While current anti-climate developments in the US administration caused anxiety among climate advocates, its immediate effects might be more positive than initially expected. Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement has awaken a sense of urgency within the international community for dealing with climate issues, as well as filling the power vacuum that this withdrawal creates in collective climate leadership.
The US President Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the Trump administration’s decision to refrain from endorsing an international declaration dealing with climate mitigation, climate finance and the Paris Agreement at the G-7 meeting of Environment Ministers has certainly given a setback to international climate action. One would imagine that these anti-climate policies by the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) would slow down climate action by the rest of the countries – but this is not the case. A handful of countries of the European Union (EU) like Germany and France, as well as China, have attempted to fill the gap created in collective climate leadership (that led to the signing of the Paris Agreement) due to the US’ withdrawal. India too has emerged as a leading climate voice, upholding the Paris Agreement and its spirit of global consensus on climate action.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to place climate change at the centre of India’s bilateral and multilateral dealings with other countries and groupings/organisations. During his recent visit to Europe (Germany, France and Spain), he “vowed to go above and beyond the Paris accord to combat climate change.” Alluding to the history and tradition of ecological preservation and conservation in India, and reiterating the need for protecting the environment for the future generations, the Modi administration has provided a much-needed reassurance to the majority of the countries and epistemic communities that continue to champion a cooperative agenda on climate action.
At the domestic level, even while India plans to double its coal production in order to achieve self-sufficiency and energy security, it is taking simultaneous steps to ensure that the transition to renewable energy is fast-paced and cost-effective. India is currently the fourth largest market for solar power in the world behind China, the US and Japan; and it is now expected to surpass Japan this year. Besides pledging to derive “at least 40 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030”, India also plans to increase its “solar power generation to 100 GW by 2022.” Last month, when the solar power tariff was recorded lower than that of coal-fired power (2.44 Indian Rupees or US$0.04 per kilowatt-hour) at an auction to supply 500 MW of new solar capacity in the state of Rajasthan, the general mood became more buoyant than ever. These developments could reduce India’s dependence on coal-fired power plants dramatically in another decade or so.
It is not just the renewable energy sector that India is concentrating on. The government has rolled out a series of policies that are directed at reducing the energy intensity of India’s cities, transport and infrastructure. The Green Energy Corridors, the National Smart Grid Mission and the Smart Cities Mission, among others, are aimed at increasing the country’s “energy capacities from wind and waste conversion”, as well as making cities more energy-efficient, and resilient to disasters and climate change. Programmes related to health, soil health management, coastal management, watershed management, irrigation systems, organic farming, climate adaptation and so on, have also been proposed or are in the pipeline. These are in addition to the eight missions of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), released in 2008.
On the geopolitical front, India is emerging as a natural and reliable partner in dealing with issues pertaining to global governance like climate change. This is further reinforced by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s fervent efforts to open new avenues of dialogue and cooperation, based on a pragmatic and result-oriented approach, with India, and China too. Emphasising on the need for countries to put their faith in a “rules-based global order”, she commended India for its climate mitigation efforts, especially in the renewable (mainly solar) sector. While China has also catapulted itself into the position of the leader of the new world order, not all countries are inclined naturally to work with the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Even the EU, despite being a major stakeholder of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – as Europe is the one of the largest consumer markets for Chinese goods – yet it has mixed views on the initiative. At the Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing in May, the EU representative’s cautious receptiveness to China’s proposals on the grounds of adherence to “market principles and international standards”, the nature of access that European companies would get into the Chinese market and so on, bring out the EU’s (or a few European countries’) scepticism over China’s intentions and strategies.
China might be cancelling and shutting coal-fired projects on the Chinese soil; and is being praised for the same globally. However, it is contributing heavily to expansion of coal power in the rest of the world, especially in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, through investments by Chinese state-owned companies and banks that are involved in more than 80 coal projects in the world.
This is the right time for India to plunge into the international arena as not only a responsible player, but also an agenda-setter and, more importantly, an agenda-mover, as the world faces several lacunae in global leadership on climate change.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.
Dhanasree Jayaram is Project Associate at the Manipal Advanced Research Group (MARG), Manipal University