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The Future of India’s Climate Diplomacy: Trump, China and Other Factors

22 December, 2016
Dhanasree Jayaram

The uncertainty surrounding Donald Trump's climate policy has side-tracked the debate on climate governance. One player observing the rapidly changing landscape is India. Dhanasree Jayaram takes a look at current international dynamics, the divergences between India and China, collaboration on clean energy development, the Kigali negotiations and the question who is really responsible to resolve the conundrum.

The changing landscape of global climate politics

If there is one major global governance issue that could take a hit with Donald Trump’s electoral victory, it is climate change. The uncertainty surrounding the President-elect’s climate policy, both at the domestic and international level, has side-tracked the debate on climate governance, as multiple questions have been raised, ranging from ‘will Trump’s presidency stall progress on global environmental action?’ to ‘who will become the next world climate leader?’

In the wake of vitriolic rhetoric against any form of climate action initiated by outgoing President Barack Obama, during his election campaign; and appointment of the Oklahoma attorney general and a well-known climate sceptic, Scott Pruitt, to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one does not necessarily need to seek a second opinion regarding the President-elect’s natural predilections on climate change.

Obama’s exit is expected to leave a vacuum in global climate politics, depending on whether or not Trump decides to shift the US away from the global climate scene, and thus from its global responsibilities.

One player observing the rapidly changing landscape, whilst meanwhile being observed, is India. During the Conference of Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, India is said to have maintained strategic quiet on various issues.

According to some analysts, this may be due to India’s apprehensions regarding the future of the Paris Agreement under Trump’s presidency, taking into consideration his non-committal attitude towards the agreement during the election campaign. Since then, his position has moderated mildly, acknowledging “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, and that he would want to “look into” the Paris Agreement (rather than pull out of it).

First of all, it is too early to predict Trump’s moves on climate policy. It is even more important to understand that countries like India, which is known to play by the moral cards at international negotiations, is least likely to jeopardise the Paris Agreement, after having signed and ratified it in good faith – that too based on another country’s election results. This was made amply clear by Anil Madhav Dave, India’s Minister of State (MoS) for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), “We have to go ahead with implementation of the agreement. We already have over 95% of the laws necessary to do so.”

India and China - an issue of South-South divergence?

In no time, many reports have cropped up, putting China on a pedestal and pinning hopes on it to deliver as a potential global climate leader – lauding its progressive and proactive action on the Paris Agreement and the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Climate cooperation between China and the US is said to have single-handedly made the Paris Agreement possible, as these two have been possibly the largest holdouts in climate change negotiations in the past.

 

Similarly, China’s decision to support the US to phase-out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), breaking away from the developing world, also struck a chord with most climate pundits. India is still, however, being viewed as a problem in global environmental governance, “delaying the Kigali agreement” and adopting climate-unfriendly policies such as doubling coal production.

South-South divergence in the global climate negotiations is not new. The BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) grouping, which stood at the pinnacle of success at the Copenhagen Summit back in 2009, fissured the very next year when conflicting interests overpowered shared ones.

Therefore, divergences between India and China have grown over the years – except on clean energy development, deployment and promotion; the bottom-up approach to climate action; and to some extent, climate finance, the two countries have been at variance on many points including peaking of emissions and emissions reduction commitments.

From India’s perspective, it would not want to be equated with a country that is the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter (in aggregate terms) and whose per capita emissions are far higher than its own. Taking these very factors into consideration, former Special Envoy of the Indian Prime Minister on climate change, Shyam Saran, pointed out that if China had agreed to peak its emissions in 2030, then India could agree to do the same 15-20 years after 2030.

Likewise, when discussing the Kigali amendment, one estimate suggested that, “Even in 2050, India’s HFC emissions under business as usual would have been 7 per cent of the world total against China’s 31 per cent.” These arguments point towards the reality that China has to act sooner, as its contributions are much larger quantitatively and qualitatively in comparison to that of India.

However, this does not mean that India has far less responsibility in resolving the conundrum. This does not imply either, that there are no hindrances within India to effective development and implementation of climate policies. It only means that this type of comparison does not help reach any conclusion.

A linchpin in global climate governance

One needs to fact-check some of these reports and articles that place India on a defensive position. Take for instance, the existence of a completely different narrative, describing India’s role in these international negotiations. Although not very ambitious, India had put up a proposal to phase-out HFCs, which only three other parties did.

