India’s climate plans pointer to green summit differences

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India has announced its climate change goals for the period 2021 to 2030. Besides setting out New Delhi’s overall green energy policies, it also acts as a template for negotiations at the coming Paris climate summit.

The question that negotiators will ask is whether the gap between India’s position and that of the West is large enough to result in a failed summit.

The potential for a rupture is there. India’s declared Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is also a pointer to the areas of friction.

One is the question of international assistance, both in terms of money and technology, for the climate change targets of developing countries. If India insists that its targets are conditional on such assistance, talks will be in trouble. Most Western countries have little or no money. Most green technology is in private hands.

New Delhi, to some degree, has left this to the West. It is prepared to have 40% of its installed electricity production come from renewable sources “with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund.”

But India will continue to push for such assistance, at least as down payment on the promised $ 100 billion GCF, for the least developed countries. Taking such a position, says former climate change negotiator Shyam Saran, helps build support among LDCs and other developing countries for the even more important position of embedding certain principles in climate talks.

Says Saran, “Paris is not the endgame. You want to put in a framework for future INDCs and targets, what each country has to do in the climate change arena. You need to make sure the template does not constrain your own development space.

This leads to a second area of friction: maintaining principles like “common but differentiated responsibility,” equity and the importance of non-mitigation climate strategies. India insists on this to ensure the West cannot impose a “one size fits all” template on poor and rich countries alike. This would put an excessive economic burden on the poor.

Already in the runup to Paris, the developed countries have sought to exclude such principles from the core agenda of the talks. India and like-minded countries will fight hard to keep these principles in the agreement. One view is that US President Barack Obama, determined to make climate change part of his legacy, will be prepared to let this go. French President Francois Hollande, the host of the summit, similarly wants to avoid a breakdown. Their urgency should work in India’s favour.

There are other areas of contention. For example, the degree of monitoring and review of each government’s fulfilment of its target. Here at least even the West is divided. The European Union wants a tight monitoring policy, but the US backs India and China for a lighter touch. Arunabha Ghosh of the Council for Environment Energy and Water says, “India could go for a tougher review, as it wants to reach its targets, but differentiated. Thus India could be reviewed every four years, as opposed to two years for wealthier states.”

What is the most positive aspect working towards a successful Paris agreement is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s internationally recognized passion for climate change. His meetings with Obama and other world leaders on green energy have gone down well. As an advisor to the US climate team noted, “The US isn’t seeking something in terms of emission reduction targets that is fundamentally different from India’s existing domestic targets.”

Thus India’s promise to reduce its economy’s carbon emissions intensity by 33 to 35% by 2030 meets the benchmark set by most other countries – but is already built into New Delhi’s present policies. India doesn’t have to do anything more to get to this, just implement what it has said it will do.

The hope is also that India’s relatively robust climate commitments will deflect any attempt at “naming and shaming “ by the West. This, New Delhi has already communicated, could be a deal-breaker by rousing nationalist passions at home.

India’s commitments seem sufficient to immunise it against claims by other countries that it has not done enough for the planet. There will be sparring about intellectual property, money and principles: that is standard in such negotiations, but so far they do not look enough to threaten the summit.

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