India plays bad cop to developed world at COP27


"India has hit out at the developed nations for their hot air on addressing climate change. From calling for a phase down of all fossil fuels and not just coal, to pushing for a better definition and tracking of climate finance, India has vehemently placed the onus on the developed world to aid the developing nations in navigating the climate crisis.

As India holds the developed world accountable, can it become a messiah for the rest of the world? Or can India be a global climate leader? 

Host Mugdha Variyar speaks to Urmi Goswami, assistant editor at The Economic Times, who is tracking the developments at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, and Vaibhav Chaturvedi, fellow at Delhi-based think tank Council for Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) on India’s many interventions at COP27, as well as what the country needs to meet its own decarbonisation targets. Credits: Channel 4 News, Yahoo Finance, UN Climate Change, The Independent, UNFCC, Rappler and and ANI News"

This is an audio transcript of The Morning Brief podcast episode: India plays bad cop to developed world at COP27

BG Sound 0:01
40,000 delegates in a country with a reported 60,000 political prisoners and a climate summit at the Lamborghini conference center. Egypt's repressive state then an unlikely place human rights groups say for humanity to save itself from itself. Physics, not politics, demanding we break our addiction to oil and gas, we have to cut greenhouse gas pollution nearly a half by 2030. Instead, we're on course to increase it 10% The 100 billion dollars a year promised 13 years back by rich, polluting nations is still broken.

BG Sound 0:38
Here in Africa home to many nations considered most vulnerable to climate change. Food insecurity, hunger follows four years of intense drought in the Horn of Africa.

BG Sound 0:48
We are all here today because we continue to use the thin blue shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet as an open sewer.

BG Sound 0:57
How many more Wake Up Calls does the world do world leaders actually need a third of Pakistan underwater, the worst flooding in Nigeria in a decade this year, the worst drought in 500 years in Europe in 1000 years in the US and the worst on record in China.

Mugdha Variyar 1:17
The Conference of Parties of COP, is to me like a toy train that stops at New Destinations every year. Global heads come aboard to play a round of blame game even as right teeters dangerously close to an environmental apocalypse. Well, last year at COP 26 Remember that India had become a whipping boy for pushing for a phase down of coal instead of a phase out of coal. Well, this year at COP 27 in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, India hit back. It asked why just coal, all fossil fuels, some of them still used in massive amounts by developed countries need to be phased out. And in a rather surprising turn of events, some of these very developed countries that India called out supported, it's that

BG Sound 2:02
Mr. Timmermans, on the cover decision consultations, India had made a submission on for a phase down of fossil fuels. The EU has shown support for it. But it does not figure in the list put out by the presidency today or late last night. And I'm wondering is that you're going to be working with India to have it put in an explicit mention of phase down on fossil fuels?

BG Sound 2:26
Well, obviously, we're all in favor of phasing down all fossil fuels. And we are in support of any goal to phase down all fossil fuels. But we also have to make sure that this call does not diminish the earlier agreements we had on phasing down coal. So if it comes on top of what we already agreed in Glasgow, then the EU will support in this proposal.

