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In Face of Climate Change, India Defends Interests of Southern Nations

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

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Two global venues – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – saw India’s competence as not just effective negotiators for its own interests, but also for the interests of other southern nations. In a manner, what India has been proposing for the past few years in terms of climate change came to the realization in November and December 2021.

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On the final day of the COP26 in November, India – led by Union Minister for Environment, Forests, and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav – pushed for the use of the word ‘phase down’ coal rather than ‘phase out’ coal, that 190 plus nations agreed to.

It was a crucial inclusion since the affluent nations, the primary polluters and energy consumers, wanted just coal phased out, leaving other energy sources falling under the fossil-fuel category unaffected. It would have meant that poorer nations who rely primarily on coal would have to abandon it at the same time as richer ones, but without the alternative of having oil and gas that richer nations enjoy.

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PM Narendra Modi declared at the COP26 that India will achieve a net-zero objective by 2070 and increase non-fossil fuel energy to 500 GW in its energy mix by 2030, offering a new motto, LIFE – ‘Lifestyle for Environment’, and upping its vow to tackle climate change by attempting sustainable development.

The second forum was not a typical climate change-related platform, but the famous UNSC, where India, with the backing of Russia and China, knocked down a motion to “Integrating Climate-Related Security Risk into Conflict-Prevention Strategies” in December.

While emphasizing that India is “second to none” in terms of climate action and climate justice, India asserted that the Council is not the appropriate forum for discussion of either topic. 

India’s permanent representative to the UN remarked it as the attempt to connect climate and security obscures a lack of progress on important UNFCCC process concerns. “The text would be a step back from collective determination to address climate change,”

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The representative emphasized that “putting climate change within the UN Security Council’s mission would exclude most poor nations from discussions.”

Unlike the UNFCCC, which operates on the agreement and offers equal weightage to all parties, the UNSC is controlled by wealthy states. As a result, India’s decision to stand firm came as a blessing for the global south, which consists primarily of poorer and developing countries from Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

After all of that, it is now up to India to translate what it has spoken on global forums into local measures. Much work needs to be done to help the poorest of the poor, who are necessarily the most exposed to the effects of climate change.

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