China, climate change, Climate Disaster, climate sins, Commentaries, Cop 27, emissions, European Union

COP27: India can’t be expected to pay for climate sins of the West

The 27th Conference of Parties — COP27 — is once again the subject of enormous expectations. Will countries meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt be able to go beyond talk? Climate disasters are reaching unprecedented levels. And the impact has disproportionately fallen on low and middle-income countries like India. According to a UNDRR report, the proportion of climate-related natural disasters between 2000-2019 almost doubled from the previous two decades. Such disasters claimed 1.23 million lives and levied an economic cost of $2.97 trillion. Eight of the top 10 countries hit by these disaster events were developing countries from Asia.

Most global action revolves around efforts to “mitigate” climate change by reducing the volume of carbon emissions. Too little attention is paid to the developing countries’ need for “adaptation” to the effects of the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

As with much else in the climate debate, this is deeply revealing of western hypocrisy. It is argued that climate change is so real and urgent that difficult, expensive action must be taken on mitigation, so as to cut emissions. Fair enough — but what about the real and urgent problems that people and economies are suffering due to emissions that have already happened? These emissions cannot be prevented or mitigated. Communities need support in adapting to them. Adaptation — including ‘loss and damage’ accounting for the overall effects of climate change — must be at the centre of all climate negotiations.

Too little attention is paid to the developing countries’ need for “adaptation” to the effects of the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

It is a truth that all accept but few wish to acknowledge: there is a direct relationship between overall well-being and carbon emissions. The growth trajectories of advanced economies have been achieved by exploiting the world’s carbon budgets. The developed world’s depletion of global atmospheric commons has led to extreme climatic events across the planet. Climate change is already upon us due to industrialisation in Europe and North America in the past, and in China more recently. Countries that have contributed the least towards historical global emissions — countries that are still developing and poor — are left to fend for themselves. Global poverty has underwritten the riches of the developed world.

Climate finance contributions from the Global North have been insignificant and incommensurate with the transition costs for emerging economies. Developing countries will require at least $1 trillion in energy infrastructure alone by 2030, and up to $6 trillion across all sectors annually by 2050 to mitigate climate change. In addition, annual climate adaptation costs in these economies could reach $300 billion by 2030 and as much as $500 billion by 2050. Further, developing countries are likely to face $290-580 billion in annual “residual damages” by 2030 and over $1 trillion in damages by 2050 from the impact of climate change that cannot be prevented by adaptation measures. There is hardly any acknowledgement, let alone support, for this crisis.

The debate on Loss and Damage (L&D) is mired in ambiguity. It was only in 2013, at COP19, that Loss and Damage became officially recognised. It was later included as the distinct Article 8 of the Paris Agreement at COP21, with no reference, however, to finance or equity. The segregation of L&D and adaptation was viewed as a geopolitical gambit to separate the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) from other emerging economies. This deprived large developing countries of climate finance and technology by conflating them with developed nations. Since global climate funds are constrained, it has been argued that opening a window for L&D would impact finance for adaptation and mitigation, and reduce the ability of larger emerging economies like India to tackle climate change.

The segregation of L&D and adaptation was viewed as a geopolitical gambit to separate the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) from other emerging economies.

The conclusion is unavoidable: L&D financing must emerge as an independent stream in climate negotiations. Instituting special arrangements for strengthening L&D finance, independent from mitigation and adaptation, is particularly vital.

India’s climate action will be constrained by its development imperatives. Despite ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments, the realisation of India’s climate goals is strongly linked to the availability and quality of capital at its disposal. India needs about $2.5 trillion till 2030 for NDCs. Currently, the tracked green finance in India represents approximately 25% of the total required across sectors for mitigation alone. Adaptation flows are even more pitiful. Given India is among the most vulnerable to climate change, adaptation clearly needs more resources. But these demands are unlikely to be met by global adaptation funds, which are limited and expected to prioritise small and fragile island states. Therefore, it stands to reason that India privileges adaptation to support its communities and people from its own domestic budgets. Mitigation actions must, then, be backed by international finance flows. India — and indeed no developing country — can do both. It cannot be expected to pay for its future as well as pay for Europe and America’s past.

COP27 is an opportunity to voice the Global South’s collective demands and reconcile various channels of climate financing. The international community must respond. Else the developing world will find itself preaching to the parish of the prejudiced.

climate change, India, Sustainable Development

Enough Sermons on Climate, It’s Time for ‘Just’ Action

As Britain readies to host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November this year, there is a concerted effort to push countries towards publicly endorsing and adopting ‘Net Zero’—a carbon neutral emission norm—as policy. This is a demand for an inflexible, near-impossible, time-bound agenda to achieve what is no doubt a noble goal. And, as is often the case with climate-related issues, the nobility of intent is at risk of being overwhelmed by sanctimonious hectoring that raises hackles instead of ensuring meaningful participation.

