Climate justice for climate change: How Narendra Modi stole the march over his peers at COP26


On climate change and environment, India has strongly spoken on the need for critical enablers for galvanising global climate action which includes commensurate, long-term, concessional climate finance, access to affordable and sustainable technology, and commitment to adopt sustainable lifestyles, responsible consumption and production patterns and importance of meeting SDG-12 targets, especially by the developed countries. The developed countries have often acknowledged, albeit grudgingly, that they have not done enough in terms of meeting their commitments and that they will have to be more forthcoming in providing finance, in providing technologies to make the transition to a clean energy world, in the future.

Also read: From 'Lifestyle for Environment' to 'net zero carbon emissions by 2070': Key takeaways from Narendra Modi's historic COP26 speech

Also read: Narendra Modi committed to net zero by 2070: What does this mean and why it is a historic step in fighting climate change

COP26: With developed world not doing its bit, India’s case for climate justice is strong

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly, right from his first term, spoken of a greener environment at every global platform and has consistently worked towards that goal. Even this year, the G20 has identified sustainable and responsible consumption and production, along with provision of finance and technology, as critical enablers for achieving the climate goals, first decided at Paris a few years back. Modi’s mantra of sustainable lifestyle finds resonance in the Rome declaration, which is aimed at encouraging the developed countries to reduce their luxurious and energy intensive lifestyle. India has been able to push forward and urge for a commitment from the developed world to provide $100 billion every year from now until 2025.

India's decision to reach “Net Zero” only by 2070 is the right step and a bold one, without capitulating to the uncalled for bullying by the West, which in any case had a head-start over the developing world in terms of industrialisation, growth, urbanisation and more. India has reiterated in no uncertain terms at various forums that developed countries, which have already enjoyed the fruits of low-cost energy for several years will have to go in for net zero much faster and possibly even go for net negative, so that they can release policy space and some carbon space for the developing countries, to pursue their development agenda.

The type of technologies that would be available for climate transition is important. For example, for our baseload to be replaced from coal to maybe nuclear, we will need large amounts of capital for setting up nuclear plants, both to replace our current demand and for the future demand that our development imperative requires. Second, we will need to be a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to ensure adequate availability of raw material for nuclear supply and several other associated concerns around cost of power. So it’s going to be a holistic solution, which will emerge through more dialogue, discussion and the collective effort of all the countries. Hence, the Modi government is absolutely right in rejecting the “one shoe fits all” approach, proposed by developed countries, from time to time.

Today, the first responsibility is that of climate mitigation, which is inspired by thousands of years’ old Indian tradition. We are moving ahead with ambitious goals on this issue. When Modi announced India’s goals in Paris, many asked whether India would be able to achieve something like 175 GW of renewable energy. But India is not only achieving these goals rapidly but is also working to set higher targets. Going beyond its Paris commitments, India has set a target of rehabilitation of 26 million hectares worth of wastelands. Indian Railways, the world's largest passenger carrier serving an average of 8 billion passengers every year, has resolved to 'Net Zero by 2030'.

With this decision, Indian Railways will mitigate carbon emission by 60 million tons per annum. We are working on the target of 20 percent ethanol blending in petrol by 2025. By increasing the count of Asiatic lions, tigers, rhinos and dolphins, India has proved that our commitment to protect the environment is not limited only to the energy debate. India has never retreated from the responsibility of mitigation, nor will it ever go back. Due to the efforts made by the Modi government over the last seven years, today India is one of the top 5 countries in the world, in terms of renewable energy capacity. The world also recognises this success of India. Countries like the US, France, UK, and Sweden are also our partners in many of our initiatives like ISA and CDRI.

The second responsibility is that of climate justice. Modi has persistently expressed the need for climate justice, whereby there is no injustice to the developing countries. As a vocal voice of developing countries, India has been a big votary of climate finance by the developed countries. Without concrete progress on climate finance, pressuring the developing countries for climate action is unjust. The developed countries must aim to make at least 1 percent of their GDP available to finance green projects in developing countries, has been India's stand. There are three actionable points in front of G-20 partners that India has put forward. First, G-20 countries must create a 'clean energy projects fund', which can be used in countries where peaking has not happened yet.

