COP26: Was India a traitor to vulnerable countries?

Navin Singh Khadka
BBC World Service Environment Correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

India is being criticized for not achieving the 1.5C target.

After India and China opposed the commitment to “phaseout” coal during negotiations of the final climate agreement, the Glasgow Climate Deal has placed India and China front-and-center.

The countries instead agreed to reduce coal use, which caused disappointment and concerns about whether we can keep the global average temperature from rising to 1.5C.

Alok Sharma, president at COP26 stated that China and India “will have to answer themselves as to what they did to climate-vulnerable states in the world.” Sharma also called it historic and claimed that 1.5C was still possible.

In earlier drafts, the agreement had a promise to end unabated coal. Unabated is coal that has been burned without carbon capture or storage technology. Advocates claim this dramatically reduces emissions.

What happened then?

Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi made a number of pledges at the summit. These included reducing carbon emissions by one million tonnes, lowering emissions to net zero by 2070 and increasing the percentage of renewables to 50%.

These ambitious pronouncements, which were welcomed back then, stand out against India’s recent intervention to soften the coal language.

  • New global climate deal struck in Glasgow
  • How might decisions made at COP26 change our lives?

China shares an otherwise tense relationship to its neighbour but was strong allies throughout the last negotiations.

Although the summit was scheduled to conclude on Friday, overtime was used until an agreement was reached late Saturday night.

China argued “common, differentiated responsibilities & respective capabilities” on the last day of negotiations. This means that countries who have signed UN Climate Deal have a shared responsibility to combat climate change but that their capacities are different due to being at different economic stages.

China stated that countries should consider their attempts to reach the 1.5C goal in relation to efforts to eliminate poverty.

India also agreed. India agreed. Bhupender Yadav (India’s Environment Minister) stated that the poverty reduction agenda of developing countries must be addressed.

The argument was triggered when the phrase “phasing in unabated carbon” came up. The summit would not succeed if there was no consensus.

Key negotiators were observed huddled together to reach an agreement before the last session, where it would be approved.

The cameras initially focused on Chinese negotiators including their leader Xie Zhenhua who was speaking to John Kerry, US special climate envoy. The two were also seen talking with Mr Sharma.

After that, Mr Yadav spoke to Mr Sharma. The two men talked at least twice as everyone waited for their final session.

India then took to the podium and asked permission for a proposal. In the final text, Mr Yadav suggested that “phase out unabated carbon” be changed to “phase down carbon”.

The silence was broken only by a few loud whistles.

After the final agreement was reached, many countries took the podium to voice their dismay at the changes. They argued that the key pillar for keeping the 1.5C target alive was “phasing away coal”.

Switzerland claimed that it does not have to reduce coal use, but rather phase out the industry. However, they called the process opaque.

Frans Timmermans, EU ambassador to the EU said that “the longer it takes to eliminate coal, then the greater burden you place on your natural environment.”

Following the announcement, there was a heavy round of applause.

A number of small islands countries claimed 1.5C being out of their reach would result in death sentences.

Sharma seemed to be on the verge of crying and apologized for how things turned out.

However, experts believe that this situation could have been handled better by countries with developed economies.

Brandon Wu, Director of Policy and Campaigns at ActionAid said that putting too much emphasis on coal and not enough oil and gas will have a negative impact on developing countries like China and lndia.

Avinash Chanchal from Greenpeace India, senior climate campaigner said, “We would like the “phasing-out” of all fossilfuels, not just coal.”

He said that “the weak draft was a reflection of the lack trust between rich and poor countries, as prior commitments weren’t met”.

India and other developing countries have claimed that they feel pressured to switch to renewable fuels while the developed nations are failing to support them with their technology and financial needs.

“This text is so full of lines regarding mitigation [emissions reduction]. It does not include information on finances. What is the point of calling this balanced? He said.

India, which is third after China, is the largest carbon emitter, but per capita CO2 emissions are around seven times that of the US according to studies by the World Bank.

India’s economic recovery from the pandemic is not complete without ensuring an energy stable future. India has been struggling to grow its economy and coal plays a major role in that effort.

Chirag Gajjar (World Resources Institute India), an energy expert, says that “the challenge is making it a fair transition to low-carbon so people don’t have to suffer.”

India has a solid track record when it comes to renewable energy. In 2010, the target was 20 gigawatts. By 2016, India was well on its way towards 175 gigawatts. If India can send the right signals, renewables will grow exponentially.

India is sure to win praises for this, even though it’s being criticized for not fulfilling what many believe to be a fundamental commitment to global warming.

However, Mr Yadav sees things differently.

He has posted the following tweet: “As COP26 nears its close, I wish to thank everyone with me in Glasgow who worked hard for India’s summit a success.”


Share Your Comment Below



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here