On 3rd March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took to Twitter to call on governments, private companies and local authorities to immediately initiate three measures to mitigate climate change: Cancel all coal projects in the pipeline; end coal plant financing and invest only in renewable energy; and, jumpstart a global effort to a ‘just transition’ from carbon to non-carbon energy sources.

On the face of it, this was an unexceptionable call from the high priest of the UN to the global laity to rise in support of an important cause. But if we were to scratch the surface of the Secretary-General’s words, we would see that his call was little more than virtue-signalling.

For, there is nothing ‘just’ about the transition that he has sought without delay. Implicit in his call is the immoral proposition to disregard poverty, despair and the yawning development deficit between nations as he places them all on the same plane. Inherent in this approach is the unedifying complicity of global institutions in foisting an arrangement founded in the belief that the poor in the developing world should underwrite the climate mitigation strategy of the developed world. The climate high priests need to realise that depriving the world’s poorest of their aspirations can never be ‘just’ climate action. It can be convenient and, hence, it has much appeal in many quarters.

The climate high priests need to realise that depriving the world’s poorest of their aspirations can never be ‘just’ climate action. It can be convenient and, hence, it has much appeal in many quarters

An Alternative Script

A waffle-free alternative script for those given to sermonising to the world would focus on three other aspects that may actually lead to faster transitions and more justice. First, an impassioned call to those who control capital—managers of pension, insurance and other funds—to ensure larger amounts of money leave the country of origin and flow to countries of deficit for building sustainable, climate resilient infrastructure of the future. The Climate Policy Initiative has calculated that less than a quarter of climate finance flows across national boundaries; in other words, the overwhelming majority of climate finance is raised for domestic projects. The states expected to disproportionately do more to battle climate change are located in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Yet, they are inadequately funded and financed and cost of capital in these places dampens the scope of action. It would be stressing the obvious to say that the frontline states cannot be expected to engage in this battle without adequate inflow of climate capital at the right price for climate action.

Second, the assessors of risk—the intractable credit rating agencies, the cash-rich central banks and the big boys of New York, London and Paris—who decide how much capital should flow in which direction, should be called upon to recalibrate their risk assessment mechanism. Let it be said, and said bluntly, that objective ‘climate risk’ outweighs subjective ‘political risk’ which prevents the flow of capital to key climate action geographies. Risk must be reassessed objectively. Till then, the highfalutin sermons of the Pontiffs of Climate would be mere lip service, which none among the Climate Laity would bother to take seriously.

Third, and, perhaps, the most ‘just’ proposition the Secretary-General could make, would be a moral directive to all Western nations to shut down coal plants and fossil fuel- based enterprises immediately and entirely abandon carbon-fuelled energy for any purpose. After all, green energy sources need room to grow and space to mature and the OECD nations must allow this at warp speed. It is farcical to deny coal plants to countries that are still struggling to claw their way up the development ladder and demand that they turn carbon neutral while thousands of units and homes belch and blow climate emissions every day in rich economies. What is good for the rich cannot be bad for the poor.

Rich countries have failed to reduce their share of fossil fuel emissions. CSEP’s Rahul Tongia has calculated that the top emitting countries in terms of per capita emissions (nations above the global average emissions) still account for about 80 per cent of global Fossil CO2.  He further explains that the absolute emissions of these countries are rising even when measured in 2019. The rich took more than their fair share historically, and are still doing so. Any ‘Just Transition’ must involve evicting the squatters occupying carbon space to the detriment of others. Buying this space from the poorer is not ‘just’; it is another perverse business model based on extraction and mercantilism of centuries past.

Any ‘Just Transition’ must involve evicting the squatters occupying carbon space to the detriment of others. Buying this space from the poorer is not ‘just’; it is another perverse business model based on extraction and mercantilism of centuries past

In the run-up to COP26 at Glasgow, we are witnessing a new passion play of countries making a dramatic show of embracing the idea of Net Zero economies in the coming decades. The script of this passion play draws on starkly evocative narratives that seek to catalyse action through theatrical terms such as ‘climate emergency’. From appropriating the voice of the powerless to acquire legitimacy and crafting compelling narratives through a new cohort of well-funded ambassadors to push the envelope on climate change policy approaches, we are seeing varied actors engaging with climate issues in different ways. These different efforts have a common design, the economic objective of socialising the cost of climate action and making the poor carry the can for the rich.

