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India Can Fill Vacuum Created by US Exit With Knowledge: Climate Change Negotiator

Varad Pande was an adviser to India’s Minister for Environment & Forests, and a part of India’s climate change negotiation team at Copenhagen in 2009. Calling US President Donald Trump’s decision to walk out of the Paris Agreement a regressive move which takes efforts against climate change back by 3-4 years, Pande says India’s research on renewable is lauded around the world, and the government should capitalize on it. He cites the new International Solar Alliance as an example.

Edited excerpts:

What is your first reaction to the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement?

It is obviously a big blow to the collective effort on climate change that had been put forth by nations worldwide. The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It’s participation in the Paris Climate Agreement encouraged other nations to come on board. With this pull out, Trump has made the US a part of the infamous group of nations that did not join the Paris deal, which included only Syria and Nicaragua.

Does this pull out benefit or harm India?

There will, of course, be an impact. One being that the Green Climate Fund will decrease. The fund is meant to cater to climate-friendly investments in developing countries, including India. Now, India may have to deal with fewer resources in terms of its actions regarding climate change, especially on mitigation.

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But I would not worry excessively about this. India’s actions on climate change are now increasingly grounded in the narrative of ‘we are doing this for our own benefit, not because of international pressure’ — this is a message we have been trying to convey since 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. It helps that in the last decade, environmental consciousness has evolved everywhere, including India. And with the rapid decline in price of renewables, especially solar, as witnessed by recent state-level auctions in India, even the ‘business case’ in addition to the ‘environmental case’ for action on climate change is becoming stronger by the day. On the funding gap, the vacuum left by the US will hopefully be fulfilled by organizations like Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the New Development Bank (NDB), which are aggressively pushing investments in clean energy, and are not exactly dependent on the US funding.

How will America’s decision impact the future of climate change negotiations?

It’s going to push back the efforts by at least 3-4 years. The speed of these multilateral negotiations is very slow. The fact is that we got Paris after 7-8 years of arduous negotiation, and were moving to the “how” discussion from the “what” discussion. This will take us back to the “what” discussion all over again. With one of the biggest contributors out of the deal, member countries may want to rework the agreement and parameters. Everything could be up for grabs. But I do think that individual countries, especially the major players like China, India and the EU, will not renege from the commitments they have already made.

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Some people are saying that China may step into the leadership vacuum created by America. Should India be worried about that?

They will certainly up their game, and they have already. AIIB is a good example of that. They will exert more leadership by pushing clean infrastructure investments even harder. They will pump in money. As for India, it might not take the traditional model of ‘aid’ since it still has to grapple with its own domestic goals, but I think the country will lead in terms of knowledge-sharing. Our research and knowledge bank is lauded around the world. India should capitalize on that. The new International Solar Alliance, initiated by India, is a good example of this.

India has pledged to cut its carbon emissions intensity up to 35% per unit of GDP by 2030 below its 2005 carbon footprints. How do we fare, when compared with China?

It’s unfair to compare India and China. China said it will put a peak on its emissions by the year 2030, but it’s being said that they are already ahead of schedule. India still has a long way to go in terms of development. We still have to provide for our entire country in terms of power, electricity, fuel, etc. Also, India’s CO2 emissions per capita is at 1.6 tonne per capita, and China’s is at 7. It’s easier for China to come down with respect to emissions per unit GDP. That said, India’s target is achievable.

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India seeks to have renewable power make up 40% of its power base by 2030. India is on track to become the world’s third-largest solar power market by next year, after China and the US. What are your views on that?

The economics for renewable energy is better, prices have crashed dramatically. As I said, the business case is becoming stronger by the day. The question here is if we are going to be that big a market globally, how will the government ensure that Make In India works in tandem with it? I hope the government is thinking constructively on this. The government must think of ways to generate employment from production of solar power, it could be a major driver of jobs.

First Published: June 3, 2017, 12:25 PM IST