India’s U-turn on Paris Climate Change Agreement and Why It Is Right

indiaObservers, negotiators and most importantly, the stakeholders in the climate-change bandwagon have seldom forgotten the Kyoto Protocol and how the United States pulled out after negotiating till the last moment. The Paris climate change agreement, drafted last year, is no different. India has now officially put the brakes on ratification of its proposed commitment. Why?

In December 2015, 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement. Signatory countries (parties) were expected to curb carbon dioxide emissions to keep global average temperature increase below 2¬∞C above pre-industrial levels—the science behind which is extremely volatile, unsettled and debatable.

It is understood that the parties are not legally bound at the international level to achieve their targets. But each party is legally bound to pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of their contributions as mentioned in their INDCs.

INDCs are “intended nationally determined contributions”—climate change mitigation action plans and commitments declared by each party individually, covering 5- or 10-year periods starting in 2020.

India’s INDC is very revealing of its position and of its concerns regarding the impact of decarbonisation of its economy. In fact, its first line reads “working towards climate justice.”

India has always viewed the climate change mitigation proposals as biased and limited in their potential to address the present challenges faced by the country. Hence it has argued and advocated for “climate justice,” arguing that developing countries should be not be forced to compromise on their developmental goals but should be granted monetary benefits to meet the climate-change mitigation plans.

According to its INDC, India houses the largest proportion of global poor with 363 million people (30 percent of the population) living in poverty, around 304 million without access to electricity, about 30 percent of the population relying on solid biomass for cooking, and 92 million without access to safe drinking water.

The average annual energy consumption in India in 2011 was only 0.6 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) per capita—drastically short of the 4 toe needed to achieve a Human Development Index (HDI—based on life expectancy, education, and income) of 0.9 or more (as of 2014 achieved by only the world’s top 14 countries). With a HDI of 0.609 (2015), India faces a huge challenge in the energy sector.

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