India’s Role in Addressing Climate Change Issues & Consequent Implications
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India’s Role in Addressing Climate Change Issues & Consequent Implications

By Akanksha Sharma

India’s Role in Addressing Climate Change Issues & Consequent Implications

Why is it Critical to Address Climate Change?

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues that the world is facing. According to the report, the ‘Hindu Kush Himalayan Assessment’, climate change will cause 1/3rd of the Himalayan ice glaciers to melt by 2100, even if the targets of the Paris Agreement are met. Severe heat waves are increasing all across South Asia, and are degrading the health and quality of life of around 800 million people. The agricultural sector of India, which still contributes to 15 percent of the GDP and over 50 percent of employment opportunities, is also badly affected by climate change. Incidences of low rainfall and increasing temperatures affect crops and therefore, incomes. People living on the coastal communities, and the islands of the country are vulnerable to floods due to volatile changes in sea levels. It is clear that climate change affects both traditional and non-traditional security of people, in a variety of critical ways.

Different Countries Have Different Agendas on the Global Stage

This is why it is important to examine India’s role in combating climate change, and the implications thereof. Being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, there is a lot of limelight on India’s position with regards to climate change. According to Forbes, India will become the 5th largest economy in the world, surpassing the UK, in 2019. India’s contributions to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have historically been low. However, the emissions are currently on the way up and are projected to continue on this upward trajectory in the future. At present, India is the world’s third largest emitter of GHGs, after China. Therefore, it becomes pertinent for India to be cognizant of this, and to take a proactive role on the global stage when it comes to demonstrating commitment to tackle climate change. The global stage has always been rife with divergent interests, with different countries pushing for different agendas. Island nations, which are very vulnerable to negative effects of climate change, are the most vocal when it comes to pushing for progress. Countries that are the maximum contributors to emissions on the other hand, are much more passive.

The Dilemma for India in Making Commitments: Is Economic Growth at loggerheads to Fighting Climate Change?

Currently, India is concerned and cautious about increasing the limits on its carbon emissions. Being a developing country, it is logical for India to be concerned about its economic growth, or the adverse impact that could occur as a result of deterrents on its emissions. However, I argue that economic growth and tackling climate change don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Sectors such as clean and renewable energy are fertile ground for rapid economic growth, as well as social impact and social good. India’s rapidly growing and young population is a key piece of the puzzle of combating climate change and improving economic performance. India’s population is slated to overtake that of China by 2024. Half of the population is currently under the age of 25. The critical need of the hour for India is to drive constructive action and commitment by leveraging our people, who are our precious human resources. Therefore, the main focus for our policy makers should not be on finger pointing and calling developed nations to task. Indeed, developed nations must be held accountable, but India cannot step back from its own responsibilities, citing a lack of commitment among the developed group. We need to play our own significant part in solving this global problem. As an indicator of how severe this problem has become, the IPCC scientific report, released at COP24 in 2018, stated that all the world’s nations need to be doing at least 3 times more than what they currently are, to meet the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Therefore, it is imperative for all nations to come together and address this collectively, and for India to be a key part of that change story.

Being an International Role Model & a Domestic Success Story: Is this Possible for India?

India taking a leadership role at the international level will cause positive ripples of change to happen amongst the international community. The act of stepping up and taking responsibility for the global collective future of the world is sure to be an inspiration for other growing economies as well, especially the BASIC countries. However, for true change to happen the change story for India must start in India. One golden method for India to tackle climate change is to focus on the renewable energy sector. Currently, there exists a huge gap between electricity demand and supply in India. Affordability and last-mile connectivity are some of the challenges which prevent our neediest from accessing electricity in order to lead a good quality of life. According to the World Economic Forum, the electricity generated by India annually per person is 1,000 kWh, which is just 1/4th that of China and 1/13th that of the United States.

Also, in order to maintain our pace of economic growth, we need to increase our energy output manifolds. Renewable energy appears to be one of the most attractive solutions to this problem, considering its rapidly declining price point. Greater innovations in renewable energy will also help India achieve its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target of having 40 percent electric power installed capacity through non-fossil fuel based resources. Economically, tacking climate change through developing and supporting renewable energy in India will solve a lot of problems. According to The Clean Network, the decentralized renewable energy (DRE) sector has given a huge boost to job creation and entrepreneurship, especially in the rural sector. CLEAN shares that at least 41,868 new jobs came up in India in 2017-18 in the DRE sector. One successful case story is the Solar Charkha, which has generated employment and incomes. New research which comes out of Stanford University has shared data that, due to climate change, India’s current per capita economic output is 30 percent less than what it would have been in the absence of climate change. We understand that, to prevent this percentage from rising even further, it is imperative to combat climate change.

Climate Change also has significant social implications. This is again inter-connected to the economic implications. Agriculture is one of the worst affected industries due to the negative effects of climate change. As a result of crops performing poorly, farmers face financial stress, social shaming, and alienation. Farmer suicides have become unfortunate and frequent realities. Displacement of communities from their native lands, due to flooding, is also taking place as a result of climate change. Therefore, efforts to mitigate climate change will be much welcomed, and can introduce some hope and vigor to distressed communities.

However, these efforts need the drive of strong political will behind them. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (or the NAPCC), which was brought out in 2008 is today widely thought of as a failing initiative. It is claimed to be more objective oriented rather than being strategy oriented. Also, the NAPCC does not have inputs from a wide variety of stakeholders, many of whom are experts and heavily invested in combating climate change. There is a need for a new policy instrument to be brought out, which should be much more comprehensive and elegant. It should also comprise integrated national legislation, which has taken local and special needs of certain especially vulnerable states into account (Kumar & Naik, 2019). On a global level, climate policy should be an integral part of India’s foreign policy initiatives, and more importantly, action steps should be taken at the domestic level to match up with the climate diplomacy going on at the international level.

About the Author:

Akanksha Sharma is an Independent Researcher with interests in Non Traditional Security and Foreign Policy. A Lee Foundation Scholar, she has done her M.Sc in International Relations from RSIS, Singapore. She has worked as a Research Analyst with the Centre for Non Traditional Security Studies in Singapore and as a Consultant with the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia


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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.