The South Asia Channel

Paris Climate Change Summit: India’s Moment to Shine

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference is India's moment to play its role on the global stage and Modi might be the right man to make it happen.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) attends a working session on the Global Economy during the G20 summit in Antalya, on November 15, 2015. Leaders from the world's top 20 industrial powers meet in Turkey from November 15 seeking to overcome differences on a range of issues including the Syria conflict, the refugee crisis and climate change. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) attends a working session on the Global Economy during the G20 summit in Antalya, on November 15, 2015. Leaders from the world's top 20 industrial powers meet in Turkey from November 15 seeking to overcome differences on a range of issues including the Syria conflict, the refugee crisis and climate change. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Modi government’s performance has been debated on many counts since it came to power almost a year and a half ago. While there has been a lot of emphasis on the various schemes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proposed (Jan Dhan Yojana and Swatch Bharat, to name a few), his government’s role in the upcoming climate summit in Paris has been considerably underplayed. One of the crucial barometers for success on the international stage for this government will be to see how it navigates the complex contours of the summit in Paris where India is a significant stakeholder.

Climate change has plagued the world for decades now, and it is time to have a comprehensive international agreement to protect the planet. There was a lot of optimism since the precursor to the Paris summit saw a landmark emissions agreement between the United States and China. While the Chinese agreed to peak emissions by around 2030 and to cap their annual coal consumption through 2020, the Americans committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Many observers felt the December 2014 Lima climate talks were just kicking the can down the road and were not a success. However, some did feel that it brought the countries together on the path of taking responsibility for climate change.

The political equations behind a global climate change regime are significantly complex and thus not much has transpired in terms of tangible outcomes since the Kyoto Summit. India’s role in climate summits has always been reflective of the view of developing countries. Prior to the summit in Lima, India’s stance was unequivocal on the issue of emissions — it was not going to agree to any binding agreement, considering India’s per capita carbon emissions were 1.7 metric tons in 2010 and remained below the global average of 5 metric tons. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), India was at the bottom for per capita emissions among the top 10 emitters, with average per capita emissions of around 1.92 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, while that of Canada was 24.6 tonnes, the United States 19.6 tonnes, Russia 15.3 tonnes, and China 7.69 tonnes in 2011. In March of this year, India was not willing to agree to the U.N.’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), which wanted countries to commit to a cap on emissions (though they have since updated their stance with a new commitment on INDC, which includes reducing India’s emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 as well as transitioning to 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity to transition to non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030; emissions intensity is the measure of the rate of converting carbon emissions to GDP). The world now views India’s role to be crucial for the Paris summit deal to go through since India is now the third largest emitter after China and the United States.

One of the biggest sparks of hope in this regard is the positive track-record of Modi. He has a stellar track record in promoting renewable energy in Gujarat over his tenure as the chief minister for 12 years. Under his leadership, Gujarat built one of Asia’s largest solar parks and was one of the pioneers in commercializing solar power throughout a state in India. His views on climate change as a subject and India’s track record are at odds with each other. India had agreed for the first time at the 2010 Cancun summit to have voluntary cuts on emissions and after Modi came to power, during the Lima summit in Peru, India took a more aggressive stance arguing the need for development for poorer countries.

It is expected that in the Paris summit, India will push for the “climate justice” argument as promoted by Modi. India’s INDC targets make clear its commitment to clean energy. In addition, the country has also committed to improving its emissions intensity per unit GDP from 33 to 35 percent by 2030; and to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide through additional tree cover. The key contentious issues between India and the United States would be on the valuation for “adaptation” — the costs of adaptation that the developed countries need to pay developing countries such as India to forego their development initiatives using non renewable means. India estimates it might need up to $206 billion for itself alone from 2015-2030.

Considering the clout that Modi has in the international community from his global endeavors, this is his biggest opportunity among world leaders to be the catalyst for this landmark agreement. Probably for the first time India can take a leading role in driving the change. Modi’s penchant for climate change could be the push that India needs to attain the next level and his relationship with Barack Obama could provide the much needed push for the climate talks to take it to a substantially progressive level.

This would constitute as symbolic international leadership and it can be done in the following steps. First, Modi needs to ensure that the Americans and Chinese are on the same page on key issues related to emission controls and respective pledges a few weeks before the summit; for this he will have to use his proximity to both Obama and the Chinese leadership. A core goal should be to transfer the verbal commitments to on-paper demands considering that reports suggest that the Americans might not keep to their $100 billion pledge from the last summit. In addition, this process could also raise the prospects of an Indo-Chinese-American agreement prior to the summit. Second, the Indian negotiators should push the United States on the definition of INDC targets — the developing nations want the developed countries to include mitigation (interventions to reduce the sources, adaptation financing as well as technical assistance available whereas the United States wants the scope to be narrowed down to mitigation alone). The two countries could reasonably strike a bargain and allow two of the three variables here, so that it is acceptable to both the developed and developing countries. Third, the influence of the Asian bloc could be leveraged to the maximum especially aligning with other initiatives such as the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which are rivaling global institutions. These factors could propel the summit to be a place where there can be substantive dialogue and a coherent approach to ensuring that the world sees a climate deal at last.

To sum up, for the summit to be a success, someone has to have vision and leadership that can drive the process. India, being a key player, needs to execute its vision, keeping its own objectives on the table yet providing leadership that can transform the global narrative. In this the Indian prime minister can be the appropriate man to lead the charge considering his rapport with global leaders. Modi’s best opportunity to put India on the global decision-making map is right at the Paris summit. Will his leadership inspire his negotiators as well as provide a breakthrough in the summit? Only the outcome of the Paris climate summit 2015 will tell.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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