Mugdha Variyar 2:52
That was Frans Timmermans, an executive vice president at the European Union, leading the work on its first climate law. He was replying to a query from my colleague Urmi Goswami, ET's resident Climate and Environment expert. Urmi is covering the cop 27 in Sharm el Sheikh, and she will join us in today's episode, in which we look at India's many interventions at COP 27 as well as what the country needs to meet its own decarbonisation targets. It's the 18th of November. I'm your host Mugdha Variyar from et prime. And today we'll look at how India is playing bad cop to the developed world at COP 27 On the morning brief. At this year's Climate Summit, India stayed away from setting any fresh targets for decarbonisation, and reiterated Prime Minister Narendra Modi's goals from cop 26 but it may still come out as having held the historical emitters accountable. European countries which have caught in an energy crisis due to the Russia Ukraine war since the beginning of the year, recently decided to label investments in gas as climate friendly. India stood up and called out the bluff. India argued that the selective labeling of some energy sources as green, even though they were responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, has no basis in science. Well, India didn't stop here. It reiterated the obligation of the developed world to compensate countries affected by extreme weather events through a loss and damage fund. India also pushed for a sharp definition of climate finance, arguing the vagueness around the term allows developed countries to greenwash their finances and pass off loans as climate related aid. It is also pushing back against the move by developed countries to club all top emitters, particularly the top 20, including India and China for making intense emission cuts. So is India emerging as the Messiah for the developing world. And as it also garnered support from the developed world for its call to face down all fossil fuel, can India really become a global climate leader? Or will criticism that India is not doing enough to break away from its reliance on coal. Keep it from being seen as a role model. A lot of it will depend on what note cop 27 ends on today, which is Friday the 18th of November, and whether many of India's interventions will find place in the cover text, which will reflect the final agreement from all the negotiations at the summit. As of Thursday, the Egyptian presidency had made a list of what could go into the covered text. India's proposals weren't part of that list. Also, while India has called out the bluff of developed nations, can it meet its own targets for a cleaner environment? My colleague Urmi Goswami, who has been tracking the global discourse at COP 27, over the past two weeks, is here to help us break down India's pitch at the summit. Urmi, we thank you so much for joining us from Egypt must have been very busy for you there over the last few days. But of course, you have attended cop for what over a decade now. Right. But this year, you know, given the energy crisis we are seeing across the world because of the war, so many natural calamities that have hit countries like Pakistan and others. What is the mood this time and of course, this is being referred to as the COP of implementation as well, so what do you think is different this time at COP 27?

Urmi Goswami 6:35
You know, I have attended many cops, as you said, 13 To be precise. And this is my 13th Cop. As far as the mood of is concerned. You know, it's funny, once the negotiation starts, if you go to the negotiating side of the cop, I think it's the same kind of thing from every year, you know, all nighters being pulled by negotiators. As a matter of fact, this cop started on Sunday, November 6, and negotiators are already here that normally here sometimes for pre meetings, because various, especially developing country groups, because there's so many they get together earlier and have these meetings of their own. On the fifth of November, which is actually the day before the official opening of the call, or negotiators pulled not only an all nighter, 20 hour long meeting, just to thrash out the agenda items. So it kind of felt that people were you know, just working as if it was the end of the cop right from the beginning. So yeah, it feels in some ways similar, and in some ways dissimilar.

Mugdha Variyar 7:40
Okay, so in some ways, similar in many ways, dissimilar as well. But what's the mood like at the India pavilion, this time Urmi, especially given that Prime Minister has given it a miss this time? And that too coming, You know, after, you know, his big speech at Glasgow last year, what is it like this time?

Urmi Goswami 8:00
Well, the mood is still vivid, I would say at the India pavilion, the India pavilion, is themed on life, the lifestyles for environment, the big mission that India has launched, India seemed a little quieter in the first week. And because India did not have its head of government, it seems as if India was missing, in that sense, and it had its events in the pavilion. But since then, in specially in over the weekend, India's kind of come back into the sort of limelight, even before it wasn't that it was quiet as in not making some interventions, particularly on finance, which is Virginia took as a focus issue.

Mugdha Variyar 8:43
Urmi, you know, picking up from a point that you mentioned about how in the first few days, it looked like India was missing from the action. But of course, in the last few days, we have seen the environment minister being very vocal about several issues, be it the loss and damage fund. And of course, he did talk about the fact that all fossil fuels need to be phased down. And not just coal, which a lot of developing countries are dependent on, how has that played out? Do you think India is fighting the battle for the developing world? Which it should? Of course, but is it becoming the Messiah for the developing world? But is it finding any common ground with the developed world as well? Because I think you spoke to several representatives from the European Union, you said that India is getting some kind of support, on its call to phase out all fossil fuels as well. But overall, what has the response been from the developed world?

