India Seeks to Become Global Leader in Climate Politics

  • Published on October 31st, 2009

The world has been talking about the proactive measures announced by China in order to reduce its carbon emissions, increase renewable energy use and improve energy efficiency. But its neighbor, India, too is now is in a remarkable transition from an environmental underdog one who projected itself as a weak and helpless sufferer of the natural calamities that the changing climate threatens to bring in the future.

With changing international scenarios the domestic policies of India changed as well. With the change in Washington, many developing countries changed their stance and announced slew of proactive measures which they had fiercely opposed in the past. Even though they all are still opposed to mandatory emission reduction targets they have announced forest conservation plans as well as massive renewable energy projects.

Efforts to Dodge Pressure

India was opposed to any such measures until, as late as, July-August. With Copenhagen talks nearing there was tremendous pressure on all parties to discuss and resolve core issues. India continued to argue against mandatory emission reductions saying that the current dismal global environment scenario is the resultant of aggressive industrial expansion of the Western countries which now must fulfill their historical responsibility by agreeing to bold emission reduction targets.

India got support from the IPCC and World Bank which noted that developing countries were not yet ready to shoulder the economic and social burdens of mandatory emission targets. The World Bank, in its India specific report, noted that that Indian government’s stance against mandatory emission reductions was justified since any such move would adversely affect its endeavor to eradicate poverty. The report went on to state that in the near future India’s village will see an accelerated electrification drive which more likely to be based on India’s vast coal reserves.

Slowly the Indian government pieced together a comprehensive effort to dodge international pressure to become an active contributor in the next international climate change treaty.

  • In June, the Indian government came out with a study which noted that the country’s forest reserves absorbed 11 percent of the total carbon emissions generated every year. The government announced plans to invest $500 million for afforestation and conservation projects.
  • Earlier in the year, the government announced plans to introduce feed in tariff schemes for urban cities. Pilot projects of the same are already underway.
  • Last year, under the National Action Plan on Climate Change it was announced that solar power generation capacity will be increased to a whooping 20,000 MW by 2030 from the current 2 MW.

India’s environment bluntly rejected Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call to consider carbon emission targets. The minister once even challenged the United States to agree to bold emission reduction targets and watch India follow suit.

Policy Shift

All this changed when the Chinese announced that they were ready to consider voluntary sectoral carbon emission targets. The dramatic shift in Chinese policy was the result of their year long negotiations with officials of the Bush and Obama Administrations. For the first time China had agreed to voluntary emission cuts. During Hillary Clinton’s visit to China, various bilateral environment deals were signed.

Following the US-China agreements, Indian and Chinese officials met to discuss the renewed Chinese stance. Although officials from both the sides told media that they stand firm on their previously stated positions the events that followed said a different story.

The Indian environment minister announced that the government would introduce an national emission reduction law aimed at controlling carbon emissions of the top five polluting industries of the country. The bill would be sensitive to the financial aspect of the still expensive emission reduction exercise. The Parliament would have significant jurisdiction over the financials of clean energy projects in order to safe guard the economic interests of the companies and the country. The bill is scheduled to be introduced in the Indian Parliament during the winter session starting in November.

The minister, in an informal letter to the Prime Minister, wrote that India should play the role of a deal maker and not a deal breaker. He added that by accepting greater responsibility India would gain strategic leverage at the international forums possibly paving way for India’s successful bid for an place in the UN Security Council. He argued for greater monitoring and reporting of the national mitigation measures.

The minister also wrote that India needs to shed its image of a deal breaker and should play the role of pioneer helping to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries. He advocated for nationally financed proactive mitigation measures and helping poor countries adapt to the changing climate and get access to clean technology.

India, by playing a bigger role in global climate politics, also aims at reaping other strategic and diplomatic fruits. By playing a constructive role in finalizing the climate treaty India would gain greater standing in the international arena. Recently, the President of Maldives said that even the absence of an international climate deal India should step up and set an example for the rest of the world.

There has been a colossal change in India’s climate policy. It seems that India has realized the benefits of a constructive and proactive approach. By adopting emission reduction targets India would be getting billions of dollars in foreign investment essential for a sustainable economic growth. Reducing emissions at this stage, with some financial and technical help from the developed countries is much more beneficial as compared to taking drastic and expensive measures in the future.

India is one of the top five polluting countries in the world and as an emerging economy whose energy consumption levels would increase dramatically over the next few decades it is important that it recognizes its responsibilities. India can play a major role helping the poor countries get access to clean technology. India has always championed the cause of the weak and diplomatically under-privileged countries by giving them support at international forums. It is important the a country like India steps up and accepts greater responsibilities in order to pursue a globally sustainable effort to reduce carbon emissions and move clean energy based systems.

Photo: London Summit (Creative Commons)

The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.

About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.