On September 28, 2020 Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, co-chaired a ‘virtual summit’. A number of issues were discussed of mutual interest including climate change and green transition, and reached a common understanding to accelerating sustainable development.
Significantly the two ‘climate leaders’ – exuding confidence and humility; principles and pragmatism – agreed to elevate India-Denmark bilateral relations to a ‘Green Strategic Partnership’. Water management and sustainable urban development feature prominently in the new partnership.
With an aim to strengthening ‘green ties’ and ‘two-way learning’ between cities, Udaipur has been twinned with Aarhus and Tumakuru, a smart city in Karnataka, is to have a sister city Aalborg. The objective is to create more sustainable and smart cities through waterscaping that includes enhanced integrated water management and urban planning.
For the first time in India’s diplomatic history environmental agenda has been raised to a strategic partnership.
One can observe that India’s strategic partnership with a number of countries including Australia, China, Japan, Russia and the US are broadly associated with defence and security in which other issues like education, health, energy, trade and investment and at times environment find place for engagement. Interestingly with Saudi Arabia a ‘Strategic Partnership Council’ was agreed upon in 2019 with a two-track cooperation – political, and security on one track and economy and investment on the other track.
The Green Strategic Partnership with Denmark acknowledges, emphatically, the universal nature of climate change and global efforts and responsibilities in keeping temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The principal aim of such ‘green partnership’ is not only to advance political cooperation but to expand economic relations and green growth. It reinforces India’s fight against climate change and its desire to partner with other like-minded countries to implement the ambitious Paris Agreement in 2015 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In the last six years, India has taken leadership in framing new climate mitigation and adaptation mechanisms. For example, in setting up the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and anchoring the first summit in New Delhi in 2018.
The ISA is not only an expression of India’s global outreach to fight climate change through cost-effective renewable energy but equally a positioning of its global power status that is benign, rule-based and creates opportunities for wider diplomatic engagement on crucial development issues. Similarly, India has taken a strong lead in reaffirming its commitment to the cause of Disaster Risk Reduction.
Denmark has a long tradition in setting ambitious climate actions and considers energy and climate policy together when deciding socio-economic objectives. With a history of political stability, consensus-based decisions and a long-term goal to become independent of fossil fuels by 2050, Denmark has been able to bring out tough climate-change mitigation measures by encouraging renewable energy and energy efficiency with an overall aim of meeting half of its energy demand through renewable by 2030.
India’s renewable energy path is equally robust. It is aims to attain 175 GW by 2022 – 100 GW from solar, 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from biomass and 5 GW from hydro. The principal objective is to advance economic development by using sustainable energy and at the same time ensuring access to affordable and reliable energy for its people. Resultantly, India has with its policies and attractive foreign investment positioned itself as the foremost country offering favourable renewable energy markets. As part of its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, India plans to reduce its carbon emission intensity (emission per unit of GDP) by 33-35 per cent from 2005 levels over the next 15 years. Simultaneously it has set a target of producing 40 per cent of its installed electricity capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. The renewable energy targets will play a significant role in the energy transition from coal-based power generation.
Working in close collaboration towards a path of energy transition, green growth and sustainable development the two prime minister in a joint statement “confirmed the close partnership in addressing global challenges and solutions on green energy transition and climate change. The Strategic Sector Cooperation on offshore wind and renewable energy, as well as the India-Denmark Energy Partnership (INDEP) on capacity building, knowledge-sharing and technology transfer on wind energy; energy modeling and integration of renewable energy illustrate the shared commitment to address some of the common global challenges on the path towards global energy transition, green growth and sustainable development. The two sides envisage the energy partnership to be further strengthened over the coming years.”
The Denmark-India partnership, what prime minister described as ‘Denmark has the skills and India the scale’, comes at a time when the Scandinavian country has proposed investing 10 billion Danish crowns (USD 1.58 billion) in new technologies until 2025.
In an important statement while addressing the Danish Parliament in October 2020, Mette Frederiksen said, “Denmark must be a showcase for the world. But no one will follow us if our path is expensive, unmanageable and socially unjust,” Figures suggest that there are over 140 Danish companies in India employing almost one lakh workers and contributing to designing infrastructure projects. Indians equally have a noticeable footprint in Denmark’s IT sector. Other outcomes of the Green Partnership relate to promoting science, technology and innovation through a strong public-private partnership in efforts to search for green solutions in areas of energy, water and bio-resources. Such bilateral green partnership also has the potential to bolster the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), in which both Denmark and India are members, and collectively forge climate cooperation and green transformation.
An important feature of the partnership is the cooperation on Arctic. India of late has been advancing its interest in polar science as well as sustainable use of energy resources in the Arctic region through bilateral relations with Arctic countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. India is among few countries that have a permanent research station (Himadri) in the Svalbard archipelago where polar research is conducted by scientist from around the globe.
It became an observer member in the Arctic Council in 2013 and was re-elected in 2019. Being a developing country with high levels of vulnerability to the impact of climate change, India is committed to understanding the scientific processes behind climate events. Moreover, polar research can also be crucial to India’s management of the Himalayas which requires a comprehensive study of glaciology and atmospheric science.
India-Denmark Green Strategic Partnership is a new-age diplomacy where climate risks are integrated into foreign policy agendas opening new spaces for convergence and interactions.
The partnership is a sincere effort that draws upon partners’ knowledge and expertise to promote solution-driven approaches to climate action.
(The writer is a senior climate and environment expert and Fellow at IDSA. The views expressed are his own.)
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