COP26: The Long & Short Of It


Words: Paribha VASHIST

Just pick up any newspaper, or watch TV news, and you will see that ‘economic development and growth’ is the agenda of governments worldwide. ‘India to become a US$5 trillion economy by 2024-25’ and ‘China to peak emissions by 2030 to achieve maximum economic growth,’ are some of the major headlines.

What does growth truly mean? Is it how much we are able to boost our Gross Domestic Product [GDP], the way traditional economic theories describe it? Or, is growth a multidimensional and multimodal concept? One that has an environmental, social, moral and spiritual balance. We must, indeed, wonder if the growth we’ve achieved on a global scale, so far, has made society more equitable, or changed it for the worse? 

COP26: Glasgow

When the 26th session of the Conference of Parties [COP26] to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] was held in Glasgow, UK, earlier this month, these questions took centre-stage. There’s global consensus that if development continues in the current unsustainable way, we are sure to witness a global temperature rise of more than 1.5°C by 2050, implying far worse climate catastrophes and greater incidences of hunger, poverty, and conflicts. In this context, the effort in Glasgow was to push for an agreement that could put the world on a 1.5°C pathway through concrete, well-defined actions.

Climate Finance

Finance was also an important area of discussion. Experts estimate that trillions of dollars would be required every year to fund the necessary climate actions to limit the temperature rise. But, the main question is: who would be giving these trillions of dollars for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and to whom?

Developing countries, including Brazil, South Africa, India, and China, argue that developed countries are under an obligation, owing to their historic responsibility in emitting greenhouse gases, to provide these nations with finance and technology to dealing with climate change.

The ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ [CBDR] principle, highlighted in the Paris Agreement, is the foundational basis for their stand and rightly so. The principle argues that countries which presently have the ‘developed’ status are in that position solely because they were able to use and exploit natural resources, including fossil fuels, recklessly. Given that the developing world in the current scenario cannot afford to emit to that extent, it is the ‘historic responsibility’ of these developed nations to provide developing nations with the requisite financial and technological tools to coping with climate change.

It was along these lines that, in 2009, the developed countries promised to mobilise at least US$100 billion every year from 2020 onwards and transfer these funds to the developing world. However, the promise has not been met yet and an extension has been put forward to arrange this amount till 2023.

As the maxim goes: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” The more we delay this financial and technological transfer, the more the poor and small countries and island states that are worst affected by climate disasters will suffer from climate catastrophes. The developed world must keep its word to sustain a liberal and prosperous world order.

India’s Stance

In the COP26 summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Panchamrit, or five nectar elements to deal with climate change, effectively raising two of the existing climate targets, announcing two new ones, and promising to turn net-zero by 2070. The PM stated that India would raise its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030, meet 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030, reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tons from now to 2030, and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy to less than 45 per cent. The major announcement was that India would achieve the target of net-zero emissions by 2070.

Such targets bode well for the environment and economy, but major bottlenecks of grassroots’ level implementation will need to be adequately addressed. Moreover, the voices of all stakeholders, including tribal communities, will need to be taken into account to ensure a sustainable growth model.

India firmly believes that a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ is not the optimal way to evolve consensus on global issues: every nation’s circumstances, strengths and weaknesses must be given due attention.

India, along with several other developing countries like China, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela, objected to a provision that asked countries to accelerate ‘efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.’ India, instead, moved a proposal to substitute the word ‘phase-out’ with ‘phase-down’ to recognise the different national circumstances of some countries. The justification was that developing countries still need to deal with basic issues of development agendas and poverty eradication. In this regard, subsidies on fuels like Liquified Petroleum Gas [LPG] provide social security and support to low-income households. Moreover, the LPG subsidy has eliminated the need for biomass burning for cooking and improved the health of women by reducing indoor air pollution.

Sustainability Holds The Key

It is evident that developmental needs ought to be balanced with environmental, social, health, spiritual and moral needs. We will have to evolve our present strategy of development for the wellness of humanity at large. We could, indeed, learn a thing, or two, from Mahatma Gandhi — the way he led his life, while always keeping sustainable development, ethics and morality at the core. Our transition from ‘fulfilling our greed’ to ‘fulfilling our need’ would be crucial in determining the future trajectory of glocal societies, or communities.

PARIBHA VASHIST is a first-year Bachelor of Economics student at Gargi College, University of Delhi, New Delhi. A voracious reader and a naturally gifted writer, Vashist is zealously passionate about international economics, environmental policy and sustainable development. She wishes to effectively disseminate, in her own simple, yet profound way, scientific knowledge and policy tools to bringing about a positive, healthy change in our increasingly madding world.

2 thoughts on “COP26: The Long & Short Of It

  1. Dr/Prof Ashok Sharma says:

    Paribha Vashist’s article is more than informative; it highlights the need of the hour. It also ‘ups’ one’s level of awareness on various aspects of climate change. The predicted increase in global temperature [1.5°C] by 2050 is a matter of great concern. It will affect our flora and fauna. Staple crops, like wheat, among others, will have the maximum effect, or impact, and this will affect their prices adversely. Vashist is a visionary student; she is god-gifted. Her level of understanding and clarity, for someone so young, is, no less, appreciable. She has all the bearings to be a responsible, also marvellous, asset to our planet. My best wishes for her bright future.

    [Dr/Prof Ashok Sharma is a former Vice-Chancellor].

    • Paribha Vashist says:

      Thank you so much, Sir. Your kind words mean a lot to me. What’s more, I’m extremely glad that you found my perspective piece impactful.

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