy mix, reduction in emission intensity and enhancing carbon sinks. In the coming years, post Paris, it would be a priority for India to focus on domestic issues and address its needs while maintaining its role as a front runner in renewable energy at the international level, particularly solar energy.

About the Author:

He is the Programme Coordinator of CAN South Asia. He is an experienced researcher in energy and climate change issues.