Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be sharing India’s track record on climate action on November 1, 2021, at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP26), under way in Glasgow, Scotland. Countries are expected to hammer out agreements on climate issues such as reaching net zero emissions and creating new carbon markets, which have been on hold since the Paris climate agreement was signed at COP21 in Paris in December 2015.
We take a look at what’s expected at COP26, which issues India is expected to negotiate on and how, and explain the rationale behind India’s stance.
The road to COP26
The Paris Agreement is a legal instrument which guides the process of universal action on climate change with non-binding provisions for the parties or signatories. Under this agreement, countries have made climate pledges, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), to limit the global temperature rise to below 2°C by 2100.
India had committed to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 33%-35% by 2030 relative to 2005, and to installing renewable energy capacity of 175 gigawatt (GW) by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. The finance minister said this August that the country is on track to meet its Paris Agreement commitments and India reiterated this October that it will reach its renewable energy target ahead of 2022.
However, India’s commitments, policies, actions and targets are rated as “highly insufficient” as of September 2021 by Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of three research organisations that analyse climate change policies of 39 countries.
India’s commitments and net zero
COP26 in Glasgow has been urged to set new post-2022 expectations on reducing GHG emissions, including for countries to declare targets for reaching net zero emissions.
While the largest carbon-emitting nation China has promised to peak its emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2060, India is yet to announce any plans on peaking its emissions, or any target for reaching net zero emissions.
Peaking is the point when a country is developed enough and has enough resources to adapt to greener technologies. “Reaching the peak carbon emissions allows a country to move towards decarbonisation,” Shikha Bhasin, senior programme lead at Delhi-based environment policy think-tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water, told IndiaSpend.
Messages from the ministry in the last few days have conveyed that India is expected to announce an enhanced NDC factoring in its overachievement of its 2022 pledges and ambitious renewable energy targets of 450 GW, scaling up hydrogen production, and including sector-specific emission reduction goals — but no net-zero target.
India has the third highest carbon emissions, accounting for 2.46 billion metric tonnes or 6.8% of total global carbon emissions. With China and the USA, the top two GHG emitters, having promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and 2060, respectively, the pressure on India to commit to a net zero goal has increased. India’s per capita carbon emissionsare, however, still low at 1.91 tonnes compared to the United States’ 16.06 tonnes and China’s 7.10 tonnes, and its historic responsibility for GHG emissions are lower.
India will continue to push for equity and accountability within the climate change negotiations, the government has said.
Reaching net-zero alone is not enough, environment minister Bhupender Yadav said last month. “It is how much carbon you are going to put in the atmosphere before reaching net zero that is more important,” environment secretary R.P. Gupta reportedly said. India must remind developed economies of unkept promises of financial support for aiding developing countries to move toward clean energy, say experts.
Like other developing countries, India has a high dependency on fossil fuel, with 70% of its energy coming from coal and oil. “To shrink the carbon budget, countries have to develop enough from where they can reach a point of reducing their carbon emissions. The system includes the population’s access to electricity and power. The pace and scale at which a country wants to peak and then get to net-zero is completely contingent on financing,” said Bhasin.
The controversial issue of setting up rules of new carbon markets, pending since COP21 in Paris, is also on the agenda at COP26. India’s stance on the issue will be pivotal as it is among the countries with the largest stock of carbon credits gained under the old carbon market rules, which have not yet been encashed, say experts. India must explore redress or ways to utilise its existing carbon credits, say experts, even as it negotiates a new regime.
“Focus on net-zero by 2050 is scientifically sound but the political messaging of developed countries that they will get there because they are ambitious is completely incorrect. They need to reach the net-zero target a lot sooner so that there is a carbon budget for other developing countries, in order for the latter to start planning their peaking and net-zero targets,” said Bhasin, speaking to the issue of climate equity.
The principle undergirding climate equity is that while all countries are affected by climate change, their contribution to global warming differs. India is among those countries whose historical responsibility for climate change is marginal compared to that of developed countries like the US. The UNFCCC recognises the principle of climate equity, which is that the developed countries need to do more to compensate for their historical carbon emissions, and assist developing countries in adopting cleaner energy and reducing carbon emissions.
Loss and damages
India is also the country with one of the five highest economic losses due to climate change and has also had the most deaths due to extreme weather events, attributed to the effects of climate change, in the past five years, we reported in December 2019. Further, India also lacks financial resources to adapt to the impacts of climate change, like building critical infrastructure to deal with increasing cyclonic storms such as all-weather roads, embankments and shelters.
Ahead of the COP26, the developed countries released a delivery plan on climate finance to support the cost of decarbonisation of the energy-producing sectors in developing countries, IndiaSpend reported on October 28, 2021. The plan estimated that the promise of delivering climate finance of $100 billion, made in 2009 by developed countries, could only be met by 2023. The announcement was criticised by representatives of developing nations. The $100 billion target itself, set in 2009, is now inadequate because developing countries are estimated to need $600 billion a year from 2020 to 2050 to decarbonise just their energy sectors, IndiaSpend reported in October 2021.
“A pivotal element of the success of COP26 will be reassurance by developed countries that they will urgently deliver climate finance to developing countries, especially for adaptation measures in agriculture, water, health and disaster management. We need developed countries to make up the shortfall from 2020-2022 and start negotiations for a much higher finance goal for post-2025,” Ulka Kelkar, director of the climate programme at environment research organisation World Resources Institute India, told IndiaSpend. “India must remind the developed countries of unfulfilled promises and ask for better finance and support to reach a net zero emissions target,” said Bhasin.
While countries have discussed technical assistance for creating infrastructure to mitigate loss of lives and damage of property due to climate change events under the Santiago agreement, there were no conclusions on the financial responsibility of the developed countries towards supporting the costs of building such infrastructure. India should take a strong stance at COP26 on increasing the financial assistance from the developed countries to transit to greener energy, and to route funding towards adaptation measures, according to Bhasin and other experts.
Technology transfer and carbon markets
“We see more action on technology transfer outside the COP negotiations–through bilateral clean technology partnershipsbetween India and the US, UK, Sweden and Denmark. These will be very important for India to get affordable technologies in heavy industry, which is very difficult to decarbonise,” said Kelkar. For instance, green hydrogen, which can be used to decarbonise sectors like shipping and transportation and in manufacturing industries like steel and chemicals, will become cost competitive with fossil fuels only by 2030, we reported in September 2021.
While the issues of technology cost and finance have been discussed at COP26, the most controversial topic is setting an agreement on carbon markets. Countries have not been able to agree on the rules governing carbon markets since the COP24 at Katowice, Poland in 2018. Parties failed to reach a common ground on the issue at COP25 in Madrid, Spain in 2019.
Coming to agreements on a common carbon trading system under Article 6 will lead to implementation of the Paris agreement, according to the COP26 presidency. Article 6, one of the most controversial rules of the Paris agreement, focuses on setting up two new carbon markets for the post-2020 period. The new ‘Sustainable Development Mechanism’ is supposed to replace the earlier ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM). CDM allowed investment in green projects in developing countries to earn carbon credits, but it is often referred to as a flawed system which led to double counting of carbon emissions, corruption and violation of human rights in developing nations, we reported in October 2021.
However, countries like India and Brazil, which have large amounts of carbon credits under the CDM lying unutilised, might oppose the termination of the old carbon markets, and seek redress or a market in which to sell the unutilised carbon credits.
“Finalising the rules of carbon trading might create a common currency which will help Indian companies link their efforts with the international market. Sending 2% or 5% of the revenue from carbon trading to the Adaptation Fund might also help developing countries,” according to Kelkar.