That said, some facts are irrefutable. The last decade has been the warmest in recorded human history and its effects are visible to all. In February this year, an iceberg larger than New York City broke off the frozen Antarctic  and my just be a prelude to what lies ahead. Indeed, the possibility of the Arctic turning into a benign waterway in the near future can no longer be ruled out. It would require extraordinary un-intelligence to argue that global warming and its fallout can be mitigated by business-as-usual decision-making. But even as there is trans-world consensus on climate change and its impact, many would and must disagree on the proposed burden-sharing and distribution of responsibilities as we respond as a collective.

The India Imperative

India will be significantly affected by climate change in the coming decades. It is already feeling the heat and is combatting challenges from its mountains to its coasts due to shifting weather cycles and changing climate. It needs clearheaded policies, backed by political will, on this single most important issue that will impact its growth, its stability and the very integrity of its geography comprising a multitude of topographies.

This is happening at a moment when India is poised to exit the low-income orbit and take off on a trajectory towards becoming a middle-income country. Its journey from a US $3 trillion economy to a US $10 trillion economy coincides with ongoing climate action, polarising climate debate and climate-impacted economics. India can neither isolate itself from this reality, nor can it be reticent or timid in making its choices known to the world. India cannot be a receiver of decisions made elsewhere; it has to be on the high table, co-authoring decisions implicating its future.

For India, the moment offers three opportunities in these challenging times. First, India has to prepare itself through its policies, politics and internal rearrangements to seize and realise the single biggest global opportunity of leading a global effort to mitigate emissions of the future. The IEA, in its India Energy Outlook 2021 Report, estimates that India’s emissions could rise as much as 50 percent by 2040—the largest of any country, in which case India would trail behind only China in terms carbon dioxide emissions. This need not happen and is an opportunity for India and the World.

India must grab this chance to lower its future emissions through the right investments, technologies and global partnerships. The developed world, too, must make a matching response: Just like the Marshall Plan invested billions to rebuild post-War Europe with Germany at its heart, a new age Climate Marshall Plan must see India at its core. India must prepare and offer itself as the single biggest climate mitigation opportunity for the world and the most important green investment destination.

The developed world, too, must make a matching response: Just like the Marshall Plan invested billions to rebuild post-War Europe with Germany at its heart, a new age Climate Marshall Plan must see India at its core

Second, neither the world nor India should forget the dictum that on climate, India solves for the world. The solutions that India experiments with and implements successfully will be fit to be repurposed for other developing countries with similar geo-topographical conditions and economic sensitivities. Many of them are frontline countries in the climate battle.

India can and must become the hub of climate action for this decade and beyond, offering services, technology and infrastructure through climate supply chains that span the developing world. The International Solar Alliance is just a modest beginning. The future holds multiple opportunities. The country must lead the charge through building financial institutions that will support and sustain green transitions and helping create green workforces fit for purpose for the coming decades, amongst others.

Third, as India celebrates 75 years of its independence in 2022 and leads the G20 in 2023, it has the chance to make its most significant identity shift. India moved from being a British colonial state to a free nation in 1947, and then moved from being perceived as a land of snake-charmers to becoming an internationally acknowledged technology hub at the turn of the century. This decade offers the chance for it to emerge first as aUS $5 trillion and then as aUS $10 trillion economy that will be green and low carbon in its evolution – the first large green economy of the fourth industrial revolution.

India’s expectations from Glasgow COP26 should be uncluttered—its single purpose must be to catalyse global flows and investments to India and other emerging economies. If India fails to attract investments, the markets will clearly have not signed on to the climate agenda. In this effort, India needs a leg-up from the Climate Pontiffs.

Perpetuation of global poverty and low incomes cannot be the rich world’s climate mitigation strategy. ‘Net Zero’ should not seek this end state. On the contrary, investing in the emerging world’s green transition is the only way to build a ‘just’ world. The UN Secretary-General could help ensure that the largest pool of new money flows to where the climate battle will be fought—in India and in the emerging world. That would be a just transition and an efficient one.

climate change, foreign policy, India, Strategic Studies, Sustainable Development, USA and Canada

US-India Partnership for a Green Future

Climate change is one of the most formidable challenges for this young century. As the World Economic Forum’s The Global Risks Report 2020 makes clear, failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change is the single most impactful and second-most likely risk facing the international community over the next 10 years. How effectively governments, businesses and societies can work together to make a tangible impact on this global challenge will determine the future of our planet.

As shown in Figure 1, the United States (US) and India contribute almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although the two countries differ markedly in both per capita emissions and incomes, India and the US must take concrete action according to their capabilities to develop solutions that can boost economic growth and mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change. The best way to achieve these twin goals is to invest in infrastructure for a resilient and low-carbon future; cooperate in key areas that produce relevant knowledge; foster innovation exchange; strengthen technical assistance bilaterally and for others; and catalyse capital investments for energy access, energy efficiecy, and renewable technologies.

