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What are India's climate goals at COP28?

December 6, 2023

As participants at the UN climate conference in Dubai assess the progress of countries worldwide in meeting emissions reduction goals, India is positioning itself as a leading voice for developing nations.

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at COP28 in Dubai
India has called for the concept of climate 'equity' to be included in future climate action plansImage: Mahmoud Khaled/Reuters

As the COP28 climate conference in Dubai heads toward the first ever Global Stocktake (GST), India is using the occasion to build on its ambition to represent the interests of developing countries around the world. 

The GST is about assessing where the world stands eight years after the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 when it comes to greenhouse gas emission reductions and how to fix the gaps in climate action.

The Paris accord aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

A report from India's government outlining its approach to the GST calls for developed countries to bear more of the load in helping poorer nations meet and finance agreed-upon climate goals.

The report submitted ahead of COP28 to the UN's climate change body, the UNFCC, emphasized that "vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected."

"Equal sharing of the mitigation burden between developed and developing countries is unfair and inequitable when the respective responsibilities for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are accounted for," the report said. 

In developing future climate action, India stressed that the GST should "mobilize necessary support from the developed countries to the developing countries" in order to "lift the level of climate action ambition."

"Developed countries should fulfil what is already committed and must ensure no undue burden continues to overflow on to developing countries," the report added. 

COP28 climate talks in United Arab Emirates draw controversy

Can India hold on to coal and meet climate goals?

Under the Paris Agreement, signatories come up with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) toward emissions reduction goals.

Included among India's current eight NDCs is a pledge to have 50% of "cumulative electric power installed capacity" to come from non-fossil fuels by 2030. India's NDCs also call for better mobilization of funding from "developed countries" to implement mitigation and adaptation plans according to "resource gaps."

Promit Mookherjee, an associate fellow focusing on carbon energy transitions with the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), told DW that India is "on track" to fulfil its NDCs.

However, despite India's pledge on expanding non-fossil fuel and renewable energy, India is standing firm on a decision to not phase out coal-generated electricity in the near term.

Ahead of COP28, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told a press conference in New Delhi that India could not yet abandon coal due to economic and developmental reasons, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

India also did not join 118 other countries at COP28 in signing the "Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge," which aims to triple global renewable energy generation capacity to 11,000 GW by 2030.

"Developing countries are dependent on coal for development," said Mookherjee. "The cost of technology for energy transition is high, and so phasing out coal would lead to energy poverty. Decarbonization should be equitable," he added.

In the first half of 2023, India produced 500 million tons of CO2 from burning low-quality coal, a 4% rise over the same period in 2022, and on track for setting an annual coal emissions record, according to data from think tank Ember reported by Reuters news agency in August.

In absolute terms, India is the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide, although in per capita terms, the South Asian nation's emissions are far lower than those of richer Western economies like the US or Asian peers such as China. 

In its GST report, India called for allowing "developing countries the carbon space to meet their development needs."

Jharkhand: Where livelihoods depend on coal

India calls for climate 'equity' on loss and damage

India has also called for the concept of climate "equity" to be included in future climate action plans. This concept recognizes the unequal burdens of climate change on different countries, while ensuring every country can benefit from the results of collective climate policy.

India's report said current modeling scenarios for the impacts of continued global warming "do not capture the extent of inequitable regional outcomes underlying the global scenarios."

"A commonly agreed guidance to operationalize Equity needs to be designed in the GST," it said, adding that equity is "still under discussion and remains inconclusive" as developed countries have maintained there is "no mandate" in the Paris Agreement to "discuss issues pertaining to operationalization of equity."

The perennial sticking point of burden sharing between developed and developing countries extends, in particular, to collective financing of adaptation and mitigation measures.

At the launch of the COP28 on November 30, the long-debated Loss and Damage Fund (LDF) was put in operation.

The LDF is funded by pledges from more than a dozen wealthy countries, like the US, UK and Germany, to compensate poorer countries damaged by the effects of disasters caused by climate change. Initial pledges to the LDF total around $725 million (€672 million), which many say is not enough.

India has so far declined making financial contributions to the fund, arguing its high emissions are recent, and citing a "historical responsibility" of developed nations to pay for climate damage. India, along with China, both claim, despite their growing economies, that they should be considered developing nations.

The decision to let the World Bank handle the LDF for an interim period of four years has also been heavily criticized by developing countries, who are demanding the creation of a new institute to handle this fund.

"There is no clear consensus on how much money there will be in the fund and who will put money in this fund. We also need to expand this funding from millions to trillions for effective climate mitigation and adaptation" said Mookherjee.

COP28 launches climate 'loss and damage' fund

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

Wesley Rahn Editor and reporter focusing on geopolitics and Asia