India has an (official) climate change of heart

Smog at sunrise over Jodhpur, Rajasthan: India has a long way to go on the climate crisis. Image: By Jakub Halun, via Wikimedia Commons

India’s new approach seems to show a climate change of heart by one of the world’s most populous countries.

CHENNAI, 23 December, 2020 − The question taxing the brains of India’s climate campaigners is challenging. What’s going on in Delhi? Has the government really had a climate change of heart?

After all, it’s only a decade ago that United Nations climate conferences were routinely hearing from Indian delegates that their priority was development. Global warming was a problem for the industrialised countries, the Indians would insist, because they had caused the problem in the first place.

Now, after dozens of scientific reports showing how millions of Indians will suffer, many of India’s leading companies and civil society organisations  − and even the government itself − are making strenuous efforts to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which binds every signatory to reach an agreed level for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Indian government has set up a high-level group, the Apex Committee for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement (AIPA), to ensure that the country does in fact meet its Paris targets.

AIPA will monitor both government and private sector contributions towards climate change and see to it that India is on track to meet its obligations under the Agreement, including what are known in the jargon of climate negotiations as its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change’’

A year ago a highly critical report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that governments which had signed the Paris accord were not reaching their declared NDC targets, which − even if implemented in full − would still allow the world to warm by 2.6°C, 70% more than the 1.5°C regarded as desirable in the Agreement.

India’s creation of AIPA follows China’s unexpected decision to pursue a net zero emissions target in 2060. These moves, and the pledges of the developed world at the recent Climate Ambition Summit, are not enough to satisfy all the critics, but they are a big leap forward for the developing world.

The Apex Group will also regulate India’s carbon markets, formulating guidelines on carbon pricing, market mechanisms and other relevant measures, and “will engage with the private sector as well as multi- and bilateral agencies in the field of climate change and provide guidance for aligning their actions with national priorities”, the Hindustan Times reports.

At the recent G20 summit India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the country was not only meeting its Paris targets but was exceeding them. It has made eight commitments under the NDC requirement, with three goals set to be achieved by 2030.

It has promised to work on reductions in the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% over 2005 levels. It plans to be producing about 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources. And it intends to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

Decision by elite

Despite these sweeping promises there are still doubts among India’s environmental activists that, without involving ordinary citizens, the goals will be reached. One, a prominent campaigner, Arul Selvam, said that only when the government included grassroots leaders would it achieve its goals both on paper and in reality.

“Decisions are taken by experts, senior officers and ministers”, he said. “It would be useful to include members from associations of organic farmers, small-scale traders, village-level workers, fishermen and conservationists.”

This would improve the implementation of any programme on the ground, with many people across India already living sustainable daily lives.

India had seen protests against environmental degradation caused by industry and government, so at least the government should now start working with people to ensure that its plans succeeded on the ground and yielded results.

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change,’’ Arul Selvam said. − Climate News Network