India at COP27: A Defining Moment and a Balancing Act

As one of the largest economies with a defining role in fighting the worsening planetary climate crisis India faces a balancing act at the global climate negotiations, COP27, to be held in Egypt from November 6-18 this year. 

Red and blue stripes represent warmer and cooler temperatures respectively

Credit: Earth Stripes

Co-authored with Dipa Singh Bagai

The warning for the world is loud and clear. Unless all major economies act ambitiously and urgently, the world is already poised to warm by a catastrophic level of around 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Even a 2.0 degrees Celsius warming could lead to nine times more severe heat waves in India by mid-century with each heat wave lasting for three times longer; 2.5 degrees would be significantly worse.

On one hand, India can justifiably claim that it didn’t cause climate change - having contributed just 3.4% to the total cumulative carbon emissions since 1850 while sustaining more than a sixth of all humanity in this period. And yet, the world has no chance of winning the fight against climate change without a major leadership role from India. The planet has already used up nearly 90% of its carbon budget. For a rapid and large scale decarbonization a much larger capital investment in clean energy is needed. Investment is also needed to adapt to the already worsening impacts of climate change and to recover from the loss and damage extreme weather is causing around the world. As nearly 200 countries meet in Egypt, three issues: raising climate ambition, rigorous implementation of climate actions, and the principle of climate justice are going to be at the forefront. How India handles all three of these issues will significantly influence how the world responds to one of the gravest challenges to life on earth.   

Raising climate ambition

India is one of the 24 countries that have submitted an updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) since COP 26 in Glasgow last year.  In its new NDC, India increased its goal to reduce emissions intensity to 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. India also committed to achieving 50% cumulative installed power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. The global energy crisis has accentuated the need to move away from geographically concentrated fossil-fuels and India, having to bear the brunt of import dependence for decades, recognizes the strategic importance of energy independence engendered through renewable energy. India seems to be on track for meeting its revised climate commitments but getting to India’s 2030 goals will not be easy and will require significant international collaboration and investment, in addition to effective policy implementation domestically. Even though India has raised its climate ambition, as per the recent UNFCCC evaluation, if we have to have any chance of keeping warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, all countries need to do more.

Implementing climate actions

Following up on its goal of going net zero carbon emissions by 2070, India has taken solid steps towards decarbonization of its economy. The newly enacted Energy Conservation (Amendment) Act of 2022, is a major policy development and can significantly bend down future carbon emissions. The Act mandates minimum renewable energy usage for industries, transportation, and commercial buildings, sets a minimum energy efficiency standard for all residential buildings, and establishes India’s first domestic carbon credit market.

India has also made enormous progress in advancing renewable energy. Despite nearly two years of covid-related slowdown and supply chain disruptions, most estimates indicate that India is likely to reach its renewable energy goal of 175 GW of capacity by mid-2023 within 6 months of what it had committed back in 2015. This is one of the fastest renewable energy expansions in the world and has helped bring down the global cost of installing solar and wind energy. India also has in the pipeline a Green Hydrogen policy, and the draft Electricity Act Amendment, that prioritizes renewables. Both of these policies, once they are finalized, could create an even larger market for fossil-free energy and put India firmly on the path to decarbonization.

Advancing Climate Justice and the LiFE Movement

At COP27, India is expected to continue to make a strong case for lifestyle change. Earlier this year India launched its Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) movement which calls for a paradigm shift in the development model driven by a sustainable, citizen led, low-carbon approach rather than the typical western resource-intensive lifestyle. India has also voiced strong concerns over the loss and damage being suffered inequitably by the poor and vulnerable nations and called for developed countries to provide financial assistance to address these. With extreme heat, glacial melt, and coastal flooding India is home to perhaps the largest number of people highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Resilience building initiatives such as the city-wide Heat Action Plans to reduce heat stress and women-led clean energy initiatives, such the Hariyali Gram initiative can make an impact. However, more investment is needed to implement these at scale. At the COP, India is expected to lend support to other vulnerable countries in the demand for finance for adaptation and loss and damage.

India will also play a critical role next year as the host of the G20 which will be a key forum to advance implementation coming out of COP27. Energy transition and climate finance are among India’s priorities at the G20. While India is taking huge strides towards a climate-friendly future, the situation the world finds itself needs an even greater leadership, direction, and determination.  

Dipa Singh Bagai is Country Head for NRDC in India, and is a climate and environmental leader.

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