COP27: Climate Expert Tells Why Negotiations Should Matter to Urban India

Climate expert Harjeet Singh shares his experience at previous COPs and his expectation from the current one

Climate Change
5 min read
Hindi Female

While the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) is well underway, we still wanted to gain an insider-scoop--for those of us who can not attend COP ourselves--on how the discussions at COP are conducted and what to expect from this particular edition of the Climate Summit.

We at the Quint, invited Harjeet Singh, who is the Head-Global Political Strategy at Climate Action Network International and the Global Engagement Director for Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, for some coffee and a chat about his experiences with previous COPs and his thoughts on the latest one.


What exactly is COP? How many COPs have you attended?

I have been attending since 2008. So, a couple of them.

I think it’s fair to consider it a climate fair or a climate fest. Because 200 nations–their ministers and delegations, who are working on climate–meet every year to develop climate policy. 

Now, because climate change is a global issue, we can not just develop climate policies in our own backyard, so we have to go to these international forums. 

It started in 1992, which is why we number these COPs, because we meet every year and we track negotiations. 


What has been India's larger stand at climate negotiations?

Whave been acknowledging that climate change is a real issue. But for us, as a developing country, it was also important to demand justice. Because it’s about ecological space.

Developing countries, they needed to depend on fossil fuels for a while so they can develop their manufacturing sector, and industrialisation. 

And that was fair. And of course, India’s historical emissions, even if we are on the number three spot in terms of quantum of emissions, if you look at per capita emissions, cumulatively we are just at 3% of global emissions


Would it be fair to say that climate finance is possibly the most important issue at this COP? 

Absolutely, because when you talk about justice, what does that translate to? It translates into money that can be used for buying green technology, preparing ourselves for disasters such as retrofitting our homes or building dikes or strengthening our early warning systems.

So now when people are facing climate emergency, we need to rebuild their homes and livelihood. So if you don’t have money and you’re only talking, it just does not work. 

Rich countries have caused the problem, because of the industrialization they have done over the last hundred years, and they pay for it. It’s about the principle of 'polluter pays'.

Because the US is the biggest historical emitter. A quarter of emissions that are in the atmosphere right now are from the US. Another quarter from the European Union.

When we target the US and the European Union, there is a reason behind that. There is science. Put together, these two blocs are responsible for half of the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions


So what are mitigation, adaption, and 'Loss and Damage', the three major reasons why we need climate finance?

Mitigation is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Protecting forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are categorised as mitigation. Basically, you are averting the crisis.

Adaptation is adapting in a manner that you are prepared to deal with disasters.

'Loss and Damage' essentially means climate impacts. So when people face floods, cyclones, forest fires. That means it’s a stage beyond adaptation. That means its already affected. Which means you now need resources for the provision of relief, for rehabilitations, to rebuild homes, to rebuild livelihoods.


For a country's objectives, are protecting the economy and the environment mutually exclusive?

Not at all. You can do it. But you need to get your priorities right. You need to fend off those vested interests and you need to set a development model.

The problem is that we are following the same western development which has caused the problem in the first place. We are still using the same GDP as a measure of our economic success.

We think that is what is going to bring us economic prosperity. Look at the kind of economic equality that exists. We can create economic benefits for people by which you can help protect your environment. So, the LED is a great example. Energy efficiency is a great example.


Where does India stand on climate with respect to other countries? And How are we viewed by others?

India messed up big time in Glasgow at the last COP. People thought we are addicted to coal. Because the whole ‘phase out’ and 'phase down' language was around coal. It was supposed to be ‘phase out’ of coal, but India said to make it ‘phase down’.

Now there’s a technical issue because there is no yardstick to what ‘phase down’ means and ‘phase out’ is clear, that you completely phase it out. Then your ‘phase down’ command should also have been linked with oil and gas, which rich countries depend on much more now, and your demand for finance.

India went from a good guy, on day one of COP, to a bad guy, on the last day of COP and was really battered by the media.


Which countries are going to be the big players deciding how the conversation flows at this COP?

The US, the European Union. And amongst the countries there are also negotiating groups, for instance there is the Umbrella group– it has Australia, US, and a couple of other countries. But at the same time we should not underestimate the power of developing countries, such as the G77 negotiating group and China.

Then there are the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), you also have a group of small island states. You also have Africa as a region. You also have LMDCs– Like Minded Developing Countries – where you have big countries like India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa etc.


Who are the villains of this story? 

Villains are those who are blocking climate action. Especially when you look at the scale of the crisis.  The US, the European Union. And there are also villains who behave differently on different issues.

For example, Switzerland, out of the blue, became so radically against Loss and Damage finance. Norway is a sweet talker but has been drilling in its backyard but telling the world how we need to be so green. 


Does climate change affect me? A middle class person living in Bombay or Delhi? Why should the COP be relevant to me?

Of course it does. If our agriculture fails, food prices are going to go up.If farmers don’t get sufficient food, look at how they were on the street. 

Look at the crisis the heatwave created. We had a massive shortfall in production. We had to stop exports abruptly. Our country continues to be based on agriculture. 50% of people are still employed in agriculture in one way or another.

Look at how our cities are getting flooded. Do you think the middle class are going to be less affected? Nobody is immune to climate impacts. 


Do you think at some point India will have political motivation towards climate action?

It will gradually. Let’s understand, we are a developing country. We have not yet sorted our basic issues of access to food, water, sanitation, energy. 7% of people don’t have access to electricity. We are still dealing with the development deficit. So that is why climate was not a top order priority, like it is in many developed countries, who have other development issues sorted. 

Environment is connected to everything. Our access to food, water, sanitation, electricity– its all connected. That is why it is the responsibility of political leaders to prioritise it and start acting before it becomes the most important issue.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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