Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

High stakes for India in Paris climate talks

A large section of the country's population is vulnerable to climate change

Leaders from across the world will assemble in Paris later this month to construct the all-important roadmap on climate change. The stakes will be high, especially for the underdeveloped and developing countries, because business as usual will have a disproportionate impact on them, though the developed countries will also face the heat from global warming.

Talks will be important for India in particular, as a large section of its population is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Globally, while the downside risk of a rise in temperature is widely acknowledged and understood, at least two recent reports highlighted the urgency of reaching an agreement and moving forward.

Climate Central, an independent, US-based group, in a study said that a 4 degree Celsius warming will lead to a rise in sea levels enough to submerge land occupied by more than half of the population in cities such as Mumbai and Shanghai. The damage can be limited if the warming is contained.

The World Bank in a report on Sunday said that climate change can push 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. It noted: “Our studies show that without action, climate change would likely spark higher agricultural prices and could threaten food security in poorer regions such as Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia."

India is particularly exposed, as about 65% of its population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, which, in turn, relies on rainfall. Erratic weather patterns, in fact, are already affecting agriculture; the nation has experienced a second straight year of drought. People will also be affected by health-related problems as diseases are likely to spread with rising temperatures. This again will affect the poor the most, due to rising medical expenses and loss of income. According to the World Bank, by 2030, 45 million Indians might slip below the poverty line because of diseases and agricultural shocks in the absence of “good" development.

To be sure, most countries have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. India on its part intends to cut the emission intensity of gross domestic product by 33-35% by 2030, with 2005 as the base year. It also said that by 2030, non-fossil-fuel-based power will have a 40% share in the total installed capacity. In fact, India is making some significant progress. According to government data, the share of renewable grid capacity has gone up from 2% to about 13% between 2002 and 2015. Further, it plans to increase the carbon sink to the tune of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by adding to its forest cover, along with a mechanism to mobilize finances in order to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.

While India has sent a strong signal to the global community on its commitment to the cause, plans submitted by all countries, collectively, are unlikely to attain the goal of capping global warming at 2 degree Celsius. According to Climate Action Tracker, produced by a group of independent research organizations, even if the action plans submitted by all the countries are implemented, it will bring down warming to 2.7 degree Celsius, which is above the target of 2 degree Celsius that scientists says is the limit the world can tolerate.

The consequences will certainly be more damaging if the targets are not achieved. Therefore, it is important that an agreement is reached in Paris that is capable of achieving the target and is also just for all countries.

Since India will be affected a great deal because of climate change, it should play a leadership role in ensuring that developing countries are neither saddled with an undue burden of reduction in emissions nor remain exposed to excessive risk. It will also be important to make sure that adequate technical and financial assistance is provided to the developing countries in the spirit of India’s call for “common but differentiated responsibilities". This will enable developing countries to grow with a lower carbon footprint. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that India plays an active role in negotiations and has a stake in the outcome.

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