Source: 2019 Emissions Gap Report, United Nations Environment Programme

Both the US and India have taken important strides together to advance their strategic partnership in the domain of climate action and policy. However, existing efforts continue to rely mainly on an incremental approach to tackling climate change. Such measures are welcome but insufficient. As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the human and economic costs associated with weak international cooperation, delayed action, and the lack of investments in important infrastructure and capabilities. Climate-induced disasters may make the current pandemic look meek, and the world could ignore this risk at its own peril. Thus, it is vital for India and the US to double down on efforts to drive structural change, hurdle institutional barriers, and overcome the inertia inhibiting green growth and development.

In line with these goals, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and The Asia Group (TAG) convened a joint roundtable in October 2019 to advance recommendations to strengthen the US–India partnership for a green future with a special focus on climate mitigation, renewable energy, and climate financing. Across these topics, it is clear that both countries face a number of complex and overlapping challenges and opportunities. Even as recent policy efforts have strengthened each country’s capacity to tackle these challenges, this report seeks to identify policy recommendations to support this progress.

climate change, Commentaries, Health care, India, Sustainable Development

In the lockdown, a breath of fresh air

One of the few positive spin-offs of the ongoing nationwide lockdown to combat Covid-19 has been a dramatic reduction in air pollution. Recent Nasa data reveals that air pollution in north India has dropped to a 20-year low. In Delhi, the levels of harmful microscopic particulate matter, PM 2.5, plunged after the lockdown began — falling from 91 mg per cubic metre (mg/m3) on March 20, to 26 mg/m3on March 27.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) released by vehicles and power plants also saw a significant fall of 71% during the period. The air in Delhi is now clear, the skies are blue, and we can hear birdsong again on the boulevards.

Unfortunately, these are but temporary gains, and should not distract us from the dangers of air pollution.

An urgent warning comes from a Harvard University study (, which establishes a correlation between long-term exposure to air pollution and Covid-19 mortality. The study finds that people living in polluted cities are more likely to have compromised respiratory, cardiac and other systems — and, therefore, are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

We should be very worried because India has 21of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. Air quality in some of our cities is 10 times over the safe limits recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and, as per some estimates, air pollution claims more than one million lives each year.

Therefore, even as India flattens the infection curve, addressing the air pollution problem should continue to be a high priority for all policymakers. Today’s cerulean skies remind us that clean air and the right to breathe must be available to all citizens. And if India were to achieve this, there will be huge collateral benefits. We would not only become much more globally competitive, but we could also be well on our way to exceeding our climate ambitions outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

There are many ways in which an economic revival package can get India to this Green Frontier. For instance, new investments could be directed towards renewable energy, with larger allocations and subsidies to initiatives like the National Solar Mission. We could adhere to deadlines for the Bharat Stage 4 standards and accelerate timelines and infrastructure investments for electric vehicle (EV) adoption.

Large electric battery factories could be established to enable localised energy storage solutions. Bailouts and incentives to the auto, aviation and construction sectors could encourage green transitions and clean air ambitions. The Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) in the residential sector could be enforced and a 2011policy relating to energy efficiency in MSME clusters could be integrated with the fiscal support to this sector.

Global experience suggests that crises create political opportunities for embracing change. After the 2008 global financial crisis, China spent nearly a third of its $568 billion stimulus towards projects that addressed environmental goals. China has since become a global leader in solar, wind and hydropower markets.

Britain and Germany also undertook green transformations post 2008 crisis. Similarly, India could use this Covid-19 crisis to undertake a far-reaching green revival.

We will find support. After the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a renewed focus on mega black and white swan shocks that can lead to immense loss of lives and destroy trillions of dollars of economic output. It is now much easier to convince policymakers, bankers and investors that awarming climate may well be the single-biggest macro shock the world will have to face. Green revival packages are bound to emerge around the world and global finance will inevitably align to this endeavour.

India is already the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Even optimistic predictions suggest that our emissions will nearly double in the next decade or so. A green revival package could be designed to ensure that India’s post-Covid economic resurgence becomes a key contributor in mitigating global emissions. It must be branded as the single-most important initiative for the world to meet and exceed Paris Agreement goals.

This will also give India more leverage in influencing the global financial community, and compel them to more pragmatically price risk, transparently rate creditworthiness, and bring down regulatory barriers that restrict the flow of capital to green projects in the developing world.

The battle for clean air requires structural reforms across multiple sectors, institutions and processes.

Public and private funds need to be redirected to green investments.

While temporary reductions in noxious emissions are certainly a huge relief, they are not the panacea for a country that has the onerous task of becoming the first $5 trillion economy in a carbon-constrained world. And, we must do this without gasping for breath.