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Decoding India’s climate future

A new edited volume takes a comprehensive look at India’s attempts to balance climate change mitigation with development goals

India needs to find the perfect balance between burning fossil fuels for growth and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Getty Images
India needs to find the perfect balance between burning fossil fuels for growth and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Getty Images

Over the past few years, the threats posed to India by climate change have become clear. Despite this, public understanding of global warming, and India’s policy positions on climate change mitigation and adaptation, is still very low. This can be seen in the almost complete lack of environmental and climate concerns in conversations around the country’s economy; the almost zero representation of these concerns in the manifestos of political parties; as well as their conspicuous absence from India’s cultural mainstream.

Yet, climate change is the gravest issue of our times, and given how much India stands to lose, an anthology like India In A Warming World: Integrating Climate Change And Development is a welcome addition to the literature. Edited by Navroz K. Dubash, professor and coordinator of the Initiative on Climate, Energy, and Environment at the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research (CPR), this voluminous book does what it says on the cover: look at India and climate change through multiple prisms. Essays in the book touch on aspects like climate change impacts, the politics of climate change, ongoing international negotiations and India’s role in the processes, as well as the delicate balancing act of India’s climate policies with the country’s development needs. The book is divided into five broad sections that address each of these topics, with multiple essays by policymakers, India’s former UN climate negotiators and scholars.

India’s need to find the ideal balance between mitigating climate change and development is quite rightly the central concern of the book. The country’s not always well-articulated position on this has always provided the context for its negotiating positions at the UN, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. To this end, there are some useful essays in the book that inspect the various nuances of India’s position as a developing economy, as well as the common negotiating platform that India has provided for all southern economies in the past. Two of the book’s sections address these subjects, and it’s great to have an essay like the one by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) climate change portfolio global coordinator Sandeep Sengupta on India’s climate change negotiations down the decades, from the articulation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to the 2015 Paris Agreement. Also useful is the essay by D. Raghunandan, director at the Delhi-based Centre for Technology and Development (CTD). His essay takes a critical view of India’s “inconsistent position" at international debates in recent years, where India is seen to side more with developed countries, instead of its traditional allies in the Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries.

Other essays which study the mitigation-development paradox take a more sectoral approach. This is useful because climate change impacts can be seen on a spectrum ranging from being a primary stressor to an additional one, depending on the sector. When it comes to energy, it is the principal driver of the need to choose between renewable energy and coal-fired power. When it comes to, say, development projects, climate change also provides an additional stress point by exacerbating the effects of industrial pollution, or damages to ecosystem services. Thus, it is useful that the book has individual essays on climate change and its linkages with energy, urban development, forests, agriculture, water and coastal impacts.

In his expansive introductory essay, Dubash lays out the reality of India’s position vis-à-vis global warming. He writes that “…a development path that is innocent of climate change is no longer possible. The impact of climate change will increasingly threaten development outcomes…(also) a growing range of development decisions, including but not limited to energy, will have to account for a global context shaped by climate politics and policymaking." Reading the book, it also needs to be said that the biggest untold story of climate change mitigation is that despite making all the right noises, countries are doing practically nothing to roll back emissions in the slim window that is left to prevent runaway climate change. India is equally responsible for this drift, and this will become even more of a problem as we get closer to December 2020, when countries have to submit their next round of carbon-cut targets. For a coherent action plan to be articulated at the highest levels of policymaking, a book like India In A Warming World is essential.

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