Mint Explainer: COP28 and its implications for India

Participants at the UN climate summit walk past banners heralding the conference held in Dubai,
Participants at the UN climate summit walk past banners heralding the conference held in Dubai,

Summary

  • While the climate conference may have fallen short of expectations on some counts, India made its presence felt and managed to strike the right balance

The UN climate conference held in Dubai this year chalked up key resolutions on fossil fuels, methane emissions, funds to fight global warming, capitalisation of the loss and damage fund, and an agreement on a framework for the global goal on adaptation.

The COP28 conference, however, remained an underachiever, unable to measure up to expectations, particularly in galvanising more ambitious climate action in the immediate term. 

For India, though, the outcome was better. The country was able to strike the right balance in helping secure a deal that meets its developmental requirements while aligning with the larger global goals on climate. 

Mint explains the implications of COP28’s outcome for India and the world. 

What’s the buzz on fossil fuels about?

History was made in Dubai when 196 countries agreed to transition away from fossil fuels in an orderly and equitable manner to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Some experts, however, say the deal doesn’t do enough on several fronts—climate targets, funding, phasing out fossil fuels, and holding historical polluters accountable. 

Some nations were disappointed that the term ‘fossil fuel phase-out’ had not been used. Even if it had been, the outcome would have been similar in the absence of a timeline. Production and consumption of fossil fuels are unlikely to be curbed significantly in the near-term, but it is an important, rather unavoidable, measure in the 2050 timeframe.

Coal, a fossil fuel already singled out for a phase-down in the 2021 Glasgow conference, received a separate mention. But India, among some other countries, resisted a move to stipulate that no new coal-fired power plants could be opened without an in-built carbon capture and storage facility. 

The final outcome, while not specifying how the phase-down would be measured or from what baseline, addressed India’s concerns by tweaking the Glasgow text on coal and not making the provision on cut in methane emissions binding. 

What were India’s reservations on methane emissions?

Methane is the most widespread greenhouse gas apart from carbon dioxide, accounting for nearly 25% of all emissions and about 80 times more potent than CO2 in causing global warming. 

However, several countries, including India, are opposed to any mandate to cut methane emissions, primarily because one of the major sources is agriculture and livestock. Cutting methane emissions could require tweaking agricultural patterns, which could be extremely sensitive in a country like India, where agriculture accounts for 18% of the economy. 

The final agreement of the conference does not mention any targets for methane emission cuts by 2030, although about 100 countries had committed, at COP26 in Glasgow, to cut their methane emissions by 30% by the end of this decade.

What were the other highlights?

  • For poor and vulnerable countries, the operationalisation and capitalisation of the loss and damage fund was the most important outcome. A decision to set up a Loss and Damage Fund had been made last year in Sharm el-Shaikh, but no money was promised. COP28 operationalised this fund on opening day, and by the end of the conference several countries, including the UAE, the host, made funding commitments worth about $800 million. This fund will help countries, including India, recover from climate-induced disasters.
  • A framework for the global goal on adaptation was another important step developing countries had been awaiting. Historically, climate adaptation hasn’t received enough attention, or resources, as compared with mitigation activities, mainly because adaptation is largely a local endeavour. Its benefits also are mostly local. However, developing countries have been arguing that a global framework for adaptation is necessary to bring more attention to it. 
  • The COP28 agreement identified some common adaptation goals, including reduction in climate-induced water scarcity, attaining climate-resilience in food and agricultural production, and resilience against climate-induced health impacts. But it lacks financial provisions, and countries will need to continue working on it to strengthen it.
  • The COP28 agreement also calls upon countries to contribute to tripling the global installed capacity of renewable energy and doubling annual improvements in energy efficiency by 2030. The final text adhered to the New Delhi G20 declaration by not setting quantitative goals.

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