Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Paris climate summit: what should India do?

India must be prepared with a realistic plan of achieving its energy goals and economic development

Ahead of the climate meet in Paris in December, for the first time in decades, there seems to be hope that this time around the egregious climate spoilers have realized it is time for action; just lip service won’t do.

The US and China have jointly agreed to slash greenhouse gas emissions, speeding up clean-energy development. China is determined to cut down on coal and deploy enough wind and other renewable energy sources for electricity to match the entire electric grid of the US by 2030.

This will be a game-changer at the summit. The decades of stalemate between Washington and Beijing had held back a full blown international treaty. Their new agreement has given rise to new hopes from the summit. When two powerful economies of the world agree on something as critical as climate change, it sends a strong signal about the right to emit carbon.

This aspect of the US-China agreement should jolt India, which has just begun on a path of aggressive economic development and is hankering to become an economic superpower in the next three decades. To be an economic superpower, India must attract foreign investment in its industrial and agricultural sectors, and it should promise 100% power to the engines of economic bulwark.

If India is compelled to agree to carbon cuts, it will have to cut down on using coal energy that is a significant stay in the energy supply in the country. India has already said that it will not cut down carbon emission at the cost of its development, but it will have to promise something in terms of how it will cut down on carbon emission by harnessing alternative forms of energy supply.

India must do its home work on this front and be prepared with a realistic plan of achieving its energy goals and economic development. India and other developing countries that are embarked on a development path can ill afford to argue that the developed countries that have already used petro reserves for their economic development now want to put curbs on developing countries.

Instead, India must take leadership in demanding that developed economies provide climate resilient technologies for economic development that are energy efficient and design a pathway to cut down on petroleum and coal consumption for producing energy. Most developed countries have such technologies and for the good the future generations, they need to step forward to help.

Pricing carbon will be another contentious issue for all, because it will dictate the economic behaviour of the countries in the future. When investors, manufacturers, producers and consumers feel the pinch of the costs of carbon, then one can expect climate friendly investments at a faster rate and scale than any other kind of inducements or sops by governments.

India, which is trying hard to woo global investors, must negotiate the costs of carbon emission right now. India must know that a whopping $2.6 trillion of combined investments are ridding their investment in fossil-based businesses and ventures due to a campaign by an organization called 350.org, championed by the Guardian newspaper. This point must be keenly noted by India as it woos investors.

Global heavyweights like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Germany, California (the world’s 8th largest economy), Citi, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and a couple of oil companies have all endorsed the US-China agreement. This is a fallout of the People’s Climate March organized in New York City in September 2014.

The issue has become so serious that if the parties do not come to an agreement to do something, then there will be no hope after the Paris meet. In fact, the private sector and environmental communities have all come together for the first time to endorse an agreement that will have to be accepted by all. One of the key consensus points in all of these negotiations is that for the good of humanity, roughly two-thirds of the fossil fuel must be left underground in order to ensure that the average temperature of the earth’s surface rises by no more than two or three degrees Celsius.

There is an astonishing global consensus on the science of climate change. Even those environmental groups who challenge the scientific basis of the safety of genetically modified (GM) organisms agree on the scientific consensus around climate change. This irony needs to be sorted out as soon as possible as one cannot go on with the global debate on the scientific safety of biotechnology forever. It is really hurting agricultural progress in India and other developing countries. India must take the lead in arguing for the established safety of GM crops to embolden other dithering developing countries to follow the suit.

The climate change movement is notching up victories. The recent fall in crude oil prices has shaken the petro industry. Although India is cracking the whip on environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are obstructing its development, it behooves the country to pay attention to the climate change issue as it chalks up its environmental agenda, NGOs or no NGOs. Time for India to show true leadership in the climate talks.

Shanthu Shantharam teaches plant biotechnology and biotechnology innovation management at Iowa State University and was formerly executive director of the agricultural group of India’s Association of Biotechnology-led Enterprises. He is a former biotechnology regulator with the US department of agriculture

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