Did India just save the World?

Frankly, it was inevitable. Once the celebrations were done, the knives would be out. So, when the celebration and congratulations over the acceptance of Climate Change Draft at Paris ended, one could hear some voices of despair and distraught terming the deal a failure. Dubbed as the Paris Agreement, the new deal had the countries agree to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and also make efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. It is touted as the last big heave-ho by the mankind to save the planet from absolute disaster.paris 1

The delegates present at the convention hailed the treaty as path-breaking and monumental, joyously proclaiming it the biggest after the Apollo 11 Landings. Meanwhile, as the text of the final draft spread, experts and analysts started raising their doubts about the value of the deal, its implication and its woefulness in addressing the needs of climate change.

The biggest charge against the deal was that it was unambitious and that it would only increase the vigil on emerging industrialized economies, like India. Even the Environment minister Prakash Javadekar who was leading India’s delegation, seemed a bit circumspect when he said: “the Paris Agreement does not put us on the path to prevent temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and the actions of developed countries are far below their historical responsibilities and fair share. While give-and-take is normal in negotiations, we are of the opinion that the agreement could have been more ambitious. We have in the spirit of compromise agreed on a number of phrases in the agreement. I hope that Paris will mark the new beginning, where commitments made will be fulfilled.”

But what everyone forgets that before Paris came Durban, Doha, Cancun and Copenhagen. Back in 2009, while pursuing an ambitious, all encompassing treaty in Copenhagen, the whole process had fallen in shambles. That year, a block of ‘developing nations’, namely China, India, Brazil and South Africa, had stalled the process in the name of differentiation and setting targets. What came out in the form of the Copenhagen Accord was a rather mild and civil agreement that was full of pleasant platitudes.

Relatively speaking, compared to Copenhagen, Paris is a resounding success, because at least we have the treaty agreed by that is agreed by most of the nations on the planet. And while there are plenty of reasons why Copenhagen had failed and Paris succeeded, but one big factor that was different this year was the manner in which India swung around to see the deal through.

Past Imperfect
Ever since the Bali Action Plan had been adopted in 2007, India had more or less assumed the role of enfant terrible‘ on the environment space. Driven largely by rather absurd policies and priorities, India seemed to play more like a ‘Filibuster’ in the US Congress, whose only objective is to stall the passage of bills through talking endlessly.

For the past many years, India had talking about the economics rather than the environment. The needs of millions of poor always scored over the need to secure a better planet, according to the Indian administration. This point was the bulwark behind India’s climate policy.

Raising the issue of the per capita emissions and combining it with the talk of growth and development, India has claimed the right to pollute under the banner of climate commons‘. To be honest the real issue lies with the way power is generated in India, with over 50% done through by burning of coal, any significant movement on the climate front is impeded by the fact.

Little wonder then that a thermal India is inherently wary and reluctant to signing up on any kind of bondage that entails CO2 emission cuts. That was the India that we saw for a long long time, and that was a India every environmentalist hated.

So what changed this round? How come the Indian delegation was not trying to stall the things? Crying justice and all that? Well, there is a long answer and a short one to it. The long is climate impact and the short one is Narendra Modi.

Rise of Global India

One of the anecdotes behind striking of the climate deal is how US President Barrack Obama called up PM Modi personally, a day earlier seeking his support to the treaty. Meanwhile, even French President Francois Hollande had a detailed discussion with PM Modi on the final draft. One of the big victories of the current PM Narendra Modi has been on the foreign policy front. Based on Modi’s constant travelling and personal connect with world leaders, India has yet again emerged on the global scene after a long time. Coupled with the fact, that in shutterstock_349594472uncertain times, Indian economy is still growing at a respectable rate (around 7%) and there is a stable government at helm, only enhances Modi’s clout.

This flip side of the bon-homie is that India can no longer crib and cry like a kindergarten kid at a buffet party complaining over unjust deserts. A country that not only aspires for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but is also actively lobbying for it, carries much responsibility on the shoulder. Thus, at the conference when two of the major countries, namely Brazil and South Africa, affirmed their support for the global deal, India could no longer be at the sidelines and feign ignorance. With great powers (or aspirations to it) comes great responsibilities, and India has to now behave much responsibly. Which BTW, it did.