Urmi Goswami 9:39
You know, it's a funny thing. You asked me the question that way, because the fact is that India negotiates a lot, and of course, India as part of the G77, and China, but the developing countries, you know, there are like 130 odd countries, so it's a huge group. So there are subgroups within The G77 and China and India largely negotiates from within the group called lmdc, which is the shortform for like minded developing countries, it includes countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Venezuela, Ecuador. Now, the interesting thing is that it's close negotiating partners, Saudi Arabia and China have not said a thing. For China. This is an interesting situation, because it doesn't really want any kind of reference to phasing down of any kind of fossil fuels. The support it has received actually, is from the European Union. They have shown a great degree of interest in supporting but as Frans Timmermans, who is the Executive Vice President of the Commission, and the man in charge of the European Green Deal, said that look, it has to be Glasgow plus. So in Glasgow, the world agreed to phase down unabated coal, which is basically all coal. And it has to be more than that.

BG Sound 11:03
European Union is here to move forward, not backwards. Glasgow gave us sound foundation here in Sharm el Sheikh, we want to set out a path forward, the EU is ready to make progress on the global goal on adaptation, we are ready to address loss and damage because too many countries cannot shoulder the climate crisis on their own, we need to close the gap on climate finance, including by collectively doubling adaptation, finance,

Urmi Goswami 11:31
and the United Kingdom has been supportive. You have had Tuvalu, which is the first country to sign the fossil fuel Non Proliferation Treaty, which has come out in support Norway, and Colombia. So now think about it. It's more developed countries that have come out and support that developing countries.

Mugdha Variyar 11:52
How India uses this support will be interesting. It has to play a fine balancing game says Urmi keeping its vast population that depends on coal happy and gradually transitioning to more environmentally friendly forms of energy.

Urmi Goswami 12:08
And we all know that the transition from coal is not just a switch over, you know, from that you're using coal today. And then let's turn over and start using the sun or wind or hydro or what have you. It is actually a transition of systems Its also a transition of systems that go beyond the energy system, you have states whose whose whole revenue model is dependent on coal, right? And what do you do with them, you have to think of finances in a different ways they stop receiving the royalty for coal, and then that's it, you know, they will be in bigger trouble than they are. So therefore, you have to think of those transitions. So, India will need to sort of give that comfort or make it make their argument that look, we are not trying to hide behind this fossil fuel, facedown and trying to hide coal under it. We are saying that, as they have been saying, right, they said that this is rooted in science, science calls for rapid reduction of emissions, it doesn't qualify that you should only do away with one fossil fuel. It talks about exiting all fossil fuels, obviously, it is likely to get support from small island states. I'm also told but I have not been able to verify it that some least developed countries or LDCs, as they're called, are, which would be some countries in Africa are also showing support for this move. So yeah, if India thinks that it wants to be a messiah for the developing world, I think it should drop that idea of being a messiah for anybody. But what it should do is show leadership and I would say that with this move, India has shown leadership.

Mugdha Variyar 13:52
But how is India walking the talk when it comes to initiatives on more sustainable forms of energy.

Urmi Goswami 13:58
India has been on an art of accelerated renewable energy capacity addition. And that's true. It's also true that India is looking at hydrogen India has over the last seven years, reduced its fossil fuel subsidies by 73%. It actually is among the best performers in the G 20. On this issue, and it is hoped that as India becomes the G 20. presidency, beginning first December that it will reiterate and revive this campaign of reducing fossil fuel subsidies.

Mugdha Variyar 14:34
Of course, all of the noises India has been making on behalf of developing countries only become legit if its proposals become part of something called the cover text. But what is the cover text? Well, in a nutshell, it is the point of this whole summit. It's the point where all participating nations come to an agreement on how they will together tackle climate change. Have India's concerns made it to that list yet? But as of Thursday, no. But it opens up the debate to much wider spectrum and puts the onus firmly on the developed countries, we have to accept one thing. But there is a scientific reason why the conversation has been focused on coal. Because, yes, all fossil fuels are bad. But coal is perhaps the worst. So in the priority list if you were to do this, and coal is number one, but the conversation on fossil fuels gets stuck for many reasons. One of the reasons being, of course, lobbies, they work really hard. And they have always tried to work the system. It's not a new thing. But also, if you look at the news, you'll see the gas deals that have been struck very recently, including by the host country, how do you, you know, you have to sort of get over it, what I find very, very enthusing. And this is, in some ways, something we can take back with us. We know that Europe has been in the news, not just because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the energy crisis that has followed, but on the way it has been trying to buy up gas, its dependence on gas as sort of, it's not for everybody to see. And though they are still trying to buy gas from everywhere else. Remember there's a first sort of party so to speak, that actually gave what is well people would and rightly say, qualified support to the Indian submission or Indian ask

