Written by Ashish Chaturvedi and Vijeta Rattani
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the United Nations to postpone its flagship annual climate change conference which was scheduled to be held in November 2020. The intersessional climate talks, which were to happen in October, have also been postponed indefinitely. The only climate discussion of global scale that happened recently was the first instalment of London Climate Action Week (July1-3) — virtually. It focussed primarily on solutions for adaptation and resilience, which could also be linked to COVID-19 responses. With the looming climate crises, many experts and activists have expressed concerns that this move could jeopardise the global momentum on climate action and postpone climate actions with the delaying of guidelines to implement climate goals. We, however, argue that this is not necessarily the case.
Under the global climate regime or the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015 serves as the blueprint for climate actions for the international community. The rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement has taken a broad shape with few elements such as carbon markets left to be negotiated. With the Paris Agreement itself becoming operational from next year onwards, the focus will largely shift from negotiation to implementation of climate actions, agreed by the governments through cycles of submissions of the Nationally Determined Contributions — the domestic climate action plans, anticipated to boost climate ambition over time.
In recent years, the world has witnessed a shift in climate action from being a COP-focused issue to a more widespread and bottom-up agenda. It was reflected through youth campaigns spearheaded by international climate movements such as Friday for Futures, civil society demonstrations and even businesses demanding governments to treat climate change with a sense of urgency and even emergency (in some cases), and thereby, raise ambition through NDCs.
In the context of India, against the backdrop of significant global climate developments, its first comprehensive national assessment of human-induced climate change and its impact on India is timely and opportune. While it mirrors the past trend and future possibility — India’s average temperature increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius in 118 years to 2018 and could rise by 4.4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century portending precarious extreme events — it also flags the dire need of urgent and scaled-up climate actions. The World Meteorological Organisation’s latest Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, released on July 8 in Geneva, makes an equally grim prediction. It suggests that average annual global temperature could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius any year between now and 2024.
Already India is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. This year alone, climate change has proliferated swarms of locusts ravaging the farmlands in northern and western India, cyclones hitting both the east and west coasts and extreme rainfall having led to devastating floods in Assam, and Maharashtra with flood alerts being sounded for other states, including Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Urgent action is in India’s interest.
India has made significant strides in climate action. In the previous decade, its holistic National Action Plan on Climate Change became the overarching document for subsequent state actions as well. Its priorities in the fields of renewable energies, forest degradation and circular economy have captured global headlines. Its nationally determined contribution is rated fairly ambitious by independent evaluating agencies.
However, to cope with growing vulnerabilities, added responsibilities under the Paris Agreement and international pressure, it is time to revisit the domestic climate architecture and understand the entry points for leveraging greater climate action in line with climate goals. Here, we focus on five important aspects.
First, there is a significant need for enhanced domestic coordination on climate-related issues. In our understanding, this translates into a range of government approaches in which various government departments and line ministries engage in consonance with each other. Mutually reinforcing policies would reflect an integrated response to climate change. The structures for such coordinated response have already been set up at the national and state level — all they suffer from is the lack of being prioritised for action.
Second, unless renewable energy and energy efficiency are scaled up more rapidly, international climate objectives, including the 2 degrees-Celsius limit for global warming, under the Paris Agreement, will not be achievable. Any large-scale transition to renewables would nevertheless require systematic overhaul of the current energy infrastructure traditionally designed to support fossil fuels. This would require a combination of policy measures related to deployment, especially in the power sector and creating conducive and effective operating conditions for renewables in energy systems and market.
Third, meeting the climate goals would require huge amounts of finance (stated to be $ 2.5-3 trillion in India’s NDC alone). While some percentage of financial requirements could be met from international funds such as the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund, they would not suffice. Therefore, India needs greater domestic mobilisation of resources through climate tagging of budgetary spending, leveraging of private sector financing for adaptation, and introduction of innovative models for bringing down the costs of transitioning to renewable energy.
The fourth aspect pertains to the enhanced role of non-state actors and civil society. The Paris Agreement has provisions for engaging with non-state actors such as cities and municipalities in various processes, including reporting and transparency of climate actions, compliance and stocktake processes to assess collective climate efforts. Their roles pertain to assessment of reports, filling the gaps through capacity building and creating technical knowledge. Domestically, coordinated and informed non-state actors can play a greater role in generating climate awareness, establishing linkages between ecology, economics and sustainability, working with governments to strengthen the NDC implementation through their experiences and knowledge and promoting a culture of cooperation and communication through an outreach of the government’s progress in climate actions or lack thereof.
Finally, governments could play an enhanced role of a facilitator and enabler in building climate-resilient infrastructure to withstand climate extremes, bolstering non-state actors’ participation through readiness programmes, establishing forums such as regional climate action week and boosting sharing of best practices and learnings within states through better management of knowledge and communication strategies.
Therefore, in our view, not much will be lost with the postponement of major climate summits. Addressing climate change requires a long-term orientation to policymaking. The COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant recovery, which will ensue, provides us that window of opportunity — to lock our economies further into fossil fuel dependence or focus on making progress on our climate priorities. Focusing on the latter will not only meet climate goals, usher sustainable development but also ensure a greener recovery.
Dr. Ashish Chaturvedi ( Director, Climate Change Team) and Dr. Vijeta Rattani (Technical Expert) work with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on issues of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management. Views expressed are personal.
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