After having changed its negotiation strategy to one based on “reciprocity” (so that the advancement of its baseline for the HFC phase-out is complimented by a similar move as well as greater technological and financial support by the developed world), India “announced voluntary action to eliminate emissions of HFC-23 with immediate effect,” much to the surprise of China and the US that are “responsible for most of the global HFC-23 emissions.”

The baseline acceptable to India (2024-26) with HFCs freezing in 2028) was agreed with a clear focus on affordability (cost burden) and technological alternatives. Not only did India announce a “domestic, collaborative R&D programme to develop next-generation, sustainable refrigerants”, involving key stakeholders like the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research and its allied institutions, Department of Science and Technology and Centre for Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences among others in September 2016; it also agreed to cooperate with the US to phase-out HFCs in a joint statement when Obama visited India in January 2015, long before the Kigali meeting took place.

Even on the question of coal, while it is being trumpeted that China’s consumption of this most-polluting fossil fuel might have dropped by 3.7 percent in 2015, compared to 2014 levels, other reports suggest that “China’s coal power generation capacity will grow as much as 19 percent over the next five years.”

However, in order to maintain its coal-fired plant capacity below 1,100 gigawatts (GW), it might have to cut about 150 GW of coal-fired power from approved and under-construction projects. As far as India is concerned, while India’s plan to double coal production has got a lot of international attention, many other proposals have not received as much attention as one would imagine.

First, with the aim to reduce pollution, the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC Limited) intends to phase out thermal power plants that are more than 25 years old and replace them with modern energy efficient supercritical ones. Second, a December 2016 report – draft National Electricity Plan – has come out with a plan for the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), for “zero new thermal power generation” before 2027, thereby facilitating a massive shift to renewable sources.

This draft plan is not only open for public consultation but also predicts that the share of hydel, nuclear and renewable sources in the country’s energy basket will grow much faster (46.8 percent of electricity generation by 2021-22) than what has been committed in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) (40 percent by 2030).

Even if these proposals cater to just optics and signify less of intent and/or action, the fact remains that both countries are heavily dependent on coal; both are increasing their coal power capacity while proposing to phase it out eventually; both are making the right noises but one is being heard more than the other.

Whilst it is extremely important to take China into the fold, India is a linchpin in global climate governance too. It is rather inappropriate and unfair to say that the European Union (EU) or China or India can be the next world climate leader, which takes the international community back to a parochial view of climate leadership based on hegemonic stability.

The three actors along with the other pivotal ones (who have played a far bigger role in steering climate change negotiations than what is advertised) have to ensure that a potential change in the US’ stand on the Paris Agreement and/or other climate policies does not derail the global climate change negotiations and climate action by not adopting any regressive steps in their own climate diplomacy.

India and China - an opportunity for collective leadership?

Collective leadership would be required to maintain stability in the global climate order. On the one hand, the divergences between India and China are growing day by day and on the other, Trump’s flip-flops provide an opportunity for countries like India and China to bridge these differences in order to collectively invest in green R&D and reduce dependence on the outcomes of negotiations as the only driver of global climate action.

A Global Times report, entitled “Non-committal Trump may push China to work with India in fighting climate change,” states, “China and India should encourage scientific institutions, environmental groups and firms to cooperate on research to develop environmentally friendly techniques that are tailored for both countries.”

Another reason why this report resonates well with the current dynamics in international relations is that Trump has sent shock waves by questioning the one-China policy, thus shaking the foundation on which the much-talked about G-2 relationship developed between the two powers even on the climate change front.

International dynamics aside, India still has a lot to do in terms of research, whether it is in science, technology or economics, or other sectors impinged by or associated with climate change. Whilst one group of scientists have dismissed any connection between December 2015 deluge in Chennai and human-induced climate change, another group of scientists have concluded that the 2015 heat waves in India and Pakistan were exacerbated by climate change.

This uncertainty and many other aspects need to be studied, and appropriate measures need to be taken at the national level in order to advance India’s climate diplomacy in the future.

 

This article is written as a part of the adelphi-MARG project Climate Diplomacy. The Climate Diplomacy Initiative is a collaborative effort of the German Federal Foreign Office in partnership with adelphi.

Dhanasree Jayaram is Project Associate, Manipal Advanced Research Group (MARG), Manipal University, Karnataka, India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Topic
Climate Diplomacy

Region
North America
Asia

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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