Will India Survive in Paris Climate Negotiation?


First ever comment to the First Draft- which can be termed as Paris Protocol- came from India as ‘lopsided’ to bring climate justice, ‘inadequate’ for developing countries and ‘lenient’ to developed countries. Usually, after Bonn Intercessional Conference, which commence during June every year, the negotiation on climate change gets movement. However, this year it is the submission of national climate goals of countries as Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) that have started posturing of the countries for the Paris Summit.  As the major players and greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters have submitted their action points as INDCs, will the Paris Climate Summit be a milestone in fighting climate change in the 21st Century?


French President would be more optimistic to lure on an elusive Paris Protocol after India’s entry on 1 October at UNFCCC portal. The synthesis report, which eagerly awaited India’s entry, is now under preparation to become the negotiating text of the Summit. Any legally binding protocol that includes major emitters will be strongly opposed by India, which has been its longstanding position. But, the first Draft of Protocol is hinting towards a binding agreement falling on India and other developing countries on which India has already reacted.


Much-awaited and anticipated but least publicly consulted among the 119 INDCs submitted (till October 5) is India’s INDC, named as ‘working Towards Climate Justice’. It is ‘welcomed’ as a ‘promising’ document better than that of the ‘US and EU’. By invoking Gandhian ecology and Vedas in its INDC, which was tactically released to public on Gandhi’s birth anniversary, India has positioned itself advantageously for the meanest and toughest week-long negotiation at Paris Climate Summit (COP21). While India has postulated the right strategy for Paris negotiation, back home, it needs to streamline its grandiose plan with accountability and monitoring institutions at place. However, the green groups in India are surprisingly satisfied with the content of the INDC!


Since June this year, major countries have been submitting its INDCs to address the impacts of climate change. Many such INDC communications will continue upto 2016. Among 194 member countries of COP, 147 agreed under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) to ‘initiate or intensify’ domestic preparations as INDCs towards adopting a protocol in Paris.


From the outset, India’s INDC has been very impressive but not path breaking. Those who have labeled India as being obstructionist since Copenhagen Summit or from prior COPs, would rather be cheerful of latter’s commitment of 33 - 35% reduction of emission by 2030 from 2005 levels. It may be ‘conservative’ emission reduction, but it is continuation of its Copenhagen voluntary pledge of 20-25% intensity reduction by 2020. The other major emitter - China, which submitted its INDC as ‘Enhanced Actions on Climate Change’ in June, had promised to lower its CO2 emissions by 60-65% by 2030 from the 2005 level.


For 2015 Paris Agreement, at best a compromise declaration, India will pitch for establishing an ‘effective, cooperative and equitable global architecture based on climate justice’ and the principle of Equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities. Before the official release of the INDC, Minister of Environment and Forest and Climate Change had argued for bringing ‘life style’ debate at Paris negotiations. Although India through G-77 and China successfully prioritized ‘un-sustainable patterns of consumption and production’ in Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) adopted in 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, present national contradictions between ecological space and survival space of marginalized sections would rather backfire by questioning climate justice. India should reformulate its lifestyle argument as her northern neighboring country Bhutan has already Gross National Happiness (GNH).  


The government has stage-managed world events tactfully to convey India’s climate action plan. During Sustainable Summit at Special Session of General Assembly in New York, Indian Prime Minister eloquently quoted Gandhi, as in INDC. For UNFCCC and international audience, the INDC, which is rationalized with Gandhian ecology, would definitely sound a bell. Nationally, successive governments have either abused or misused the spirit of ‘trusteeship’ as put forward in the INDC. Recent example is the manner in which Land Bill/Ordinances were being approved and later withdrawn.


The impressive low carbon path, which espouses nuclear power and hydropower among other non-fossil fuels, will face a firm opposition on the ground due to its severe social and environmental consequences. To reach the potential in hydropower, India needs withdrawal of Supreme Court’s stay order on hydropower in Uttaranchal, implementing controversial Inter Basin Water Transfer (famously known as Interlinking of Rivers). Most importantly, a tussle on Brahmaputra with China to harness massive hydropower as well as recent foreign policy failure in Nepal, which is potentially a source of major hydropower for India, would be major hurdles. Similarly, nuclear power of India is completely dependent on the decision of Nuclear Supply Group (NSG), which has not given a go signal yet. Most of foreign trips of Indian PM which linked to get Uranium supply uninterrupted have not transformed into reality. Reputation of Clean coal technology of its cleanliness will continue a debating instrument in coming days too.


Aware of being cornered during Paris negotiation, India has been working behind closed doors with few most vulnerable Island nations and Like Minded Developing Countries. Through Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC), India has reached out to most vulnerable countries on climate change which can be helpful during Paris Summit. Unlike in 2009, India has yet to forge a common SAARC statement for Paris. Among powerful BASIC group, China has already moved ahead in the group. The newly formed Vulnerable 20 (V20) had just completed a huddle in Peru devising a financial mechanism to support and sustain each other. India’s call for financial obligation for developed countries may get a support from V20 but finance transferring to India for its $2.3 trillion demand would face fractured mandate. Five SAARC countries are member of V20 which will have a tremendous role during Paris Negotiation.


All member countries will be meeting at Bonn during October 19-23 to continue negotiation on the First Draft. India would like to rush ahead making partners to convey its reservations on the first Draft. The so-called ‘national interests’ of sovereign nations have jeopardized the effort to protect, preserve and manage ‘commons’.  Fighting climate change has become victim of such parochial notions. India’s INDC may dispel its image of being an obstructionist during Paris talks, but India, like other major GHG emitters, won’t let down its national interest sooner. Thus, all eyes are set on the upcoming most crucial COP of 21st Century. 

Author Note
Dr Avilash Roul, Senior Fellow at Indo-German Center for Sustainability, IIT- M, Chennai