India is likely to announce its targets for the Paris deal by September-end. The Indian offering– called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)– is expected to have different components with an over-arching target for reducing the emission intensity of the economy by 2030. This over-arching figure is expected to be well over the 20-25 per cent reduction by 2020 compared to 2005 levels that India had earlier committed.
The nature of Indian INDCs is likely to be along the lines the Chinese have offered and highlight the number of big steps India has already taken to address climate change.
Developed countries have already submitted sub-optimal targets under the Paris agreement and China has taken targets that are quite close to their business-as-usual scenario.
Yet, the attention on INDCs has distracted away from the key areas of concern that India faces during the next three months on the road to Paris. To top it, the radical advice from government’s chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, has not just heated up domestic politics on climate change, but also forced India’s partner countries in climate change negotiations to look for clarity on the NDA government’s stance, which is reminiscent of what Jairam Ramesh’s advice to the then Prime Minister had done in the run-up to Copenhagen. At that time, both BJP and the Left parties in opposition had taken on the UPA in Parliament for attempting to move away from national consensus.
Officials across ministries say Subramanian’s radical suggestions cannot possibly be accepted at this stage and have been formally objected to in parts but the matter has not been settled at the highest levels of government so far. A radical and blatant departure three months before the Paris talks always seemed unlikely.
But observers would now be looking all the more carefully for departures from existing red-lines in the small print of Indian submissions to the UN, as well as statements and utterances of NDA’s climate change thinking-heads, besides of course that of Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. These thinking-heads include Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and his minister for state Jayant Sinha, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu – who also acts as Sherpa for Indo-US strategic dialogue and the G-20 and takes keen interest in the issue, Power Minister Piyush Goyal and the mandarins at the ministry of external affairs. They are all involved in different bilateral, plurilateral and formal UN talks on climate change.
The first formal submission to the UN from India that will be open to international scrutiny, called the Biennial Update Report, has already stirred a controversy. The draft report opened up actions of the Indian government to intrusive questions from other countries, even though these were undertaken more for energy security considerations rather than to address climate change explicitly, such as India’s tax policy for petroleum products. The report will soon be cleared by the Union Cabinet. With the developed countries keen to impose a uniform and more stringent inspection rules on developing countries under the Paris agreement, a slip on this report, some negotiators have warned could risk laying the grounds for such deeper inspection of Indian economy.
Next up, by early September, the Cabinet will also clear the INDCs to be submitted to the UN. The fine-print to the headline numbers in the INDCs would be as critical. As one climate negotiator explained, “Some rich countries, such as the US, have asked that one part of our target under the INDCs be entirely unconditional – without being linked to supply of finance and technology and other acts of the developed world.”
Subramanian too has advised India should stop pushing developed countries for climate finance along and move away from poorer developing countries. Will India continue to demand the full linkage between provision of finance and technology from developed world to its actions and how government articulates this demand in India’s INDCs would be an important sign of NDA’s climate stance.
Before going in to the Paris round of talks, the cabinet would also have to clear the negotiating redlines for its team of diplomats, but such multilateral negotiations require that the redlines be kept under wraps quite like hiding one’s cards at a game of poker.
Other indicators of India’s position on climate change, and if there will be any changes to it, could emerge from statements and positions that NDA government’s key personnel on the subject take in several engagements beyond the formal UN negotiations. At the UN talks slated before the December round in Paris, such as the one beginning end August, India’s formal submissions (and not the rhetorical public posturing) would be closely read into by negotiators from other countries as well as observers back home.
France intends to hold a second round of ministerial talks in September and then organise another of the Finance ministers in October to find a common ground. There could be a fourth such round of talks too just before the big jamboree in December. Then there is the September UN Secretary General’s summit on Climate Change where again India would engage in formal and closed-door talks. During the same period, the Indo-US strategic dialogue too is being held where Suresh Prabhu is expected to be the Sherpa and climate change a central topic. India has already given in early on one demand from the US – on the phase out of a set of refrigerant gases and antennnas will be up to catch any signal of a drift at all US-India bilaterals or plurilateral engagements such as Major Economies Forum.
If the NDA government intends to alter the essential and consistent redlines on climate change before Paris, it definitively won’t happen with the dramatic flair that theoretical conditions permit but with subtlety that real diplomacy requires.