With just a few days to go until the start of COP26, the next round of global climate talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India is experiencing acute manifestations of extreme weather events across the length and breadth of the country.
In the north, Kashmir experienced early snowfall this year, which has claimed lives and destroyed livelihoods of farmers and others. Down south in Kerala, floods have devastated at least five districts in the state, displacing millions of people. Meanwhile in mountainous Uttarakhand floods have claimed over 50 lives. Other states in India are also experiencing unusual weather patterns.
Clearly, India is already experiencing the impact of climate change. Hotter summers and colder winters as well as extreme weather events have grown in frequency. Yet, India seems to be in no hurry to cut its carbon emissions. It may end up being an outlier in the upcoming COP26.
Scheduled to begin in Glasgow on November 1, COP26 will strive to get all nations to commit to a 2050 net zero goal. Net zero involves balancing fossil fuel emissions by taking out an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere.
According to scientists, if all countries commit to a net zero goal by 2050, it would give the world a chance of restricting average temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius, provided emissions fall to around 45 percent of 2010 levels by 2030.
However, India is expected to refuse to commit to the 2050 net zero goal.
The Indian government has argued that as a developing country, industrialization is important and the accompanying emissions are inevitable. It also points out that in absolute numbers, its emissions are lower than other countries. In 2018, for instance, while China emitted about 10 billion tonnes and the United States 5.41 billion tons of carbon dioxide, India emitted 2.65 billion tons.
India has pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of its GDP, meaning that although emissions may grow together with the country’s economy, it will do so at a sluggish rate.
But is this enough? According to the Climate Action Tracker, which analyzes countries’ climate pledges against the global 1.5C goal, India’s pledges and carbon-reduction policies are “highly insufficient.”
With India poised to become the world’s next biggest polluter in the second half of this century, the international community has been putting pressure on the Narendra Modi government to set a 2050 deadline for India’s emissions to reach net zero. But India is reluctant to accept.
Rather than committing to the deadline, its strategy at the upcoming COP26 seems aimed at focusing on the unfulfilled pledges by developed nations. For instance, the latter have failed to fulfill their promise to provide $100 billion annually to developing countries for mitigating the impacts of climate change. Recent speeches by environment minister Bhupender Yadav have focused on the need for industrialized countries to cut their own emissions, and to do so in this decade instead of setting a distant mid-century goal.
The question is whether the Indian government is committed at all to reducing carbon emissions. In recent decades India has been pursuing policies that are hazardous for the environment. The Modi government’s pro-capitalist policies and pursuit of a neoliberal agenda have devastated the environment. Laws to safeguard the environment have been ignored.
The Modi government is going ahead with hydropower projects in the Himalayas. In the name of the Central Vista in New Delhi, the capital’s green cover and lung space has been stripped.
Not surprisingly, in 2018, 15 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities were located in India.
Recent policies and proposals are environment unfriendly. Environmentalists say that the proposed expansion of palm oil plantations in India could lead to deforestation, disturbances in the ecosystem, and even trigger land conflict. Amendments proposed to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 lay bare how the government is systematically weakening India’s environment laws — new projects might not need environmental approvals that were required in the past. Changes brought last year to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) rules would potentially allow real estate developers to escape the responsibility of helping those adversely affected by their projects.
The recent coal crisis in the country also brought to the fore the fact that coal-fired power stations produce 70 percent of India’s power.
India can expect many questions to be raised relating to these issues at the COP26. Will it end up being isolated internationally on matters related to climate action?