This fund can also support other institutions like International Solar Alliance (ISA). Second, we must create a network of research institutions working on clean-energy in G-20 countries which will work on new technologies as well as their deployment related best practices. Third, G-20 countries must create an institution to create global standards in the field of green hydrogen, to encourage its production and use. India will also contribute fully to all these efforts.

Having created modern, prosperous, industrialised societies, the West finally woke up to the problem of global warming in the 1970s. The first quasi-climate summit was held in Stockholm in 1972, but only lip service was paid to the cause by the developed world, for many decades thereafter. Known as the First Earth Summit, it focused on the environment. But the real impact of global warming hadn’t quite sunk in. It was only in 1987 that the UN General Assembly adopted what it termed the Environmental Perspective to the Year 2000. Since then, climate change has increasingly become a hot-button, global issue.

Since 1751, over 1.6 trillion tonnes of CO2 have been emitted. Which countries are the principal polluters? The United States has emitted 400 billion tonnes of CO2, a quarter of the cumulative global total. Next comes China with 200 billion tonnes of CO2 and much of that has been emitted in the past 40 years. But the biggest polluter as a bloc — not a nation — is Europe. It has spewed 514 billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere in the process of building an industrialised society.

India, the target of the rich world, to cut its carbon emissions, has emitted 48 billion tonnes of CO2 since 1751 — just 3 percent of the cumulative global total. The statistic also reveals how industrialisation in India was held back by nearly 200 years of colonialism. Indian raw material was bought with Indian tax money, shipped to Britain, manufactured in carbon-polluting factories of Manchester, and shipped back to India to be sold at exorbitant prices. Wealth flowed from India to Britain, even as Britain industrialised at India’s expense, suppressed Indian industry, and began the process of global warming.

In Glasgow, on 1-2 November 2021, over 150 global leaders have decided out a path to the future. The key issue is who should bear the principal burden of cutting carbon emissions?

Modi has long argued that India’s industrial development cannot be held hostage to unreasonable cuts in its carbon emissions and he made this point once again, loud and clear, at Glasgow. Modi is, in fact, a climate change evangelist. He wrote a book, Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response To Challenges Of Climate Change, in 2011, suggesting how the threat of global warming can be countered by a balanced reduction in carbon emissions without harming economic growth. It is worth noting that around 50 countries — mostly from the rich, industrialised world, which created the climate crisis in the first place, have pledged carbon neutrality only by 2050. Hence India’s stand of achieving net zero emissions only by 2070 is both realistic and fair.

Already industrialised, many nations in the developed world are now service economies. Britain, for example, closed one of its last coal mines, The Bradley Mine in Durham, in August 2020. Services now account for 80 percent of British GDP. Wealth already built, Britain can afford to achieve net zero. Can India? Modi, therefore, strongly argued strongly for climate justice. In essence, it means India will work towards reducing carbon emissions, which obviously is in India’s environmental interests, while keeping its development goals firmly in mind. India does not have the luxury of Europe or America to de-industrialise, when it is still industrialising.

In 2019 (the latest year for which accurate data is available), China was the world’s biggest carbon emitter (10.2 billion tonnes) followed by the US (5.3 billion tonnes) and India (2.6 billion tonnes). In per capita terms, however, the US has the worst record, emitting 16.1 tonnes of CO2 per American. China emits 7.1 tonnes per person and India just 1.9 tonnes per person. India had set a goal of generating 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030 along with several other measures, including its ambitious Hydrogen Mission, to move towards net zero emissions in a calibrated manner that does not hamper economic growth. The 450 GW target is now revised to 500 GW.

A group of 24 countries has, meanwhile, joined hands to reshape the narrative on climate change that has so far been controlled by the West. Dubbing itself “Like-Minded Developing Countries” (LMDCs), the group (which includes both India and China along with Malaysia, the Philippines and others) issued the following ministerial statement ahead of COP26: “Despite the lack of ambition shown in the pre-2020 period, as well as in the Paris Agreement NDCs (nationally determined contributions), major developed countries are now pushing to shift the goal posts of the Paris Agreement from what has already been agreed, by calling for all countries to adopt Net Zero targets by 2050. This new ‘goal’ which is being advanced, runs counter to the Paris Agreement and is anti-equity and against Climate justice. Demands for ‘net zero’ emissions for all countries by 2050 will further exacerbate the existing inequities between developed and developing countries.”

