Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that India will ratify the Paris climate accord on October 2 has ended an uncertain period in the country’s climate change diplomacy. Three weeks ago, at the G-20 summit in Beijing, India had refused to commit a firm date for ratifying the deal. China and the US had ratified the Paris accord in the run-up to the summit. Last week, 30 more countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, gave their assent to the accord and there are media reports that the EU, as a bloc, will join the treaty by September-end. Fifty-five countries, responsible for at least 55 per cent of the global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), must ratify the Paris accord for it to take effect. Last week’s approvals mean that 60 countries responsible for 48 per cent of global GHG emissions have ratified the accord. With its dithering, India, which contributes 4.5 per cent of global GHG emissions, risked being the villain of the Paris climate story.
In fact, India’s recent reputation at international climate negotiations is none too good. In the last decade, its argument that the historical culpability of industrialised countries for the current levels of GHGs in the atmosphere enjoins on them the greater responsibility for mitigating climate change has been challenged, not just by industrialised countries but also by countries highly vulnerable to climate change — Bangladesh and Maldives for example. As an emerging economic power, the country has been asked to take on more responsibilities to check climate change. India’s insistence on eradicating energy poverty has often been seen as an alibi for the profligacy of the country’s rich. Last year, in the run-up to the Paris climate summit, India showed its willingness to shed its traditional fossil-fuel centred approach to energy. It announced a slew of measures that included a greater share for renewable sources in the country’s energy mix. At the Paris climate meet in 2015, India sought $2.5 trillion in aid by 2030 to fulfill its climate-related commitments. The response from the industrialised nations was lukewarm and Prakash Javadekar, the then environment minister, is on record saying that India signed the Paris agreement in a “spirit of compromise”.
Prime Minister Modi, though, tweeted that the Paris climate meet was a victory for climate justice. India’s attitude in the months after the summit, however, showed its lack of enthusiasm. Such prevarication would have done the country’s cause no good. India stood the chance of being upstaged by countries like China and Brazil on issues of finance and technology transfer. In recent times, India has tried to signal its commitment to renewable energy by taking on leadership of groups like the International Solar Alliance. India risked its credibility in such bodies with its indifferent attitude to the Paris accord. The PM’s announcement is a step in the right direction.