The delay in India’s declaration of its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) has raised many questions with regard to its long-term climate goals. For the time being, the governmentisfocussed on fulfilling the INDC requirement without compromising too much on some of the traditionally held positions (by the previous governments). The “red lines” that have long dominated India’s negotiating position on climate change are likely to shift slightly because of three reasons.


First, the Modi-led government at the centrerealises that the international pressure on India to adopt stronger commitments is mounting, especially in the light of emerging economies like China and Brazil joining hands with the U.S. in attempts to address climate change. Diplomatically, India’s relatively weaker commitments could put it in a disadvantageous position globally. Second, the government understands that only by being a part of the ‘bandwagon’, can it leverage the post-Kyotoclimate order and extract potential benefits (such as technology, finances and capacity-building to boost its own transition to low-carbon growth) from it. Third, (most importantly) the government knows that international benchmarks, rhetoric and a few institutions alone cannot help deal with the issue on the domestic front. India needs to beef up its national-level climate strategies (that may not have a direct bearing on its international position on climate change) to fill the policy gaps in terms of both mitigation and adaptation – for instance, to tackle pollution in its major cities.


On the one hand, the government clearly wants to send out a strong signal by reemphasising its commitment towards expanding renewable energy capacity, enhancing energy efficiency and building adaptive capacity. On the other, it is likely to evade any form of national level target – albeit reports suggest that it could resort to sector and region specific goals.


India’s precarious position makes it difficult for the government to think in the long term. Comparisons with China are inevitable but are unnecessary. China announced itshistoric joint communiqué on climate change with the U.S. and even though its INDC is rated as “inadequate” by different agencies, its national and international moves on the climate front are being lauded. China’s steps are being looked upon as far-sighted, particularly with its announcement of the peaking (peak emission) year. The fact of the matter is that the two countries have completely different political systems. Moreover, China’s far more destructive developmental and emissions paths are not comparable to that of India. Not only is China the world’s largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter but also its per capita emissions match that of the European Union (EU). This is not an excuse for India to adopt a laidback approach towards the issue, but nevertheless it is important to take into consideration while comparing two different nation states’ policy objectives and trajectories that have two different systems and are at two different levels of development.


In India, a singularly focussed top-down approach (with strong institutions at the top) may not work in the long run as governments (and policies) change periodically. It is true that the country has a really young climate policy that is yet to take a solid shape due to developmental constraints and the lack of political will. If the INDC gives teeth to the National Action Plan on Climate Change (other than the solar plan), it needs to establish a wide climate network spanning the country with a wide array of agencies (dealing with different climate issues) under a central nodal institution. In addition to building and strengthening institutions at the national level, what needs to be strengthened is the bottom-up policy thrust that could complement national policies.


There are many issues that need to be addressed in order to bridge the gap between the national and local levels. There exist a plethora of traditional climate mitigation and adaptation practices that are unaccounted for when one talks about the National Action Plan on Climate Change. National-level Institutions are not integrated with the local communities as they should be. Although Modi has highlighted his philosophical take on the issue by reiterating the need for behavioural changes at the individual level, very little effort has been taken by the government to instil impetus into climate movement on the ground.


The (probable) shift in India’s position at the climate change negotiations, in all its likelihood, would not “renege” on most of the red lines. Even if it releases a landmark INDC, what needs to be focussed upon is implementation – which would entail institution-building and capacity-building at all levels.


[This article is written as a part of the adelphi-MARG project Climate Diplomacy 2015-2016.]


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.