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Manka Behl is a Climate Tracker fellow at COP24. This article was originally published on Times of India.

Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan, who was at the 24th session of Conference of Parties in Katowice, Poland, talks to Manka Behl about how India is bearing the brunt of massive carbon emissions by developed nations, the country’s fresh strategy after the US backs out from the agreement, and India signing the Just Transition declaration towards a low-carbon economy:

What is India’s key agenda in this year’s negotiations?

COP 24 is an important milestone for us. An overriding concern for India remains enhancing pre-2020 actions by developed countries and mobilising finance in both pre- and post-2020 period. Finance is one of the critical enablers of climate actions in developing countries. Therefore, we expect developed countries to fulfil their commitment of mobilising $100 billion a year  by 2020 and further scale it up.

Amid ongoing deliberations on China becoming a climate fund provider, is India next in line?

Being a developing country, India is entitled to financial support under the climate change regime. We have significant challenges like providing energy access to all and poverty eradication. We are in need of international finance for adaptation and mitigation.

Since President Donald Trump came to power, how has India’s international climate strategy changed?

The US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is a part of its domestic agenda. However, considering that it is one of the largest contributors to cumulative historical emissions, its backing out may affect the goal of restricting emissions. It might also affect the availability of international funds for climate change, as the US was a significant contributor to climate finance. India’s stance is clear, we remain committed towards climate action and the concerns for the global “commons” have been in the forefront of the government’s developmental efforts.

If developed nations fail in their commitments, what would be India’s course of action? Will we pull out?

We believe that significant gaps exist in pre-2020 climate efforts, not just in mitigation but also adaptation and support to be provided to developing countries. The implementation gaps should not present an additional burden to developing countries in the post-2020 period and hence we have urged the developed world to take urgent actions for closing the gaps by 2023, which can be a useful input for the first global stocktake.

Looking at current air pollution levels and greenhouse gas intensity, will your ministry start saying no to new coal projects?

While India has been moving towards clean energy, we will need coal-based power too in view of our domestic demand. But all new coal plants will be super critical and the existing ones are being renovated and modernised. Improvised pollution control norms are being imposed on them.

When will the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) be released? Will it be legally binding on states?

It is likely to be released around December 20. My ministry in consultation with relevant stakeholders has developed a comprehensive action plan for air pollution control in Delhi and NCR. It focuses on concrete action points including setting up more real time monitoring stations, NCR-wide air quality monitoring expansion, research studies including air pollution inventory, source apportionment, health impact studies, exposure impacts and ensuring timely implementation of BS VI fuel.

For the nation, we have formulated NCAP as a national level strategy to tackle the increasing air pollution problem in a comprehensive manner. It focuses on coordination between relevant central ministries, state governments, local bodies and other stakeholders. In order to ensure use of new technologies to combat the rising challenge of air pollution in India, a separate component on ‘Technology Assessment Cell’ has been envisaged under NCAP to evaluate the technologies for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.

Which Act will come under the NCAP? The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 or a new Act?

The programme will cover all the existing Acts. Moreover, NCAP will have a provision to review existing legislation for its stringent implementation.

Will NCAP have caps on coal and diesel consumption? Also, sectoral emission pollution reduction targets?

Shifting from fossil fuels is one of the main objectives. City-level gas projects are being promoted. Specific sectoral targets are not envisaged but it involves mainstreaming all existing missions including habitat, solar, energy efficiency, green India, agriculture and smart cities programme.

Bangladesh and Nepal have signed the agreement on Just Transition which makes industrial workers part of the solution to meet climate change emission targets through sustainable industrial policies. What is India’s perspective on it?

We are all for it. Even our country is a party to the declaration made at COP 24 by the Polish presidency.

Saudi Arabia has expressed strong concerns over the Polish presidency. Do you also believe that they are under-performing?

We expect the Polish presidency to carry all parties together and deliver a meaningful outcome in this COP. We have indicated our full support to the Polish presidency of COP 24.

Header photo: Ravi Prasad, India, speaking on behalf of Brazil, South Africa, India, and China (BASIC)

Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

Manka Behl

About Manka Behl

@mankabTOI Manka is a Senior Correspondent working with the Times of India newspaper, India’s No. 1 English daily. She holds a master’s degree in Mass Communication and majored in English Literature and Psychology. Her stories mainly cover pollution, climate change and its impact on public health.