Mugdha Variyar 16:31
Urmi, you know, let's come to, of course, the most important part of all these discussions at cop, and that is climate financing. Now, India, of course, put down its long term strategy document, but even there, they've said that the need for climate financing will be in the 10s of trillions of dollars by 2050. They haven't given an absolute figure, there are reports and experts suggesting that this could range anywhere between $7 trillion to $12 trillion by 2050. But you know, what are you picking up especially on the sidelines, in the negotiation rooms, what exactly is India looking for when it comes to climate financing.

Urmi Goswami 17:12
So India is looking for money to help make the transition. India cannot, you know, as things stand now, do all of this on its own steam. Let me give you a quick example, if India needs about 170 or billion every year, to fulfill, to me to achieve the goals, it set out in its NDC. Not this current one, the earlier one. But if you look at the 2019 2020 figures, the total amount of green finance is what's tagged as green is 44 billion. And that's nothing and of which about 83% is funded domestically. So and this is this transition is a game where you need a lot of upfront money because at one level, you need a lot of upfront money, and the other side is policy. And if finance doesn't flow, then there is a problem. And other statistics, just to give you a sense of how financial flows are strained in the Reno solar in 2020, some 200 odd billion were invested, of which most of it went to the OECD countries and China 5% went to Africa, and very little comes to the otheres. I mean, there's very little left for you know, OECD after OECD plus China get the investments. So clearly we need finance. So India has argued a for of course, that developed countries keep their promise of 100 billion a year, which they said they've started be able to sort of meet that target in 2023. That's next year. And of course, it's involved. They're currently negotiating in the UNF Triple C, the new goal new quantified goal for 2025 and beyond.

Mugdha Variyar 19:05
Going into cop 27, India dropped a few of its self defined targets set under the Panchamrit pledge by the prime minister last year. Here's what the Prime Minister had announced in Glasgow last year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi 19:17
Climate change par iss vaiswik manthan ke bheech main Bharat ki aur se iss chunauti se nipatne ke liye Panch Amrit Tatva rakhna chahata hoon. Pahla Bharat 2030 tak apne non fossil energy capacity ko 500 Giga watt tak pahunchayega. Doosra Bharat 2030 tak apni 50% energy requirements renewable energy se Puri karega. Theesra Bharat ab se lekar 2030 Tak ke kul projected carbon emission mein 8 billion ton ki kammi karega. Chautha 2030 tak Bharat apni arthi vavistha ki carbon intensity ko 45% se bhi kum karega. Aur Paachwa varsh 2070 tak Bharat net zero ka lavz haasil karega.

Mugdha Variyar 20:23
In August this year, India updated its nationally determined contribution, which is essentially its climate action plan to be communicated to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It removed its target of establishing 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030. It also dropped the commitment to reduce 1 billion tons of carbon emission by 2030. Just for reference, India's total emissions in 2021 was around 2.7 billion tonnes. Here's what environment minister Bhupendra Yadav said at COP 27 On Monday,

Environment minister Bhupendra Yadav 21:02
in August 2022, India updated its NDCs with the updated NDC Western further committed to first reduce the emission intensity of its GDP to 45%. Below 2005 levels by 2030 second achieve about 50% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non fossil fuel based energy resources. By 2030. We are now presenting India's long term low carbon development strategy that articulates India's vision and action plan for achieving its NDC goal and target of net zero emission by 2070.

Mugdha Variyar 21:41
As India presented its long term strategy document this week, there was also criticism that the document did not cite any interim targets or any estimates of the amount of climate financing the country will need. Let me now go across to Vaibhav Chaturvedi fellow at Delhi based think tank Council on Energy Environment and Water who is joining us over the phone call from Sharm el Sheikh.

