While it may seem as if India has undergone a sea change on climate policy, the reality is more nuanced. By and large, India’s actual demands are consistent with its position in previous negotiations. However, it has modified its rhetoric to become a more assertive force in Paris.
The Indian government has definitely changed its tune in the last year. When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in May 2014, there was an optimistic buzz among climate activists. Modi had a strong background on energy and climate policy, and even mentioned climate change in his election manifesto. Yet in his first year in power, he remained relatively silent on the issue.
Between 2014 and 2015, however, Modi’s official statements on climate change have increased by over 50 percent. Of course, the increase can also be attributed to the hype around the Paris talks, but I would argue that the difference is significant enough to signal a deliberate shift. His language has also changed, with greater focus on climate justice and development. The Modi administration has prioritized climate change in the lead-up to Paris, and this has played out in its aggressive substantive position in negotiations.
Shifts in Substantive Demands
Climate Justice and Equity
India has historically been a watchdog for equity at climate negotiations. With a large population under the poverty line and high dependence on fossil fuels for growth, India needs support to transition to a low-carbon economy. The idea of equity may not be new, but India has reframed its version of climate justice.
Indian negotiators and activists have argued that the unregulated development of wealthier nations has placed India at a disadvantage. It has the same developmental needs, but less atmospheric carbon space to use. India has demanded that it has “room to grow” in the new climate regime, with rich countries carrying more of the burden. It has thereby taken a more forceful stance on climate justice in Paris. In doing so, it has put pressure on wealthy nations to step up and do their utmost.
Climate finance has emerged as a key issue in negotiations. India has been calling for greater climate finance for years. But once again, they have devoted more attention to this issue in Paris. As part of G77+China, India issued a stern warning to developed countries in the early stages of the conference. The statement called on rich countries to acknowledge the “obligation” of climate finance due to their historical responsibility.
India’s Finance Ministry has also recently released a discussion paper criticizing developed nations for their “creative accounting” of climate finance. It slammed a recent OECD report that claimed developed countries were providing $62 billion a year in climate finance, estimating that the number was closer to $2 billion. Overall, it has not drastically changed its position on climate finance. It has instead become a more vocal advocate for scaled-up, transparent finance from developed countries.
Renewable energy is Modi’s pet project at both the national and international levels. He began the year with the landmark announcement to increase the country’s solar capacity to 100GW by 2022. This seemed to catalyze a new focus on renewable energy, especially solar power, in India.
In the Paris talks, this shift has been evident: In the first day alone, Modi discussed renewables extensively in his opening statement and announced the International Solar Alliance with France and 120 other countries. He pledged to mobilize $1 trillion by 2030 to promote solar power in developing countries. It’s too early to tell if the plan will be ambitious and well-implemented, but the announcement was a bold move from Modi early on in the conference, signaling his emphasis on renewable energy.
For the most part, India’s demands have not changed at the Paris climate talks. It has simply become a more aggressive player in negotiations, and a focal point for countries demanding climate justice. It has also become more solitary among major powers with its hardline stance. But whatever the outcome in Paris, one fact has become obvious: India is shaping up to be a real heavyweight in the post-2015 climate regime.
Mili Mitra is a member of Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab. The opinions in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.