Beyond industrialisation, Modi’s PM-KUSUM Scheme to enable greater solar energy generation in the farm sector, is a welcome step. The size of a solar plant has been reduced to enable participation of small farmers. In RE-Invest 2020, Modi focused on the fact that while the renewable energy capacity in India was roughly 36-38 percent of our total capacity, the goal was to move to 40 percent and beyond at the soonest. In fact, in 2018, India's Central Electricity Authority (CEA) set a target of producing 57 percent of the total electricity from non-fossil fuels sources by 2027. India has also set a target of producing 175 GW by 2022. The target of 450 GW by 2030 from renewable energy now stands enhanced to 500 GW, which is a massive target but doable, given Modi's ability to put his might behind this.

On 21 December 2020, an MoU was signed between India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety (VARANS) to promote mutual cooperation between the regulatory bodies of the two countries in the fields of radiation protection and nuclear safety.

“India constitutes 17 percent of the global population and India's contribution to emissions has only been 5 percent. But today, the entire world admits that India is the only major economy which has delivered on Paris agreements in letter and spirit,” Prime Minister Modi said while presenting India's vision at COP26 Climate summit. Boldly speaking at the climate summit, Modi reinforced the idea of five 'Amrit Tatvas' from India. First, India will bring its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030. Second, by 2030, India will fulfill 50 percent of its energy requirement through renewable energy. Third, India will cut down its net projected carbon emission by 1 billion ton from now until 2030. Fourth, by 2030 India will bring down the carbon intensity of its economy by more than 45 percent. Fifth, by 2070, India will achieve the target of "Net Zero". On climate finance, India expects developed nations to make climate finance of $1 trillion available at the earliest. Today it is important to track climate finance just like we track the progress of climate mitigation.

“It would be an appropriate justice to create pressure on the nations that don't meet their own promises of climate finance,” said Modi, without mincing any words and showcasing the hypocrisy of the developed world which has been bullying developing nations without putting its own house in order. “World today admits that lifestyle has a major role in climate change. I propose a one-word movement before all of you. This word is 'LIFE' which means Lifestyle for Environment. Today, it is needed that all of us come together and take forward LIFE as a movement,” he added.

Instead of mindless and destructive consumption, mindful and deliberate utilisation is the need of the hour. This movement can bring in revolutionary changes in areas like agriculture, fishing, housing, packaging, hospitality, tourism, fashion, water management and energy. We know the reality of promises made so far over climate finance that have proven to be hollow. Today when India has resolved to move forward with a new commitment and new energy, then climate finance and transfer of low-cost technology transfer become even more important, a point stressed repeatedly by Modi.

At COP26, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said, “Two degrees more to global temperatures will jeopardise food supplies, three degrees more will bring more wildfires and cyclones, while four degrees and we say goodbye to whole cities.” He made the comparison between world leaders and James Bond, saying that the fictional secret agent often ends his films fighting to stop a force from ending the world. “The tragedy is that this is not a movie and the doomsday device is real,” he warned.

But if there is one global leader who stole the march over his peers at COP26, it is Modi who rightly reminded the developed economies of their responsibilities to avert the “climate doomsday”. With the world listening to him, he highlighted how more passengers than the entire world's population travel by Indian Railways every year. This huge railway system has set itself a target of making itself 'Net Zero' by 2030.

The prime minister underscored that India will meet Net-Zero emissions target by 2070. India will increase its non-fossil energy capacity to 500GW by 2030; India will fulfil 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable energy sources by 2030. Between now and 2030, India will reduce its total projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes; by 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 percent; and India will achieve the target of “Net Zero” by 2070, Prime Minister Modi said, showcasing to the world that unlike the duplicitous West, India has been at the forefront of both climate mitigation and climate justice.

The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. Views expressed are personal.

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Climate justice for climate change: How Narendra Modi stole the march over his peers at COP26
Climate justice for climate change: How Narendra Modi stole the march over his peers at COP26
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