Vaibhav Chaturvedi 22:07
So first of all, I don't think that the some targets have been omitted the announcements were made. But there's always been the case that some of these targets will be domestic in nature, right. And some will be officially submitted to the international United Nations forum. So that's what also happened, a bunch of the targets are now last year in the panchamrit pledge, they have been included in the international kind of commitment. And some of these now will be a part of the domestic pledge. So we should not say that these are off the table. It is just that these are not part of the international climate pledge, right. So India always had this domestic Renewable Energy Target, right? Like for example, 175 gigawatt target, for 22. The earlier the 500 gigawatt target for renewable energy 2030. All those anyway have been our domestic pledges. Right. So those domestic pledges still remain. Second, India's long term strategy. You are right it I mean many other countries when the long term strategies have got some hard targets, intermediate targets right now, but also, the process of creation on intermediate targets is more of a long process. So the way we should look at this current long term strategy document is that this is more of a guiding document to identify priority sectors, it says these are the intervention they're going to think about. It talks about finance research, international cooperation and adaptation, many of those things, but of course, in the next iterations, the expectation is that we should move from it being a higher level guiding document to more targets coming into more kind of clarity on the roadmap, which are the priority sectors, those kinds of elements will be added in the subsequent iteration, they shouldn't be taken only the first draft of this, you know, document. Right.

Mugdha Variyar 23:35
Vaibhav, I also wanted to quickly talk to you about the ground realities when it comes to non fossil fuel energy as well. From what I understand, as of June of this year, India's non fossil fuel capacity was about 168 gigawatts. Now, even though we have done away with the target of 500 gigawatts of non fossil fuel capacity by 2030. There are estimates that suggest that India would need capacity of up to 300 to 400 gigawatts for non fossil fuels. So is that going to be feasible to achieve and what needs to be done for India to achieve that?

Vaibhav Chaturvedi 24:12
Yeah so the notion of feasibility is actually very dynamic notion, right? When we were setting in 2014, everybody was saying most experts in India, were saying solar is not feasible, should not even look at solar electric vehicles are not feasible. And that was the debate in 2014. Now just look at 2022, just eight years, the whole debate has changed, right? Solar is the thing that everybody's going for electric vehicles are the thing in the mobility sector, right. So the feasibility, the notion of feasibility will change the moment markets will change in a variable. So the one indicator that I look at very keenly is who is investing where investments are happening where private sector is putting his money. So that's a sure short win, they are reasonably short. They are the ones who are putting the money on the table. So they are reasonably sure that whenever they're putting their money that well the chances of returns and positive returns are going to be very reasonable realistic and from that perspective, we are already seeing tremendous investment happening in the mobility sector like you know even big players like Maruti now all Maruti Tata Mahindra, which are the biggest sellers in automobile passenger automobile segment, all of them have very huge range of electric cars already introduced. Two Wheeler segment is already moving the electricity generation sector, we see so much progress happening on solar and wind in the hydrogen sector. We know that reliance and Adani is of the biggest players in the energy sector in India, have already put a lot of money on table have very significant targets of production. So, if you look at all of these together, clearly both the emission intensity number as well as the progress in the power sector, it is about you know, it looks like it is going to be feasible. And the question also is, let's say just on the basis of market progress, we are not able to achieve the target. That is where policy comes in.

Mugdha Variyar 25:50
India has also sought a clear definition of climate financing, stating that it should be predictable financing in the form of trans or low cost loans. India has also started taking steps to attract climate financing. Last week, the finance minister announced sovereign green bonds, the money raised to these bonds will go into public sector projects that help introducing carbon intensity of the economy. There's also a call for India to establish a green taxonomy framework, which will essentially create standards to classify sectors and investments as green. This will especially help in attracting private sector financing. But how much climate financing does India need? Well, the government has stayed away from putting down an absolute figure in its long term strategy document, and has only stated that the country will need 10s of trillions of dollars by 2050. Some reports state that India may need anywhere between $7 trillion dollars to $12 trillion of investment by 2050. We ask Vaibhav on what his think tanks estimates are.

