This article evaluates the climate action commitments that countries have taken up during the recently concluded Climate Change Summit.
Just a few weeks back, the 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention was held at Glasgow in the United Kingdom, and the participating countries have taken up several new commitments and pledges. So this article gives you an opportunity to evaluate these commitments in detail and also to understand the article’s argument that as far as the new commitments are concerned, a clear divide has again emerged between the global south and the global north.
See, in geopolitics and international relations where we use the terms global south and global north, it essentially refers to developing countries and least developed countries and the developed nations respectively. When it comes to climate action, developing countries like India and even the least developed countries, are burdened with several challenges and they cannot be expected to fulfil their climate action commitments without the right assistance from the developed north. So in this context, this article calls for a new climate of cooperation between the global south and the global north in order to help the world successfully achieve the new pledges and commitments that were taken up at COP26.
But before we go into the deep, first, let’s understand the new pledges and commitments that were taken up, along with India’s position on these new commitments.
See, as per the climate action goals that have been laid down under the Paris agreement of 2015, the global target is to limit the globally rising temperatures to under 2°C and, if possible to keep it under 1.5°C by the end of this century as compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this target, countries took up voluntary contributions known as INDCs or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.
Now, since it’s believed that these voluntary contributions won’t be enough to achieve the Paris targets, countries have been trying at subsequent climate summits to further raise their ambition by increasing their near-term and long term goals in order to cut and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and arrange for adequate finance for these efforts. So that substantial investments can be made in the relevant areas, especially in developing nations with financial and technical support coming from the developed nations.
So this has been the focus of every climate change summit. The focus is to raise ambition, focus on cutting emissions and raise global finance to help the developing countries and the least developed countries to achieve their climate targets. These measures are expected to help the world achieve the temperature targets as laid down under the Paris Agreement, along with implementing adequate adaptation measures to particularly help the developing nations and the least developed countries to adapt their vulnerable communities against the adverse impact of climate change.
So with these objectives in mind, countries met at COP26 and have adopted four new targets or four new pledges.
This includes a goal to end deforestation, to achieve net-zero emissions within a prescribed deadline, to quit and end the consumption of coal and to cut methane emissions. So these four new targets were the focus area at COP26 and let us also understand what is India’s position on these new commitments.
See, out of these four new targets, India has agreed to take up just one that is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, but it has refused to sign the agreements related to ending deforestation, quitting the consumption of coal and cutting methane emissions.
See, for ending deforestation at the Glasgow Summit, the Declaration on Forests and Land Use was signed and adopted by more than 141 countries. This declaration aims to conserve and restore forests over the next decade with a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. The declaration also focuses on reversing deforestation by the end of this decade and for achieving these targets, financial support of around 19.2 billion dollars has been worked out. The idea is to protect our forest areas from deforestation and even to reverse deforestation so that forests as natural carbon sinks can help in removing the excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are directly contributing to global warming.
The list of countries that have signed this declaration includes major countries and large emitters such as the United States, several European countries and as well as Russia and Brazil. Even China, the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has signed on to the declaration. But however, India, the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has opted to stay out of this declaration.
Phasing out coal
The next pledge is with regard to phasing out coal. During the Glasgow summit, the Coal to Clean Power Transition Agreement was signed under which 40 countries have agreed to phase out coal consumption, whereas 23 countries have agreed to stop constructing and issuing permits for new coal power plants. Under this agreement, even major international banks and financial institutions have committed to ending international public financing of coal power projects by the end of this year. But however, some of the world’s largest producers and consumers of coal, such as China, India, the U.S. and Australia have not signed on to this agreement, as these countries still heavily rely upon coal-based energy.
In the case of India, for example, nearly 60% of our electricity comes from coal-based sources, and hence India is not in an immediate position to phase out coal because committing to such an immediate transition will incur a huge socio-economic cost on developing countries like India.
The list includes the top consumers and producers of coal and major emitters like the U.S, China, India, Australia and the others have refused to sign on to this agreement. Whereas more than 40 countries depicted in the map over here have agreed to phase out coal from their energy basket.
Then the third agreement deals with reducing methane emissions. The Glasgow summit came out with a global methane pledge, which aims to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of this decade. See, methane is considered one of the most potent greenhouse gases because of its high global warming potential. It has a higher potency to trap more heat in the atmosphere than even carbon dioxide, and hence several countries are pledging to bring down their methane emissions. But the top three emitters of methane that is China, Russia and India have not signed this pledge because adopting this commitment will have economic consequences across several industries and as well as over the agriculture sector, which are all responsible for methane emissions.
