Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

India’s stellar role at the COP26 Glasgow Summit

 PM: India’s voice should be heard as the voice of the developing countries

Days of hard work and patience have resulted into the  ambitious Glasgow Pact that gives a call on all participants of  the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change to review  upward their commitments by the end of 2022 and align them, if necessary, to the agreement’s targets. The targets include keeping global warming under +2°C and, if possible, under +1.5°C, while taking national circumstances into consideration.

And to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, more than 7000 billion ton of CO2 will have to be removed from the atmosphere by 2100, according to a recent report by The Economist.

India took a very clear and strong stand to make the world body agree to its terms. First, the Prime Minister made a forceful appeal that while India was all for doing everything required for a clean and safer Earth, the developed nations too should have a heart for the developing countries like India. And then, secondly, India’s Environment Minister, Bhupender Yadav, spoke sharply and pointedly, on a later day, on India’s rights and duties on pollution.

The following are some of the major take-aways from the PM’s address:

  1. That India had the right to raise the issues faced by the developing nations, and that its voice should be heard.
  2. That India is the only nation that stood by and acted on the Paris Agreement.
  3. That India is committed to working towards a ‘Net zero’ target in a manner that does not create any problem for its rapidly-growing economy.
  4.  That India initiated the initiative of International Solar Alliance.
  5. That India wanted the developed nations to interact and stand with unity with the poor and the developing nations.
  6. That India stood for the happiness for all, and summits on environment should reflect the sentiments and rights of all the nations in a proportionate manner.
  7. That India would take steps on ‘Panchamrit’ (5 solid steps) towards  the ‘Net Zero’ target by 2070.(Explained later in this article)

    Going back to the Glasgow Pact, it is the first-ever United Nations deal to plan to reduce coal, responsible for greenhouse gases with greatly harmful climate impact. Negotiators from nearly 200 countries have okayed the new climate agreement as the COP26 summit in Glasgow concluded after its extra time plenary on Nov 13, 2021, with a deal, which recognises India’s intervention to have in the draft agreement the phrase “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal and fossil fuels.

    The summit’s participating countries, as an essential part of the agreement, also agreed to meet next year to discuss further carbon cuts so that the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could be reached.

    “It is decided and done”, said Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, as he declared the new pact  after marathon talks which had began on Oct 31, 2021.

    “I hope we can leave this conference united, having delivered something significant for people and the planet together as one,” Sharma added with a feeling of happiness and optimism.

    But it was not all that unanimous a decision. Several countries criticised the change on fossil fuels promoted by India, even as Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav asked the participants how one could expect developing nations to make promises about “phasing out” coal and fossil fuel subsidies when they have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication. China too came in under direct attack by the participants as it contributes nearly 30% of the world’s coal smoke. The second biggest polluter is the USA with nearly 15% carbon emission of the world’s total. Compared to these alarming figures, India’s carbon emission is only 7% of the world’s total, and that of Russia is nearly 5%.

    India made an important intervention to express its disappointment over the draft text of the agreement. It said that developing countries like India has coal pollution factor limited to only a small percentage of the world’s total emission. And hence the developed countries are asking for too much in asking countries like India to phase out coal and fossil fuel altogether. India wanted and strongly said that the words ‘phasing out’ should be replaced with ‘phasing down’ so that no crisis of any kind could come up.

    Later, Indian officials clarified that the phrase ‘phase down’ was not put up by India, and that it came from the  US and China statements after the draft pact was discussed. India nevertheless criticised the developed nation for being ‘selfish’ and not looking into the reality and the practicality of the total scenario. All that India wanted was that it can’t go along with the ‘phase out’ demand because it could create many complicated issues. Therefore, India expressed its feelings of unfairness towards the developing world and pointed to a “lack of balance” and urgency around achieving climate finance targets.

    “Mr President (Alok Sharma), thank you for your continued efforts to build consensus. I’m afraid, however, the consensus remained elusive. India stands ready for constructive debate and equitable and just solution in this forum,” the Environment Minister Yadav said.

    The minister pointed out the fact of climate-friendly lifestyles and climate justice, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement, as keys to solving the climate crisis caused by “unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns”. Fossil fuels and their use have enabled parts of the world to attain high levels of wealth and wellbeing, and targeting any particular sector is uncalled for, he asserted.

    India stood firm that every country will arrive at ‘Net Zero’ target as per its own national circumstances, strengths and weaknesses. The developing countries have a right to their fair share of the global carbon budget and are entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels within this scope.

    India asked that under a situation that exists now, how come anyone could expect that developing countries can make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when the  developing countries still have to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication?

    India also raised the social issue of subsidies, and said that subsidies provided the much-needed social security and support to the needy and the poor in the country. India gives subsidies for use of LPG to low-income households. This subsidy has been of great help in almost eliminating biomass burning for cooking and improved health from reduction in indoor air pollution.

    In the end, after days of high-pitched debate, India’s protestations did work, and, among major outcomes of the new deal was an agreement to make efforts to “phase down” the use of coal,  and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and provide targeted support to the poorest and the most vulnerable in line with national circumstances.

