Paris promised a better, cleaner world, time to deliver it now

India should push for a new economic development model premised on low carbon emissions, climate resilience, and sustainable and inclusive pathways

So much of our socalled mental life is about the lives we are not living, the lives we are missing out on, the lives we could be leading but for some reason are not. What we fantasise about, what we long for, are the experiences, the things and the people that are absent. And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are. Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in how we think of loves that never were — “the one that got away” implies that the getting away was merely a product of probability and had the odds turned out differently, the person who “got away” would have been The One. Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken.

 A very crucial road not taken this year was the annual UN Conference of Parties (COP) summit on climate change. It was meant to take place in Glasgow in November, but it’s been postponed until next year.

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) would have attracted some 30,000 participants. Simply put, it’s a meeting of world leaders to talk about climate change and what nations are planning to do to tackle it. The decision to delay was unavoidable: a COP needs representatives of all countries to be present, which would not have been possible if those countries were at different stages of coronavirus transmission and lockdowns.

Unfortunately, this means that we are missing out on the impetus that COPs typically bring to global action. COP26 was badged as the COP of ambition, challenging countries to increase their commitments to emissions reductions and to helping developing countries as they adapt to the effects of climate change on their vulnerable populations.

Yet all may not be lost. Despite the delay until next year, signatories of the Paris Agreement are still expected to submit their new or updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs), showing increased ambitions on meeting climate goals, by the end of this year.

 In addition, with the coronavirus outbreak, governments will spend a lot of money on their countries to get them up and running again. The hope is that the timing could work really well for COP26 — because it’s a real opportunity for governments like India to spend that money on building out the right way, with a focus on a sustainable development pathway, to protect the planet and her people.

So what at first seems like a missed opportunity, may have some positive outcomes. Moving the summit back improves the likelihood of a strong outcome and ensuring that the world is put on a path to tackle the climate crisis, with India leading from the front.

COP26…will we or won’t we?

India is unlikely to witness a dramatic shift in stance in the run up to COP26 next year. Last year, in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, India did come out and say it would increase its climate pledges, or NDCs, under the Paris agreement — but gave no timeline for when it would do this.

 A big disagreement at COP25 in Madrid last year was whether developing countries were required to submit new NDCs. India’s stance has always been that developed countries had not met previous (particularly Kyoto-era) targets and had not transferred the level of finance they had promised to developing countries in Paris.

Essentially, India may now feel that they do not have to upgrade their climate targets in 2020 per se. According to India, there is a simple solution: Developed countries can take the lead on announcing their 2020 NDCs. That is, they must equitably upgrade their own level of ambition in line with the 1.5 degree Celsius target, as well as commit to financing climate ambition in the developing world.

To this last point, Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar has mentioned repeatedly that the BASIC countries — Brazil, South Africa, India and China — had impressed upon developed countries at the COP25 meet in Madrid to pay developing countries funds to the tune of $1 trillion, which was due over the past 10 years. Only 0.2 per cent of this has actually been given out. So that demand is likely to come up again at COP26 before we see India ratcheting up commitments.

India believes very strongly that the BASIC group of countries can play an important role in making all the countries accept the Paris agreement in letter and spirit — so this will likely continue to be a focused dialogue going into COP26.

G20: Our moment in history

India will assume the G20 presidentship in 2022 when the country celebrates its 75th year of Independence and India is actively preparing for this as we speak. Suresh Prabhu, the country’s Sherpa to the G20, is keen to bring climate change to the top of the agenda. He has repeatedly stated that India strongly believes that climate change is a reality, the biggest threat to humanity and the country is focusing on clean and renewable energy to generate power.

In order to achieve its objectives, the government will have to work together with think tanks, business and other civil society organisations to develop an agenda for 2022. This is a very significant development and opportunity to renew the emphasis on climate change and to position India as a leader in the space. India is a growing emerging economy, but it leads no global economic forums. So this is going to be a major moment for us. Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan once said, “Those who hold the pen, write the rules.”; expect India to see this as a major moment to write some rules, especially in its 75th year of Independence.

 WHO: A health & climate crisis

India has become the chairperson of the WHO Executive Board this month amid the Covid-19 crisis. India will also be a member of the programme budget and administration committee, replacing Indonesia. The hope here is that climate and health linkages will be made more prominent as a result. Again, this is an opportunity to further our work as a global climate community and provide India those examples — to help lead the world on how climate and health are intricately linked.

Solar Alliance: India’s great hope

According to news reports, India is looking to expedite the International Solar Alliance’s (ISA) playbook of setting up a World Solar Bank (WSB), which may require a total equity capital of $10 billion and a paid-up capital of $2 billion. The plan being explored at the top levels of government may involve the bank being headquartered here, and comes in the backdrop of Beijing taking the lead in creating Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB).

India may become the lead member by taking a 30% stake in WSB, requiring a $3 billion commitment. ISA’s strategic goal includes mobilising $1 trillion and reducing the cost of finance and technology. In his address to the nation on 12 May during the ongoing pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the “International Solar Alliance is India’s gift against global warming.”

In addition, India has come up with a ‘One Sun One World One Grid’ (OSOWOG) initiative to set up a framework for facilitating global cooperation in this regard, aimed at building a global ecosystem of interconnected renewable energy resources that can be seamlessly shared. The idea is to utilise solar power when the sun is not shining in other parts of the world by building a common transmission system. The Union Ministry of New and Renewable energy (MNRE), through this initiative, plans to build global consensus about sharing solar resources among more than 140 countries of West Asia and South-East Asia. At a later stage, the project envisages getting this grid interconnected with the African power pools.

Finally, India has repeatedly called for global cooperation in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Modi is trying to do two heavy lifts at once: positioning India as a leader in crafting global responses to Covid-19 even while attempting to combat it at home, an almost Sisyphean quest for global cooperation.

 So the good news is: India is most certainly reaching out. This is likely to have major ramifications for how India chooses to lead on climate change — via international coordination will be a central theme.

 As an influential member of several leading world forums, India has an opportunity to push for a new economic development model premised on low carbon emissions, climate resilience, and sustainable and inclusive pathways, and seek international cooperation in addressing the deeply embedded vulnerabilities of economies to future risks. Hopefully, this is a message India can present to the world — on how stronger climate actions could be successfully aligned with development imperatives.

 The paradox of missing out and not getting the things we want, is that we come to know ourselves better and what matters to us, in their absence.

We know what we need to strive for.

Shloka Nath is Head, Sustainability and Special Projects, Tata Trusts, and Executive Director, India Climate Collaborative. Copy edited: Ambika Hiranandani