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Only India can save the Paris climate agreement

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Given the present leadership impasse, the world would be keenly following India’s role on climate action in key upcoming forums such as the G20 and COP23. As China looks for a global partner to leverage its influence at the international stage, India is poised to utilize this potential opportunity and fill the leadership void in global climate change governance.

The US regression from climate action should not surprise the world. President Donald Trump has followed the footsteps of his former counterpart George W Bush by deciding to withdraw the US from yet another international treaty that commits parties to reduce carbon emissions in order to tackle global warming. US’s withdrawal alone is however not the matter of concern. A recent article published in Climate Central reveals how several developed economies, for example Australia and Russia, too are faltering on climate action. Under these circumstances, the world is now looking east to fill the leadership vacuum in climate governance and push for collective efforts to combat climate change.

Commentators feel that the US exit from the Paris Agreement has paved the way to global climate leadership for China and India. India and China are countries that have both displayed immense credentials, commitment and leadership potential by taking affirmative action in significantly reducing carbon emissions.

Particularly in the matter of climate governance, China has been seen making a shift from its insular foreign policy towards a more internationalist stance, in the recent times. The US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has hastened China’s alliance with the European Union (EU) to lead the transition to a low-carbon economy. President Xi Jinping’s push for a $900 billion Belt and Road project to create markets for Chinese solar panels and wind turbines, its recent introduction of cap and trade policy, massive investments in renewable energy and cutting down on coal dependence are all evidence of Chinese aspiration for attaining influence on world stage.

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Though China’s climate action is commendable, however, the country is not in a position yet to independently assume the leadership that climate governance requires. First, despite its aggressive efforts in climate action, China remains the world’s largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, contributing twice the amount of emissions compared to the US. This does not leave China in a principled position to pursue other countries to take up more ambitious climate targets. Second, for a long time now, China has followed a hands-off approach in regional and global diplomacy. Tackling climate change and reforming global energy systems would require a more assertive leadership, as well as propose ambitious climate goals in future - a position where China is yet to demonstrate requisite potential. Third, until as recent as 2011, climate scepticism dominated the national discourse in China. Climate change was largely seen as a “western conspiracy to constrain the development of China and other developing nations”. Climate change has primarily been viewed by China’s policy establishment through the lens of managing US-China relations. This raises doubts about China’s commitment to active climate leadership.

Between the US withdrawal and China’s dubious climate credentials, immense opportunities exist for India to counterbalance the existing climate leadership equilibrium. Recently, India’s energy minister Piyush Goyal has affirmed that India would stand committed to its climate goals laid out in the Paris Agreement irrespective of “what happens to the rest of the world.” Coming out more strongly, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to go “above and beyond” the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is indicative of India’s decisive leadership on Climate Change on a global scale.

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India is already on the path of clean energy revolution and is making significant accomplishments in achieving its pledge to the Paris Agreement. As a strategy to reduce its emission, India has embarked on a massive renewable energy programme. Upscaling the National Solar Mission, India has set a target of 100 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar energy capacity by 2022. This is five times higher than the original 20 GW target. May 2017 has seen record drop in solar power prices to Rs 2.44/kWh. India also recently became the fourth largest producer of wind energy in the world and announced plans to cancel 14 GW of coal plants. Indeed, India is currently in a strong position not only to meet, but exceed its Paris climate targets.

 

Even under India’s new tax regime, 18% of tax is proposed to be levied on electric cars, vis-a-vis 28% tax on conventional cars. The green power revolution is envisaged to attract millions in investment and create job opportunities, while providing a substantial boost to export of new commodities. In the aftermath of creating the largest market of solar power for itself, India has now proposed a pioneering commitment to sell only electric cars by 2030.

Besides ambitious actions, climate change leadership requires an approach that goes hand in hand with the needs and interests of the poor and most vulnerable. Being the largest democracy, India is a shining example of how stronger climate actions could be successfully aligned with development imperatives. India has played a crucial role in climate negotiations during the Paris Agreement. It has strongly defended the concept of “differentiated responsibilities” and have argued for less stringent climate restrictions for developing countries as they need more room to grow in the limited carbon space.

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Given the present leadership impasse, the world would be keenly following India’s role on climate action in key upcoming forums such as the G20 and COP23. As China looks for a global partner to leverage its influence at the international stage, India is poised to utilize this potential opportunity and fill the leadership void in global climate change governance.