Home / Opinion / Columns /  The CoP circus is over but India still has hoops to jump
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Glasgow’s CoP-26 climate summit will go down in history with a unique distinction. The stand taken by rich nations at the summit has managed to unite the Indian left and right wings, even if it is limited only to the sharply-focused issue of climate justice. There was, surprisingly, broad-based tacit acceptance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s excessively “ambitious" targets, received with only raised eyebrows and not the usually derisive vocal outpourings. It was like: International net-zero deceit meet India-style net-zero deceit. The Indian government is well versed in the dark arts of setting lofty targets for some remote date and then re-setting these goals once mass memory dims. The West’s attempts to stretch climate commitments by announcing apparently insincere net-zero targets for 2050 or 2060 met its match in India’s net-zero target for 2070.

But while the curtains may have come down on CoP-26, the coercion is far from done.

Take the example of Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), which announced that close to 450 financial institutions have committed $130 trillion for achieving net zero in the global economy. There are many grey, unexplained areas in this commitment; but rubber hits the road when these institutions have to annually report their contribution to the global target of halving emissions by 2030, through changes in their internal operations as well as financing actions. The GFANZ, helmed largely by finance professionals from rich countries (such as former Bank of England governor Mark Carney or former New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg), could use its financing muscle as a lever against developing nations which still need long-term financing for grid expansion and other infrastructure projects.

India is already under some pressure through misdirected naming and shaming. The Glasgow Climate Pact made last-minute changes to its text on India’s and China’s insistence, with the original draft replacing its promise to “phase-out" unabated coal power (coal-based thermal generation that does not mitigate emissions) with “phase-down". India’s power supply is generated largely by coal-fired electricity plants and phasing coal out could be currently impractical. And even though India was not alone in demanding this change, guns have been trained on New Delhi. The coal issue has somehow become the headline event, even though many more contentious issues remain unresolved.

Consider this. All previous CoPs have studiously avoided mentioning fossil fuels because advanced economies did not want any agreement to cramp the lifestyles of its citizens. But, in 2021, coal became the only fossil fuel shortlisted for phase out. It is true that coal is a huge carbon emitter and should be phased out; but without alternative viable solutions, especially in power generation, or alternative political solutions for a million lives dependent on the coal economy, no government is likely to agree to a full phase out. In addition, there is no mention of whether Western countries will end their dependence on oil or gas. The only concession was the phrase “phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies", a deftly-woven tapestry leaving much to the imagination, or interpretation of what constitutes “inefficient" subsidies.

A bit of historical context might be relevant here. When the world was negotiating the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which sought to reduce ozone-depleting substances (ODS, such as chlorofluorocarbons), India and China were the hold-outs even then. The reasoning given was that while Western consumption patterns were largely responsible for the hole in the planet's ozone layer, developing nations were being asked to shift to ozone-friendly technologies, mostly developed in Western laboratories, and pay large sums for them. Eventually, developed countries were forced to create a multilateral fund to finance an ODS phase-out and transfer environmentally safe and the best available technologies to poor nations to facilitate a switch-over.

The world’s in a somewhat analogous situation now. Indiscriminate carbon emissions in the West due to its 100-year-old development process threaten the world with global warming. But, once again, the West wants developing countries to embrace clean energy without providing either funding or technology. The 2015 Paris agreement to provide $100 billion to poor countries every year—low by scientific estimates—remains unfulfilled and has again been postponed. In addition, while there is pressure to shift away from coal, green technologies are held close and priced high. According to an in-house magazine of the World Intellectual Property Organization, there were 24,027 patent applications for renewables in 2017, compared with 10,463 in 2002. Most of these patents reside in the US, Europe and Japan. Even expansion of nuclear power generation, which currently contributes only 3% of India's power generation, is stuck in a limbo because, ironically, China has blocked India's access to new technologies and nuclear raw materials.  

Additional pressure is building up elsewhere. The EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism is a novel non-tariff barrier which proposes to impose higher import duties on exports to Europe if production processes back home do not meet EU-specified green regulations. This protectionist measure can impose punitive import duties on any Indian product if the EU determines, for example, that power consumed in the production process was not sufficiently green.

The CoP system, like all other multilateral platforms, is subject to myriad pressures and bullying from rich nations. Glasgow too was not so different from Copenhagen or Paris, with advanced economies trying to finesse the negotiations. Equity then demands that the youth protesting outside CoP venues be included in negotiations, because they will still be around beyond 2050-70.

Rajrishi Singhal is a policy consultant, journalist and author. His Twitter handle is @rajrishisinghal.

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