Vaibhav Chaturvedi 26:54
So, let me say that first of all investment could be your finance needs could be defined in many different ways. Right? So the numbers that you're putting, there are like the high level investment needed for the sector. Right? So CW estimates, for example, there's a $10 trillion would be needed for a netzero transition across the power generation hydrogen and transport sectors up to 27 people achieving the net zero, right. So that is high level investment number. A lot of this investment will probably come from the Indian banking system right? Now, all these domestic banks will of course, finance a lot of it, let's say 60% of it is financed through domestic money right? Now 40% is going to come the expectation is it is a FDI kind of right. So the question is now from $10 trillion, you have reduced it to $4 trillion, which is like you're saying this is international finance, that should come to India in this low carbon sectors. Now, out of this 4 trillion, a lot of it will be just private finance coming like the usual finance comes in. Right. But we are talking about now out of this poor trillion. How much of this can be grants, how much of these can be low cost finance, and how much of this can be maybe usual investment that happened? You know, so we are not even talking about the usual investments. So out of let's say, this $4 trillion dollars, maybe usually investments are 2 trillion or 3 trillion. So the residual, is where we say, you know, we need low cost finance. And that is an estimate. That, of course, we need to do in a much more detail with CW has done estimates for that. But largely from the Government of India perspective, it has to make that kind of assessment, to not just is not high level numbers are good, you know, they're useful as a starting point. But the real thing is, what do you want to ask? Right? What is the ask for 10 trillion is not the ask right, you're not going to get all the money from the developed world. Right. So the ask is, what is the loss that you need? And what is the grants maybe what you need know something like that, that kind of estimate the government definitely is already looking into. And that is something very important for this whole process to move forward.

Mugdha Variyar 28:41
I asked Vaibhav the same question that I asked Urmi can India become a global climate leader? He too is optimistic.

Vaibhav Chaturvedi 28:50
Well, India is consistently demonstrating climate, ambition and leadership. Now across the years, especially last seven, eight years. So the first big example was the International Solar Alliance. Right that is India's initiative. Then the second example is now the Coalition for Disaster Resilient infrastructure that happened last time, India also announces net zero, I mean, there was no need to announce net zero, right it was a dramatic shift and position itself, because till then, India never announced an absolute target reduction target with the net zero now the target has become an absolute reduction target, right. So now India is also taken that the latest one is in fact, the announcement of a domestic carbon market, right? That is also an instrument for decarbonization. And the first time, the government of India said that will now also put a price on carbon through this mechanism, right. So there are many, many ways in which ambition is being displayed. It's a one has to look at not just one action, but a collection of actions to anyday look at how you know, ambition has been enhanced and how the climate leadership is being demonstrated by India and it's very clear it is demonstrating climate leadership. But cooperation is also going to be part of the larger discourse on climate.

Mugdha Variyar 29:53
The world is witnessing some of the worst climate catastrophies this year, Kenya was gripped by its way worst drought in decades, while countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, were besieged by floods in the face of such disasters, the cop has over the years come to be criticized for the indecision, the blame game, and the dragging of feet by countries on taking action. In fact, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who became popular over a protest to draw attention to climate change, dismissed the summit for quote unquote, greenwashing, lying and cheating, and she chose to skip cop 27 By the time we approach cop 28, we would have faced more unimaginable loss while some progress has been made. India and the world need to act faster. It's literally a race against time. Well, that's it for today. This is your host Mugdha Variyar on the morning brief, the official podcast of the economic times

Mugdha Variyar 30:56
This episode was produced by sumit Pande sound designer Rajas Naik and Indranil Bhattacharjee Executive Producers Anupriya Bahadur, Anirban Chowdhury and Arijit Barman. Do share this episode if you liked it. And listen to new episodes of the morning brief every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on all your favorite listening platforms, Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts and Economic Times website and of course our very own audio platform et play. Also tune in to the latest podcast from et startup school. Your 12 Step Guide from idea to enterprise with marquee startup founders. All clips used in this episode belong to respective owners credits are given in the description

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