Under the Right Climate

It is said that a great story is always composed of many small things. Don’t forget that the grandest picture is created from micro brushes, an inch by inch. Similarly for the Paris Accord to get through, there were many small things that worked on the way, right from international ones to domestic ones. Here’s are some of the reasons that played their part in ensuring the deal through.

First, let’s start with the overall economic scenario around the world. Starting with the current oil issue, the big petrol companies and the Oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Russia have lost much clout in the wake of the price crash. As the Brent Crude has settled for the first time around $40 a barrel, these oily corporates and governments are caught in a quandary. They are unable to formulate a strategy to beat the push against renewables. Secondly, China, one of the biggest polluter too is facing crisis of its own. The air in Beijing is becoming almost unbreathable, while it growth slows down. It’s push for renewables is not part of some altruistic belief of doing good, but pure economics. As the biggest producer of PV, and other renewable parts, it knows that a global shift for clean energy will mean green money in its coffers. No wonder it is supporting the deal much, by announcing reductions in its emissions.

ModiObamaClimateTalks640Finally, in all this, the biggest polluter on the globe and also the most obdurate of the lot is also undergoing a transition of sorts.  Barrack Obama is now on the last leg of his Presidency in the US, and he wants to leave with a legacy that deems him deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize that he won so early in his tenure (if not an sculpture at Mt. Rushmore). Result, he has been keen and eager to push the deal through, using both push and pull tactics to get his way.

Coming back to India, in the light of El Nino which resulted in monsoon failure, the categorising of Delhi as the worst polluted (air) city in the world and then the floods in Chennai, the general public at large is now attuned to the message of climate change.  So, when PM Modi in his monthly radio broadcast touched upon the issue of climate change, not many were surprised. Suffering from vagaries of nature, the Indian populace will be more welcoming to any actions undertaken to offset the impact. If ever there was a time, when India could make moves on the climate front, this was now.

Little wonder, all these individual things came together, and created a scenario where the passing of the climate bill became a reality, and not merely some fantastical stuff.

You Give to Take

To be honest, India played its card pretty well at the global summit. While it mounted a campaign for #ClimateJustice through social media and other digital medium, at the same time, PM Modi was making the right moves in terms of proactive measures. An Indian pavilion was put up in Paris that showcased India’s ancient record in terms of environmental conservation. And then PM Modi also launched a Solar Alliance that spans 100 countries lying in the Tropics to promote solar energy.

In fact, the current Modi Government has undertaken very ambitious targets when it comes to renewable energy. According to the nationally determined contributions (INDCs), India has said that it aims to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% by 2030 from 2005 levels, and achieve 40% of its cumulative electric power of around 350GW installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources, mainly renewable power. And create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through extra forest and tree cover by 2030. This big push is a reflection of India’s commitment to saving the planet.

In the bargain, India had to water down on its stance of “developed countries” taking the historical blame for causing climate change. One of the critical issues that bothered was India’s ability to burn coal for power, which it ensured was not impeded. In fact, India refuses an emissions cap and plans to double its coal output over the next decade. This position was reaffirmed in the accord.

As things stand now, developed countries should “continue taking the lead” by undertaking absolute emission reduction targets, while developing countries should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts. Developing countries are also expected to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances. The agreement requests countries that have set a target with time-frame of up to 2030 “to communicate or update by 2020 these contributions and to do so every five years thereafter”.

In the end, Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International director, summed up the whole event, by stating that, “today the human race has joined in a common cause, but it’s what happens after this conference that really matters. The Paris Agreement is only one step on long a road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress. This deal alone won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”

Well, the world can heave a sigh of climate relief, because India decided not to play truant this time round. And while the accolades may be taken by many, we all are aware that when there is an obstinate elephant in the room, the only conclusion is broken chairs and crying folks. India for once not an elephant, but more like a peacock that preened and presented itself well. For Paris, the world really owes this one to India.

Shashwat DC (@shashwatdc)


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