William J. Antholis has described how for over a decade after Kyoto, India refused to discuss any binding limits on its emissions. Indians would only discuss binding targets when other countries had reduced their own emissions to the per-person level of the average Indian – which at current rates would not happen until some time between 2030 – 2040.
Growing awareness of climate change
Despite the above, India is becomingly increasingly aware of the local impacts of climate change and growing coal use. The biggest climate impact has been on changing weather patterns in South Asia. Antholis explains that, over the last 50 years, rising temperatures have led to a nearly 10% reduction in the duration and rainfall levels of the annual monsoons that are vital to nearly all Indian agriculture.
Furthermore, the melting of Himalayan glaciers threatens the country’s other vital water supply. In addition, rising sea levels put hundreds of millions of Indians at risk in low lying population centres in the Kolkata and Chenna metropolitcan regions.
Hence, Indians now take climate change more seriously. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Head of Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, has become a global spokesman for the cause. For a decade, he has headed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the UN backed research body that collects and reviews the scientific evidence that human activity has been the main contributor to climate change. Little by little, his fellow countrymen have begun to take notice.
Modi and global climate leadership
Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India has already taken two dramatically important steps on climate change: He has streamlined energy decision making and also environmental decision making. India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests is now the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
Domestically, he has put the experienced Suresh Prebhu as the head of a high level panel on reorganizing the various energy ministries – an ‘Advisory Group for Integrated Development of Power, Coal and Renewable Energy’. The new consolidated energy ministries offer the promise of an integrated approach to clean energy.
According to Antholis, internationally, the challenge for Modi will be the upcoming UN Special Summit on Climate Change – and India’s negotiating stance in the next Paris meeting of the UN climate negotiation in 2015.
Historically, India has held fast to ‘equity’, with an emphasis on the industrial world’s historic role as the greatest greenhouse gas polluter and contributor to global warming, and India’s still relatively low per-capita emissions. India has been reluctant to lay down national goals for greenhouse gas emissions that would sacrifice the nation’s international sovereignty in a legal sense, and that would inhibit its economic growth.
Antholis insists that India can still be mindful of these objectives while going beyong old-line climate change talking points. Modi has an opportunity for India to step forward to lead a new low-carbon approach to development, and in the process demonstrate that India can be a global environmental leader without sacrificing economic growth.
Adapted from a report by Emma McAleavey.
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