Then finally, coming to net zero-emission targets, more than 137 countries have committed to net-zero targets, but developed countries such as the U.S., Canada and countries of Europe have taken up an earlier deadline, and they have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Then top emitters like China have set a target of 2060 to achieve net-zero emissions. India is the third-largest emitter, was under tremendous pressure from these countries to also declare a net-zero emission target and accordingly, India has taken up this target but with a longer deadline of 2070.
Is India isn’t doing enough to combat climate change?
So as you can see, out of the four new targets that were taken up at COP26, India has agreed to take up only one target (i.e) net-zero emissions that too, with a longer deadline, whereas India has refused to sign on to other three commitments. Now, this doesn’t mean that India isn’t doing enough to combat climate change. In fact, India has been making serious efforts to adopt renewable energy in order to considerably bring down its greenhouse gas emissions.
As far as India’s voluntary targets are concerned under the Paris Agreement, India is one of the few countries which has been serious about adopting renewable energy, and it has even displayed global leadership. To achieve this transition towards renewable forms of energy, India has already built up and installed a capacity of 22.5% out of its total sources of electricity. During the summit, Prime Minister Modi has even enhanced these targets, and India has pledged to have an installed capacity of 500 gigawatts by 2030, coming from renewable sources, along with 50% of its electricity demands being met through non-fossil sources.
When it comes to adopting solar energy, India has displayed global leadership by co-founding the International Solar Alliance along with France, which was launched during the Paris summit of 2015. Today, more than 120 countries have joined the International Solar Alliance, and India is leading global efforts to boost the adoption of solar energy.
Then at the national level, India has launched the National Green Hydrogen Mission to adopt hydrogen fuel as a cleaner alternative in order to move away from carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Then India also joined the Glasgow breakthrough agenda, along with 35 other countries, which aims to promote the adoption of clean energy in order to make renewable forms of energy more affordable.
India’s upcoming challenges in achieving climate targets
Despite these appreciable efforts being taken up by India in the field of renewable energy, a lot more needs to be done in order to help India achieve its ambitious targets. But however, unlike the developed nations of the global north, India is a developing country of the global south faces several unique challenges.
As India is home to the second-largest population in the world, it’s not easy for a country like India to meet its consumption needs, and this consumption demand is only going to go up as India is all set to become the world’s most populous nation.
Then upon that, the clean and renewable energy options are very limited and this further restricts India’s plans to diversify its renewable sources.
Finally, to carry out any such large scale transition towards cleaner and renewable forms of energy, India would require the latest technology, along with massive financial support, to achieve this transition.
A recent report has already estimated that if India aims to achieve its target of 175 gigawatts of renewable power by the year 2022, then it will require investments to the tune of 2.61 trillion dollars, which is no doubt very challenging to arrange for a developing country like India.
See, for top emitters like U.S and China, it’s much easier to achieve the transition as they are heavily relying upon nuclear power to scale down their dependency on fossil fuels. Even though India has its own nuclear ambitions, it can’t match up to the US or China in the nuclear domain because it faces a huge resource constraint with regard to nuclear materials as India is still not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Then for smaller developed countries of Europe like Iceland and Norway, it’s much easier to achieve a 100% transition towards clean and renewable forms of energy because of their small population and the limited consumption demand of these countries. For these small developed nations, just one source of renewable energy, such as hydropower or solar power or geothermal energy is sufficient to meet the consumption needs of their small population, and hence it’s much easier for them to achieve a 100% transition. But for a large and populous country like India, which is still struggling with its developmental needs, achieving such a transition through one single source is not possible. So India will have to rely upon different forms of renewable energy, and this transition will require massive investments in technology, thereby raising challenges with regard to finance.
In the current economic context, India will find it very difficult to make these investments because of the ongoing structural slowdown in the economy since 2016, which has been further amplified by the impact of the pandemic. So this struggle is not just limited to developing countries like India, but it is also shared by many other developing nations and especially by least developed countries.
It is in this context that we can say that the global south requires more support from the global north in line with the principle of CBDR. CBDR stands for Common But Differentiated Responsibilities. This was the core principle of the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997, which was the first key agreement under the Climate Change Summit. This principle provides for climate justice, as it mandates the developed countries to do more in assisting the developing nations and underdeveloped nations as a part of their historical responsibilities.
In line with this principle, the Global North should have committed to provide climate finance and even assisting developing nations and smaller countries with technology so that they could implement their transition and adaptation measures. As part of this climate finance, the developed nations should have committed to provide 400 billion dollars every year to the global south so that they could help out the developing and underdeveloped nations to achieve their climate action targets.
Hence, developing economies like India faced several unique challenges with regard to climate action, and hence they require the support of the developed north. So a new climate of cooperation is needed to help the developing and underdeveloped countries achieve their COP26 pledges.