India flexes muscles, dilutes COP26 coal plan

Ritu Jha-

India appears to have thrown a spanner in the works at the end of the 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP26) over a draft decision to cut coal power globally.

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav(Right) with COP26 President Alok Sharma, at the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

As the initiative, under the aegis of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), concluded in Glasgow, Scotland, India led the effort that saw the final wording changed from “accelerating efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power” to instead supporting a “phase down unabated coal power.”

COP26 President Alok Sharma did acquiesce to India’s demand “to “phase down” from “phase out” and convinced 200 countries to go along with the “Glasgow Climate Pact” to keep efforts to keep rising temperatures below 1.5C/ and finalized the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement, But he was emotional during his concluding speech Saturday, Nov. 12, saying, “May I just say to all delegates I apologize for the way this process has unfolded, and I am deeply sorry.”

He added, “I also understand the deep disappointment, but I think as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.”

The Glasgow Climate Pact has sought to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030, relative to the 2010 level, and to have net zero emissions around mid-century, as also as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Sameer Kwatra, the acting director, India, at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), whose job involves promoting clean energy, energy access, and sound climate policy in India, told indica that India showed leadership and set the right tone at the outset by announcing stronger targets for 2030. The last-minute negotiations on the exact language in the text could have been avoided but it happens at almost every COP, he said.

“The difference between “phase-out” and “phase-down,” in my opinion, is academic, and more a play for a diplomatic win,” Kwatra said and added, “In the real world, market economics, energy independence, and to a lesser extent, air pollution, are already phasing out fossil fuels. In a complete turnaround over the last decade, financial institutions the world over now consider fossil-fuel investments as very risky.

He said that as the costs rise, the economic feasibility of fossil-fuel investments will be affected. Kwatra felt the question was when rather than if large economies like India will transition completely to clean energy.

“Considering that until a few weeks ago there were doubts about the COP going ahead at all, it was commendable that eventually most nations across the world did come together and agreed to do more to limit warming to 1.5C,” Kwatra said. He added that he was especially glad to see the progress on giving more prominence to climate adaptation and resilience, climate finance, loss and damage, and a transition away from fossil fuels. However, he felt, pledges and announcements by themselves could not bend down the emissions curve. Action has to follow the talk.

Indian American Shrina Kurani, (Above photo) a US delegate with YOUNGO at COP26 who participated in bilateral talks and negotiations on climate finance, with the UN high-level champions, was not so optimistic. Kurani, who was also on a panel on the role of innovation entrepreneurship tin reducing the risks of climate change, told indica that some of the biggest issues include the liability for loss and damage, which could hit the least developed countries the hardest.

“Phasing down is meaningless as there is no method or procedure to assess it. By pushing against “phasing out,” it created a more dramatic and tense atmosphere in what was otherwise a quite technical agenda for the final day,” Kurani said.

She said, “For us to mitigate the climate emergency and stay below 1.5, we need to phase out coal and fossil fuel energy sources immediately. A strong US voice that can support the energy transition across the planet is integral to raising the bar as to the commitments each country needs to make.”

Kurani, an engineer who advocates for clean energy and sustainable business, said that 46 countries committed to transitioning from coal to clean power, while the global finance industry pledged to invest $130 trillion to tackle climate change. Although these are big accomplishments, they are not enough. The US needs more people in Congress who understand the science behind climate change and will take bold action, she said.

Kurani, who is also running for California 42nd Congressional District in 2022, added that while COP26 was supposed to be the most inclusive COP, various issues, from difficulties getting visas, vaccines and some complex COVID protocols, kept many members underrepresented in negotiations.

“We need to make strong and clear commitments, and any language diluting that takes us further and further away from achieving 1.5 [C],” she said, adding “1.8 [C] is far too high, and we know that will be catastrophic for many people around the world.”