The increasing frequency of extreme climate events across the globe has injected a sense of urgency in the global climate negotiations conducted under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and prodded by G20 leaders during their annual summits. These leaders, whose countries account for over 80 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, are expected to develop a consensus that could contribute to a successful outcome of the COP27 Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. This will conclude just after the 17th G20 Leaders’ Summit is held in Bali, Indonesia, on November 15- 16, 2022. India will assume the G20 presidency immediately following this and host the 18th G20 summit in 2023.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report (EGR) 2022, policies currently in place point to a 2.8°C temperature rise by 2100. Implementation of current pledges and after considering the new updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the COP21 Paris Accord of 2015, this rise can be kept within 2.4 – 2.6 degrees. While this is an improvement over the 4 degrees projection on the eve of the Paris Accord, it is only marginally better than the projection (2.7 degrees) in the 2021 EGR, and still very far from the Paris Accord ambition of 1.5 to 2 degrees. Temperatures have already risen 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and any temperature rise beyond 1.5 degrees could be catastrophic. The UNEP has estimated that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by 45 pc by 2030 to achieve the 1.5 per cent target, and 30 per cent to achieve 2 degrees.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced an ambitious, widely publicised 5-point national agenda (Panchamrit) for environment action at the COP26 Summit which included (i) reducing emission intensity of GDP by 45 per cent (instead of the previously agreed upon 33-35 per cent), (ii) enhancing renewable energy capacity in the total energy mix from 40 to 50 per cent, (iii) reducing total projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes, (iv) increasing non-fossil fuel capacity from 175 GW to 500 GW by 2030, and (v) net-zero carbon emissions by 2070 (the only major developing country to do so, after China). He also called on developed nations to dedicate 1 per cent of their GDP towards financing green projects in the developing world and for the establishment of a ‘clean energy projects fund’ at the G20 Rome summit. Earlier India along with France had launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the Paris COP 21, with the ambitious target of mobilising investment of nearly USD 1 trillion globally by 2030 for the solar energy sector.
India can build on all the above announcements, and what might be achieved at Sharm El Sheikh and Bali, to carry forward the climate agenda during its G20 presidency. By virtue of its status as a major developing country, the Indian Chair is well positioned to bring the North and South closer on the issue of climate change and go beyond the grand bargains of the COP 2009 Copenhagen that set up the Green Climate Fund, and Paris Accords.
The agenda advanced by New Delhi must incorporate measures to balance concerns of reducing carbon emissions with resultant development lags and job losses that smaller nations fear. The Indian Chair could press for higher environment funding and technology transfers by developed nations in return for more concrete emission targets, both short-term and long-term, with more ambitious timelines, in the light of the discouraging assessment of the UNEP. Action points in this agenda could include cooperation on deciding and achieving short-term decarbonisation targets, creation of jobs in the renewable energy sector on a year-on-year basis proportionately to the ones lost in traditional power generating sectors, phasing out the internal combustion engine, greater use of plant-based fuels like ethanol, cooperation on planned obsolescence of coal-based power generating plants, expansion of carbon trading markets for emerging markets and closing the financing gap in developing countries by collectively leveraging the US, UK and EU to inject investment into green infrastructure and clean technology projects. Under its G20 presidency, India could nudge G20 leaders to incorporate some of these initiatives in the Leaders’ Statement and the New Delhi Action Plan expected to be issued at the 18th G20 Summit hosted by it.
The writer is a retired IAS officer and former Secretary, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, and RBI Chair Professor in Macroeconomics