What is the future of India’s climate governance?

Athar Parvaiz
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Since India delayed an announcement on its future carbon emissions cuts at the end of August, there has been a lot of talk about a possible shift in climate change policy by New Delhi.

Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Left Wing Communist Party of India (Marxist) said Narendra Modi is reneging on the “red lines” drawn by previous governments in U.N. climate change talks.

These red lines, according to Yechury, require New Delhi to refrain from announcing unilateral commitments or accepting any binding emissions cuts, and insisting on the developed world fulfilling its pledges to transfer climate finance and low-carbon technology to developing countries like India without intellectual property rights payments.

Yet such a tough stand may not cut ice with the present government as it plans to use a mooted shift in climate policy as a bargaining chip to garner the support of the international community for securing India a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, the Business Standard newspaper reported.

There is also growing opinion – across political, academic and bureaucratic circles – in favour of making long-term gains by taking effective action on climate change that would bring both development and climate benefits.

This viewpoint is gaining ground following China’s announcement of its action plan for the new U.N. climate deal expected in Paris in December, despite it being considered as “inadequate” by experts with the Climate Action Tracker, which rates countries’ efforts to curb global warming.

These are said to be some of the reasons why New Delhi is taking more time than expected to finalise its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), or national pledge, which all countries have been asked to put forward to the United Nations before the Paris negotiations.

But whatever New Delhi’s diplomatic ambitions for climate action may be, experts back home point out that India’s climate policy has, over the years, shaped up in such a way that it is failing to achieve its objective of preparing the country for worsening climate change impacts.

India’s climate policy, according to Navroz Dubash, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-basedCentre for Policy Research, started taking shape in 2007, since when institutions for climate governance have proliferated.

Dubash, who I recently met at a panel discussion on a new book on climate-resilient dry lands published by the International Institute of Environment and Development, shared an important finding of his recent study: that there is no coordination and linking of knowledge between India’s various ministries looking after eight different missions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

Rajeshwari Raina, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies in New Delhi who also spoke at the discussion, said that by structuring the components of the National Action Plan on Climate Change as separate programmes, the government has prevented coordination that could make meaningful linkages with common interests and in reforming polluting sectors.

Overburdened Staff

Lack of continuity in institutions and limited capacity within them is another problem. For example, the special office of the prime minister’s envoy on climate change – created in 2008 to coordinate the ministries dealing with climate change-related work, such as improving energy efficiency and cutting vehicle emissions – was dismantled after two years following a tussle for control with the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

This is different from China where climate policy is organised around a National Leading Committee on Climate Change (NLCCC), headed by the Chinese premier. The NLCCC, according to Dubash, co-ordinates the activities of the 27 government agencies tackling climate change.

“We cannot follow the Chinese example as we have no institution that is powerful enough to house such a body. Our Planning Commission (Niti Aayog) has neither that sort of authority nor capacity,” Dubash told me.

He added that the number of officials in institutions dealing with climate change remains low, leaving them overburdened. For example, the environment ministry – the nodal agency for climate change – has only six full-time staff working in its climate change unit.

They must keep track of global negotiations, including specialist international bodies such as the Green Climate Fund and Major Economies Forum, monitor state plans and eight national missions, track other countries’ policies, understand linkages to issues such as trade and aviation, and oversee bilateral communication. “This seems like a large set of tasks for six people,” Dubash said.

Climate change is best dealt with as a cross-cutting issue, Dubash observed. “This requires an appropriate institutional framework that generates the necessary knowledge and gets it into the right hands, as well as coordination across ministries,” he explained.

To fulfill its ambitions for a blend of political, climatic and development gains, India may need to find more joined-up ways of devising the robust climate change policy it requires.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Athar Parvaiz is an independent journalist based in Srinagar and New Delhi, India.

Image: A villager walks on a railway track damaged after heavy monsoon rains near Patdi village in Gujarat. REUTERS/Amit Dave

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