"History will judge us on what we achieve over the next two weeks. We cannot let future generations down."
These were the words of United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, 1 November, as the COP26 summit got underway in Glasgow.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, arrived in Scotland on Sunday for the summit, which is expected to last for two weeks.
In his departure statement, the PM had said that he would seek to address issues like "the equitable distribution of carbon space, support for mitigation and adaptation and resilience building measures, mobilisation of finance and technology transfer, and sustainable lifestyle for green and inclusive growth."
But what exactly are the global objectives of this meeting? Why is COP26 being perceived as a climate conference that would determine the future of the planet for years to come?
What is India's standpoint on the current climate targets set during previous conferences, and what are India's commitments in the global effort to limit the damage caused by climate change? We take you through it part by part.
THE GOALS OF COP26
COP, whose first meeting was held in 1995 in Berlin, Germany, stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ and it will be the 26th one, open to all those that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Representatives and officials of all the countries attending shall negotiate with each other on how to tackle climate change and its catastrophic effects.
Some of the most important objectives of the conference would be to secure agreements on how to:
Limit global warming to 1.5 °C.
Reach the long-term net zero target, that is, remove the same quantity of greenhouse gases compared to what is being produced.
Provide $100 billion to low-income countries to help them lower their emissions, as promised in 2009.
Reduce dependence on and phase out the usage of coal for energy production.
Invest in renewable sources of energy.
WHY IS COP26 IMPORTANT?
According to the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations are legally bounded to limit the rise in global temperature to “well below” 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, The Guardian reported. At the same time, it was preferable that nations limit global warming to 1.5°C.
However, the way in which countries would contribute to this global effort of limiting global warming was left to their own discretion. The national targets of states to reduce emissions, called national determined contributions (NDCs), are not bound by the Paris Agreement and have predicatively proved to be inadequate to reach the goals established in 2015.
COP26 becomes very important in the sense that countries are now obliged to present concrete plans on how they will go about tackling the temperature problem. A country's NDCs can no longer be ambiguous.
Since the failure to reach the 2015 goals was foreseeable, the agreement required countries to meet again in five years, that is, in December 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the conference from happening.
But it is happening now, and at COP26, nations with their revised NDCs will lay out plans on how they hope to achieve (if at all there is any intention) the lower limit goal of the Paris Agreement, that is, limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
The roots of NDCs can be traced back to a principle of international law called Common But Differentiated Responsibilities or CBDR, that acknowledges that different states hold different levels of responsibility for the climate problem and possess unequal capabilities to address the problem.
Climate finance is another major point of discussion at COP26. Developing countries, which suffer the most due to climate change, received $79.6 billion in 2019, while they were promised $100 billion annually from developed nations by the year 2020.
At COP26, rich nations will have to detail how they would raise $100 billion per year to aid low-income developing countries in addressing climate change, because "restoring trust with developing nations" with respect to the climate finance gap will greatly determine the success of the conference, Carbon Copy reported.
Since "$100 billion annually is only a fraction of what vulnerable countries really need to decarbonise and build resilience to climate impacts", experts argue that the amount should be perceived as an aid 'floor' and not an aid 'ceiling', Carbon Copy added.
A more detailed explainer on COP26 is available here. But what is India's stance on all of this?
INDIA'S STANCE ON THE GOALS SET BY COP26
India's Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav has said that the country is committed to "being part of the solution" in the climate crisis but the “historic responsibility“ for emissions lies with the rich and developed countries, who must protect the interests of developing and underdeveloped countries.
Statistics from the Financial Times comparing India's energy consumption with the world's show glaring inequalities. The single-most important factor in India's emissions is coal-burning which is required for electricity generation.
India's per capita consumption of electricity is only around 33 percent of the world's per capital electric consumption.
India's per capita consumption of coal is only 25 percent of Germany’s.
Additionally, India has contributed only 4 percent of the world's total carbon emissions since the 1850s.
Therefore, in a report to the United Nations, India has asserted that its responsibility towards limiting of carbon emissions is low, "by any equitable measure of responsibility", NDTV reported.
After all, switching from to coal to green sources of energy would require India to transform its energy systems, but ensuring at the same time that it provides essential energy amenities like electricity at affordable rates to millions of poor people.
Furthermore, such a transformation would require a back-up plan that would provide employment to millions of Indians who rely on the conventional energy market (like coal's) to make a living.
Clearly, this is a very expensive project and India's Department of Economic Affairs estimates that by 2030, the country will be $1.7 trillion short of the money actually required to finance its NDCs.
A country like India needs huge investments to fund the technology transition. Rajni Ranjan Rashmi, an expert who has represented India at the UN climate change negotiations, says that developed nations are obligated to provide these funds and technologies to developing economies in their fight against climate change.
But they haven't been doing either, she told Carbon Copy.
INDIA'S CURRENT CONTRIBUTION TO GLOBAL WARMING
India is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind only China and the United States.
It is responsible for approximately 7 percent of global carbon emissions.
More than 70 percent of India's greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to coal, but at the same time, India is very dependent on it.
THE COAL FACTOR
After China, India is the second largest producer and consumer of coal.
Millions of Indians don't have access to adequate and reliable power supply.
Additionally, millions of Indians depend on the coal industry for work and livelihood.
Coal is also crucial for the economy because the Indian state because it receives crores of rupees in dividends every year from the largest coal mining company in the world – Coal India.
With respect to coal, India has stated that "it is transparent in its need for coal for its energy security, lacking any major domestic oil and gas resources. India will, however, use coal responsibly as testified by the number of clean coal initiatives that are being undertaken."
That is why, despite mounting criticism from western countries, India has refused to set a net zero emissions target, with COP26 just a few days away.
China's net zero target is 2060 while more than 130 countries including the US, the UK, and Germany have joined the net-zero alliance whose target is 2050.
Yadav categorically said that setting a net-zero target will not resolve climate change. Vaibhav Chaturvedi, an economist, says that "for a country like India, choosing a year for net-zero is no simple task" and "deep analyses is a prerequisite to better understand what this would actually entail for the country," reported Carbon Copy.
India has, however, lived up to the climate commitments. Under the Paris Agreement, it had three NDCS:
Reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35 percent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2030.
Ensuring 40 percent of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030.
Constructing carbon sinks of 2.5 to 3 billion tons through afforestation by 2030.
With respect to these goals,
India declared earlier this year that it had reached 38.5 percent of installed power capacity from non-fossil fuels and this number is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2030, Mint reported.
India is also committed to cutting down emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35 percent by 2030 compared to emission levels in 2005.
The Environment Ministry stated in July 2021 that it aims to "restore 26 million hectares of degraded land, which contribute to carbon sequestration", Business Standard reported.
A recently published UN-backed report said that India had “significant room” for more enterprising targets.
India, however, maintains that it is a victim of, and not a contributor to climate change.
On one hand, flood and droughts induced by climate change have already impacted many Indians. On the other hand, pursuing the climate goals as demanded by developed countries without adequate financing will hinder India's development and fail to ensure basic amenities to millions of Indians.
Therefore, India's approach to this climate conundrum at COP26 will define a future that currently appears to be, according to the G20 Climate Impacts Atlas report, quite devastating.
(With inputs from The Guardian, Mint, The Financial Times, Carbon Copy, Business Standard, and NDTV.)