As countries gathered in Scotland were crystallizing their pledges at last year's United Nations climate conference, India used its might to intervene. Along with China, India took issue with the draft deal's suggestion to “phase out” coal, preferring the wording, “phase down."
After much back and forth and hurried discussions between leaders, Bhupendra Yadav, India’s minister for environment, forests, and climate change, read out the final version. It said that nations should work toward a “phase down” of coal power.
The intervention was, for India's government, a success.
Now the country is expected to exercise its influence yet again to look out for its own interests at the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Egypt, known as COP27.
“India has always played a key role in climate negotiations and I think Egypt will be the same,” said Navroz Dubash, a lead author of various U.N. climate reports and a long-time observer of climate policy and governance.
Indian leaders say the nation requires billions of dollars to enable its clean energy transition and will push for better financing for developing countries at the summit. India has made many of its carbon emission goals conditional on receiving this financial help. Being both a climate vulnerable as well as a high emitting country, experts say India occupies a unique position on the global climate policy negotiating table.
About 80% of India’s population live in regions highly vulnerable to extreme disasters like severe flooding or heat waves, according to a 2021 study by the climate think-tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water based in New Delhi. Meanwhile, the nation is currently the world's third biggest emitter of carbon dioxide behind China and the U.S., according to latest estimates.
A key issue for India at COP27 will be how to finance both adapting to climate change and limiting fossil fuel emissions, according to a senior Indian government official who will be involved in the negotiations. The official, from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, responded to written questions from The Associated Press. The official was not named, keeping in line with ministry protocols.
India wants the $100 billion-a-year pledge of climate funds for developing countries, a promise made in 2009 that hasn’t yet been fulfilled despite being two years past its deadline, to be assessed, according to the official. Other questions around financing, such as what happens to climate funding in the long term, what contributions rich countries will make to poorer ones and how to make finance flows consistent with global temperature limit goals, also need to be addressed, they added. No other country will see a bigger increase in energy demand than India in the coming years, and it is estimated that the nation will need $223 billion to meet its 2030 clean energy targets.
“India has made it adequately clear that it is the historical responsibility of rich countries to provide the necessary climate funding,” said the senior Indian government official. Historically, it is the U.S. and European nations that have contributed the most carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Estimates for how much it will cost to move to clean energy and industry practices globally and help vulnerable communities adapt vary, but are in the trillions of dollars.
Leading up to COP27, India had announced its new climate plan saying the country will aim to achieve half of its energy requirements from non-fossil fuel-based energy sources by the year 2030. Currently, 42% of the country’s installed electricity capacity is from non-fossil fuel sources.
“The investments in renewable energy, though on an upward trend, need significant scaling up. There is a funding gap. This gap needs to met by international climate public financing to attract investors in the renewable energy domain,” said the Indian government official. "The raised ambitions and new goals for tackling climate change could all be in vain if adequate financial support is not provided to developing countries.”
Despite their ambitious climate plans, India is also investing more in coal, at least in the short-term. In the last two years alone, the Indian government has announced around $50 billion in forthcoming public and private investment in coal.
Compensation for poor countries from rich, high-polluting nations for the destruction caused by climate change, known as “loss and damage” in climate negotiations will be a key agenda item for many developing countries, including India.
According to the World Bank, 750 million people in South Asia have been affected by at least one natural disaster in the past two decades. These disasters are expected to become more frequent and intense, potentially creating immense loss and damage in the region. The NGO Germanwatch has ranked India seventh among countries most affected by extreme weather in 2019, noting that massive floods that year caused damage of around $10 billion, claiming 1,800 lives and displacing around 1.8 million people.
"I think it’s a real challenge for India to position itself” on loss and damage, said Dubash, who's also a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. “I think it would be an important moment for India to signal its allegiance with vulnerable countries,”
Long term observers of climate diplomacy say India, like many other countries, is straddling climate goals and boosting standards of living.
“There are some groups of countries which tend to think that all the financing for fossil fuels should be stopped and should be restricted. The problem with this, among other things, is that it ignores the efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals that many countries are making," said RR Rashmi, a distinguished fellow at The Energy Research Institute in New Delhi.
He added that moving away from fossil fuels “has to be a country driven process. It is best left to them to decide which sectors to address first rather than addressing it globally.”
Many observers say this year's conference will be "in-between COP," as many of the deadlines set for climate change goals have either passed or are not due until later years. This makes the conference "a good moment to push forward the issues that the developed world typically sideline, like loss and damage, climate finance and adaptation,” said Avantika Goswami, a climate policy researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
For the most part, experts say India is keeping its cards close to its chest.
India will have to balance “what the country is willing to put on the table in terms of pledges, policies, and commitments” and how much they are willing to spend, said Dubash. “So we (India) don’t want to do something that would lock ourselves into something costly unless there’s a promise of finance.”