India has emerged as one of the key, and most intriguing, voices at the COP21 talks in Paris.
In the first three days of the conference, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed to playing a constructive role in negotiations and has outlined a significant renewable energy program in partnership with France. India has also, however, outlined a plan to expand fossil fuel consumption while calling on developed states to significantly reduce theirs. And today, Indian officials accused the OECD of overestimating developed states’ contributions to climate aid, which promises to be a crucial point of contention in Paris.
India’s position is complex, and it has been complicated still further by the changing approaches of other states.
While positioning itself as a leader and voice of developing states, this role was undermined by the declaration by dozens of other developing states on day 1 of the negotiations, a combination of small island and “climate vulnerable” states. These states argued for stronger global action on climate change, with a commitment to keeping temperature rises to 1.5℃ rather than 2℃.
If this is one club to which India belongs in the context of climate negotiations, the other is that of the world’s largest current contributors to climate change itself. Yet the position of the only two larger national greenhouse gas emitters – the United States and China – is almost unrecognisable from their stances at Copenhagen in 2009. In Paris these states have outlined a commitment to strong climate action in cooperation with each other. In Copenhagen they were accused of scuppering the agreement between them.
All of this puts India in a difficult position.
At one level, their interventions so far haven’t fundamentally challenged the Rio Declaration principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”. This dictates that while a shared global problem, the extent to which individual states bear responsibility for addressing it is determined by factors ranging from historical responsibility to vulnerability, adaptive capacity and developmental imperatives.
And India’s position is more than understandable. With hundreds of millions living in poverty and without access to electricity, and with per capita emissions around 10% of those of the United States in 2012, India surely has grounds to suggest that the onus for making sacrifices to address climate change should be on others.
Yet the extent to which India has drawn attention to concerns about climate finance, including by questioning assessments of aid allocated to date, suggests it is willing to push hard to have these concerns addressed.
Just how hard India is willing to push could well be the money question for the outcome of the conference as a whole. The position of other states raises the real prospect of an isolated India, potentially serving as a fall guy for any failure to reach robust agreement in Paris. How desperate will India be to avoid this outcome?