    The other deals are accelerating the 2030 emission-cutting targets, increasing funding for developing nations to adapt to climate change by 2025, boosting the agenda on how to pay for loss and damage that climate change inflicts on developing countries, and agreeing to rules on carbon offset markets.

    PM’s call for united interaction

    India’s stand on climate change became very clear when Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his speech with a Mantra that, as he said, has become more necessary today than ever before.  He said: Today is the 21st century, and this mantra has become more important and more relevant. सम्-गच्छ-ध्वम् – That is, let’s move together; सम्-व-दद्वम् – That is, let’s all interact together and सम् वो मनानसि जानताम् Everyone’s minds should also be one.”

    The Prime Minister said that when he had attended the Paris Summit, “it was not my intention to add one promise to the many promises already being made. I came with a concern for humanity. I came as a representative of a culture that gave the message of ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’, which means ‘Happiness for All’. And so, for me the event in Paris was not a summit, it was a sentiment and a commitment. And India was not making those promises to the world, but 125 crore Indians were making those promises to themselves.”

    Modi said that a developing country like India, working to lift millions of people out of poverty, and  working day and night on the ‘Ease of Living’ for its people,  despite being 17 % of the world’s population, whose responsibility has been only 5% in emissions,  it has left no stone unturned to show that it has fulfilled its obligations.”

    He reminded the rich nations that today the whole world believes that India is the only big economy which has delivered in letter and spirit on the Paris commitment.  And that India was making every effort with determination and working very hard to show good results.

    He added that he was at the Glasgow Summit to narrate India’s track record. India’s words were not mere words, they were announcements of a bright future for the future generations. Today, India ranks 4th in the world in installed renewable energy capacity. India’s non-fossil fuel energy has increased by more than 25% in the last 7 years and now it has reached 40% of our energy mix.

    The Prime Minister reminded the world that every year more passengers travelled by Indian Railways than the population of the world. And this huge railway system has set a target of making itself ‘Net Zero’ by 2030.This initiative alone will lead to a reduction of emissions by 60 million ton annually. Similarly, India’s massive LED bulb campaign is reducing emissions by 40 million ton annually. Today, India is working at a faster pace on many such initiatives with a strong will.

    Along with this, India has also given institutional solutions to cooperate with the world at the international level. As a revolutionary step in solar power, India initiated the initiative of International Solar Alliance. India has created a coalition for disaster resilient infrastructure for climate adaptation. This is a sensitive and vital initiative to save millions of lives.

    Modi affirmed that he would like to draw the world’s attention to an important issue: “Today, the world admits that lifestyle has a big role in climate change. So, I propose before you a One-Word Movement. This One-Word , in the context of climate, can become the basic foundation of One World. This word is- LIFE…L, I, F, E, which means Lifestyle For Environment. Today, there is a need for all of us to come together and take Lifestyle For Environment (LIFE) forward as a campaign.”

    The PM said that this could become a mass movement of ‘Environmental Conscious Life Style’. What is needed today is mindful and deliberate utilization, instead of mindless and destructive consumption. Such movements together can set goals that can revolutionize many sectors in diverse areas such as fishing, agriculture, wellness, dietary choices, packaging, housing, hospitality, tourism, clothing, fashion, water management and energy.

    He said that these were the subjects where each one of us has to make conscious choice every day. These choices, if exercised by billions of people daily around the world, will take the fight against climate change billions of steps forward every day. It could become a movement on all grounds like economic, scientific; and on the basis of the experiences of the past century, it can meet every criterion. This is the path of self-realisation, and is the only way to benefit mankind.

    The PM said: “In the midst of this global brainstorming on climate change, on behalf of India, I would like to present five nectar elements, ‘Panchamrit’, to deal with this challenge:

    First: India will take its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030.

    Second: India will meet 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.

    Third: India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion ton from now till 2030.

    Fourth: By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 per cent.

    And fifth: By the year 2070, India will achieve the target of ‘Net Zero’ emission.

    These ‘Panchamrits’ will be an unprecedented contribution of India to climate action, Modi asserted and pointed out that the  promises made till date regarding climate finance have proved to be hollow. “While we all are raising our ambitions on climate action, the world’s ambitions on climate finance cannot remain the same as they were at the time of the Paris Agreement.”

    Today, when India has resolved to move forward with a new commitment and a new energy, the transfer of climate finance and low cost climate technologies has become more important. India expects developed countries to provide climate finance of $1 trillion at the earliest. It is necessary that as we track the progress made in climate mitigation, we should also track climate finance. The proper justice would be that the countries which do not live up to their promises made on climate finance, pressure should be put on them.

    The PM stressed that India was moving forward on the subject of climate with great courage and  ambition. India also understood the suffering of all other developing countries, shared them, and would continue to express their expectations at every level.

    For many developing countries, he said, climate change is looming large over their existence. We have to take big steps today to save the world. This is the need of the hour and this will also prove the relevance of this forum. “I am confident that the decisions taken in Glasgow will save the future of our future generations, giving them the gift of a secure and prosperous life.”

    The PM, to conclude his speech, said that he thought it fit and necessary and his rightful duty to raise the voice of developing countries. And the issues he raised at the summit could very well be the guiding principles for a much better and safer Earth.

    (The writer is a New Delhi-based Editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker. The views are his own.)

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