Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

COP 26: India’s Climate Actions Speak Louder Than Pledges


We are living in an age of global-scale crisis with a future uncertain and disruptive. Climate change is among the key challenges facing the global community. Facts and evidences confirm that the impacts of climate change are already tangible and accelerating in a dangerous manner. Climate change is no longer a ‘can’ be but ‘is’ a threat to international peace and security. Negotiations are not just about deals being made in climate summits but also about the existence of our societies, communities and the future of sustainable development itself.

Closer home, one of the observed trends witnessed in South Asia is changes in the monsoon and cyclone patterns with increased temperatures. Resultantly and in interconnected ways climate change will affect coastal landscape and the cities, the Himalayan region, infrastructure, agriculture, water systems and human health. The global aim, as per the Paris Agreement in 2015, is to reduce greenhouse gases emissions and limit global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C so as to mitigate climate risks. Recently some countries have also set targets to achieve net zero emissions in the second half of this century.

However, the state of the earth system is not particularly optimistic. Carbon dioxide concentration is at its highest (413 parts per million as on November 5, 2021), a level that last occurred about 3 million years ago. Temperatures have been rising between 0.2°C – 0.4°C per decade with a current average annual temperature, which is 1.2°C higher before the pre-industrial level.

In the post-COVID world, a new momentum has emerged towards more ambitious actions by the major economies with further commitments on greenhouse gases mitigation and achieving carbon neutrality within the next three decades. In the recently concluded COP 26 (Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Glasgow, a pact was reached to keep alive the hopes of achieving 1.5°C goal. The main task of COP 26 was to finalise the remaining procedures, in particular the creation of new Carbon Market, for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. However, on the issue of Loss and Damage which was introduced in the COP 19 in Warsaw in 2013 no meaningful outcome came about and is broadly viewed as a disappointment. A dialogue mechanism, however, has been agreed to discuss arrangements for funding such activities.

The Glasgow Pact after much deliberation called for stronger action in the current decade (2020-2030) to achieve a 1.5°C world and called nations to:

Strengthen their 2030 climate action plans or the NDCs (nationally determined contributions) by 2022.

To scale-up mitigation and implementation efforts

Asked countries to ‘phase-down’ usage of ‘unabated’ coal power and ‘phase-out’ inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support to the poorest and the most vulnerable in line with national circumstances

On the issue of adaptation the Glasgow Pact

Asked the developed countries to at least double the finance for adaptation by 2025 from the 2019 levels. In 2019, about $15 billion was made available for adaptation that was less than 20 per cent of the total climate finance flows. Developing countries have been demanding that at least half of all climate finance should be directed towards adaptation efforts.

To create a two-year work programme to define a global goal on adaptation. The Paris Agreement had a goal on mitigation. Goal on adaptation was missing and this therefore was a significant entry for the developing countries who had been demanding adaptation goals since the Paris Agreement.  .

On the issue of finance

It reminded the developed countries of their commitment in 2009 to mobilize at least $100 billion by 2020. The Paris Agreement had asked the developed countries to scale-up this amount by 2025. Having failed on the promise of $100 billion, the developed countries have now been asked to arrange this amount by 2023.

While setting the new target for climate finance, it called upon the developed countries to provide transparent information about the progress

On the issue of carbon markets

Developing countries were allowed to use carbon credits for meeting their first NDC targets but not for subsequent NDCs. That means, if a developed country wants to buy these credits to meet its own emission reduction targets, it can do so till 2025. Most countries have presented climate targets for 2025 in their first NDCs. This is seen as a major success.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence in COP 26 Glasgow and his announcement of a Panchamrit (a mixture of five nectar elements) of climate action was noteworthy and further raised India’s credibility as a climate conscious country. The Panchamrit is bold and proves the determination and value of commitment to a climate action pathway:

India will reach its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030.

India will meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.

India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now onwards till 2030.

By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 percent.

By the year 2070, India will achieve the target of Net Zero.

Clearly India has emerged as a climate leader and has taken several mitigation actions since 2014 to reduce its emissions and adaptation measures to prepare for climate effects. Combating climate change and adapting to its effects defines India’s policies. The involvement of the private sector is equally important along with nature-based solutions. Having championed climate justice in the international negotiations, India is supporting just transitions especially in the coal sector while pushing hard towards renewable energy. There is also a strong emphasis on climate resilience particularly when it comes to infrastructure development.

India is the lead player in the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). The ISA was launched by Prime Minister Modi in Paris in 2015 and now has 101 signatories’ countries and 80 of them have ratified the ISA framework agreement. Such has been the appeal of the ISA that the US too has found it difficult to resist and joined the solar alliance in Glasgow. It is by all accounts an important landmark proving that countries recognise the value of solar both in terms of economic and climate mitigation and importantly as a catalyst for global energy transition. The ISA has the potential to unlock USD100 billion in public and private financing and help to promote research and development in renewable energy.

The Prime Minister had put forward the idea of ‘One Sun One World One Grid’ (OSOWOG) at the first ISA summit in 2018 and at Glasgow, he launched the international network of interconnected solar power grids, the Green Grids Initiative (GGI-OSOWOG) along with UK PM Boris Johnson. Likewise, the CDRI which was first proposed by Prime Minister Modi during the 2016 Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2016 has 28 member countries along with UN agencies and multilateral development banks that aims to promote resilience of critical infrastructure. India’s climate pathway is based on outcomes and has taken several lead in its journey towards equitable and just transition, for example LeadIT initiative for industry transitions. India is all set to abolish single-use plastics and its switch to LED bulbs has helped reduce carbon emissions substantially.

The developed world has to wake up and realise that a one-solution-suits-all-approach is not the best way forward in meeting climate challenges rather encouraging alternate successful approaches, as India has demonstrated, while providing finance and technology to support their commitments is the path, which unfortunately the developed world has failed to take. Talking about what needs to be done by 2030 instead of 2050 is a vital message that India has sent across the world.

(Uttam Kumar Sinha works at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)