Now that the much-awaited Paris (COP-21) Summit has come to an end with a broad consensus on the post-2020 – termed a historic breakthrough – the next steps towards planning and implementation would be taken in an incremental fashion. Amidst fears of derailment of talks due to differences between the developed and developing countries, the least developed and island nations played a crucial role in pressing hard their demands and making sure that an agreement is reached. In the run up to and during the negotiations, many eyes were on India as it is seen as a “bridging” nation – seeking to bridge “the many nations across the world” and to bridge “development with climate action”.


India – the fourth largest aggregate emitter in the world (after China, the U.S. and the E.U.) – has always been seen as a ‘power’ that holds key to climate consensus; and most often a ‘spoiler’ that is infamous for blocking consensus. The Paris Summit was no different. Before the negotiations began as well as during the negotiations, efforts on the part of the industrialized and least developed countries were on to ensure that India consented to be more flexible than it had been in the past conferences so that a strong legally binding agreement is reached upon. So much so that it was being seen as a “challenge”. The current leadership of India, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unlike the previous governments, made special effort in the past one year to impress upon the rest of the international community (particularly major powers like the U.S. and E.U.) its ‘national interest’. India does not wish to undertake climate action due to pressure from the “Western countries” but because of the “potential damage warming could cause worldwide and in India especially.”


India’s calls for climate justice (a fair share of carbon budget); its attempts to accommodate ‘differentiation’ in the agreed outcome (even in measuring, reporting and verification); and its unwillingness to compromise on its coal production goals (1.5 billion metric tons by 2020) had already created an atmosphere of scepticism in terms of reaching a strong legally binding agreement. However, what unfolded at then negotiations was contrary to expectations. Indian negotiators (that included not only Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar but also the Union Minister of State (with Independent Charge) for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal and other representatives from ministries such as External Affairs, Earth Sciences and Agriculture) decided to sign on to a deal that entailed making many compromises on the part of India and fell short of meeting expectations that were shared by a large part of the developing world – liability and compensation being one among several. 


Prakash Javadekar went on to admit, “To achieve big things you need to be accommodating without changing the meaning and thrust of agreement and that is success.” While compromising on the erasure of “historical responsibility” from the agreement, India managed to keep “differentiation” in all aspects – mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency. However, this implies that hereafter equity would be seen only through the prism of “respective capabilities and national circumstances”. What is very clear is that the text is rather flexible and many terms and conditions are yet to be defined for the modus operandi to be fixed, such as the difference between the developed and developing countries (“economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets” versus “enhancing mitigation efforts”).


The fact of the matter is that India is only protecting its interests at the negotiations just like any other country. Besides, while protecting its interests, the Indian leadership has played a rather constructive role by proposing solutions and not blocking consensus as many would like to accuse India of. Its thrust on clean energy led the international community to launch the global solar alliance of 120 countries at the Paris Summit. What matters most for a country is affordable energy access and only initiatives such as that of the global solar alliance that is founded on the principle of climate justice – raising public finances from richer states to share technology with the poorer nations – can ensure that the goals envisioned in the Paris outcome are realized.


It is a known fact by now that although coal is not India’s “default option”, it is an indispensable option that has to be exploited in order to meet energy requirements that cannot be met by non-carbon sources. India will continue to invest heavily in renewable and nuclear energy for creating universal affordable energy access, but at the same time will not let the Paris agreement hamper its plans to double coal output by 2020. Therefore, India’s clean energy and development (harmonizing environment and development) goals are dependent to a large extent on its ability to influence the international community to find cooperative solutions and building equitable partnerships. The plan to build the solar alliance headquarters at New Delhi is a welcome step, considering this would mean that India would be a prime driver of international solar market and (hopefully) technology; but the success could be measured best in terms of how much technology transfer and joint research and development would materialize in the coming years.


U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry’s remarks (that India is a challenge) ahead of the Paris Summit can only be gauged in terms of the interplay between the geopolitical and domestic scenario within the U.S. The U.S. is in favour of an agreement that assures participation of countries that are in a position to finance mitigation efforts in the developing and least developed countries – targeted mainly at India and China. It remains to be seen as to how climate finance would be “ratcheted up” in accordance with “ratcheting up” of mitigation pledges in order to meet this international target. It also remains to be seen as to how much of an impact the ratcheting up of ambition would have on developing countries such as India in terms of raising finances for scaling up its own mitigation efforts in the coming decade, especially once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) brings out its special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius in 2018.


To be a part of the solution, India requires partners – especially if the world desires to achieve net zero emissions and the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold. Countries have to not only strengthen the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) mechanisms but also prioritize climate change as an important element of their foreign policy and diplomacy so that climate governance does not necessarily become hierarchical and function on bilateral and plurilateral levels too.


[This article is written as a part of the adelphi-MARG project Climate Diplomacy, supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.]


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.