Climate Change and Conflict By Robert Mizo  |  07 December, 2022

India at COP-27: Did It Prevail?

Image: Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation's electric bus service - PradeepGaurs/Shutterstock

That India is a key actor at the international climate negotiation table was well displayed at the recently concluded Convention of Parties (COP) 27 at Sharm El-Sheikh. The summit which sought a renewed solidarity among the parties to achieve the promises made at Paris in 2015 saw India being an assertive yet cooperative party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While there is universal consensus that the climate crisis can only be addressed by concerted efforts of all countries, issues concerning equity, justice, and fairness remain contentious. India’s major contribution at Sharm El-Sheikh pertained to addressing these questions.

India made amply clear that it remains committed to the underlying issues of global justice and equity when it objected to the use of terms such as "major emitters” and "top emitters" in the cover text of the Summit. These would have implied that all top emitters including India and China must make intense emission cuts to limit global average warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade and not just the rich economies who are historically responsible for climate change. India’s Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav, who headed the Indian delegation at COP27, saw this as an attempt to undermine the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC). India is certainly not yet ready to be clubbed with countries historically responsible for climate change and has unequivocally asserted its resistance to such an attempt based on the equity principles under the Convention.

Further, Indian negotiators underlined the regrettable fact that this is still an unequal world with glaring disparities in energy usage, emissions, and incomes among countries. They therefore pressed for the provision of an enhanced climate finance for poorer economies to cope with the impacts of climate change while agreeing to effect emission reduction based on respective capabilities. Apart from its zero-emission-plans (targeted to be achieved by 2070) and other emission reduction programmes under its Nationally Determined Commitments (NDC), India submitted its Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy (LT LEDS) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which highlighted major strategies to transition to a low emission development pathway. Mr. Yadav emphasised that India’s low-carbon development strategy must be seen in the context of its “right to equitable and fair share of the global carbon budget.” The document importantly notes that India will require tens of trillions of dollars by 2050 to implement this plan. It states, “Provision of climate finance by developed countries will play a very significant role and needs to be considerably enhanced, in the form of grants and concessional loans, ensuring scale, scope and speed, predominantly from public sources, in accordance with the principles of the UNFCCC.”

Further, India co-led the Climate Finance talks at the Summit, which was a critical aspect of the convention’s agenda given the unfulfilled Paris commitment of 100 billion USD per year 2020 onwards by developed nations. India tried to arrive at a multilaterally agreed definition of climate finance as it refuses to recognise ‘loans’ as climate finance which push poor and developing countries further into debt, preferring “grants or concessional” funding. India, along with other developing countries, therefore insisted that rich countries agree to a new global climate finance target—the new collective quantified goal on climate finance (NCQG)—which  should be in trillions of US dollars as the costs of addressing and adapting to climate change have escalated. Even as NCQG doesn’t find mention in the final document of the convention, the Sharm-el-Sheikh Implementation Plan emphasised that “accelerated financial support for developing countries from developed countries and other sources is critical to enhancing mitigation action and addressing inequities in access to finance.”

India welcomed the establishment of the Loss and Damages Fund (L&D) meant to compensate the most vulnerable countries for climate change-induced damages they would suffer. This was rightfully hailed as a historic development at COP27 as it underscores the needs of the poorer nations, particularly the Small Island States. Key details pertaining to management of the fund, its contributors and their shares were left to be chalked out by a ‘transnational committee’ who would present their proposal for adoption at COP28 next year. India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav, however, clarified that it would not be India’s responsibility to contribute to the proposed fund but will rather stake its claims to it to cope with the impacts of climate change. The agreement to establish such a fund is seen as a right step in the long journey towards climate justice.

India joined fellow BRICS nations in opposing the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism proposed by the European Union to tax carbon intensive products such as cement, fertilisers, steel, etc. from 2026 onwards. India and its BRICS allies argued that such taxes could result in market distortion and aggravate trust deficit amongst parties, and must be avoided. The group is opposed to discriminatory and unfair market ‘solutions’ as they lead to balance of trade issues between developed and developing economies. They rather insist that developed economies should show leadership by fulfilling their finance and emission reduction commitments. This is an effort to protect the equity principle by ensuring that no country is unfairly made to suffer disproportionately the burden of climate mitigation.

On efforts to reduce the usage of fossil fuels, India reiterated its proposal to phase down “all fossil fuels” and not just coal. The argument behind this stance was that non-coal fuels such as oil and natural gas also contribute to greenhouse gases and hence must be phased down on an equal footing  with coal, a proposal that was supported by the European Union at the Glasgow COP in 2021. This however was seen as a diplomatic politicking by India, given its heavy reliance on coal to meet its electricity demand. The ‘all-fossil-phase-down’ proposal was thus met with resistance from oil and gas producers, mainly the USA and Saudi Arabia, and the text settled on “coal phase down”.

India at COP 27 was an active and influential party who displayed duty to solution finding while being steadfastly committed to safeguard the interests of developing and underdeveloped economies. It stood to represent the interest of the ‘many’ of the world’s population who are victims of the climate crisis and not its perpetrators. India’s role and contribution to future international climate negotiations will continue to be informed by the values it holds dear – namely, equity, fairness, and global justice.

Robert Mizo is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, India. He holds a PhD in Climate Policy studies. His research interests include Climate Change and Security, Climate Politics, Environmental Security, and International Environmental Politics. He has published and presented on the above topics at both national and international platforms.