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OPINION: COP21 Paris – Now What?

CDKN’s Senior Country Advisor for India, Mihir Bhatt discusses India’s future direction in light of the Paris Agreement and the four main areas that the country can focus on.

The negotiations at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris have yielded a historic agreement that promises to shape not only the global strategy for cutting emissions, but also the way we live on this planet.

The key elements of the agreement are:

  • To keep ‘global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels’;
  • To allow each country set its own emission reduction targets and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) voluntarily;
  • To review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years, called ‘Global Stocktake’;
  • To help poorer nations adapt to climate change and swith to renewable energy through climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

In bringing together competing interests and disparate voices from the developing and developed nations of the world, the agreement provides an unprecedented opportunity for pursuing the imperative of climate justice through united and meaningful action. The Prime Minister of India has described the Paris Agreement as the victory of climate justice. However, without concerted efforts to realise the vision of the Paris Agreement, this historic opportunity might be squandered.

India has already won the admiration of the world by announcing its ambitious INDC framework, which aims to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level and create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. Primary estimates suggests that at least USD 2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices) will be required for meeting India’s climate change actions between now and 2030. INDC India’s INDC framework will require more intense efforts, a suitable strategy and resources. Substantive actions in the following four areas can help India to meet its targeted INDCs.

The first area is private investment, where limited engagement is seen to develop funding mechanisms or regulatory policies that could see greater private investment in climate-related activities in India. Private investment must flow towards the items on COP21 agreement agenda. Some items – solar energy and green technologies – are obvious choices for more direct private investment; but there are other items where private investment can be profitable as well as bring about ecological prosperity. Some of the items in key sectors such as water and sanitation, renewable energy as well as micro-insurance are listed on the UNFCC database of actions on adaptation by private sector. But financing climate change projects is yet to be feature in the agenda of banks or investment institutions in India and mandated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) spending is yet to be focused towards mitigation and adaptation.

A GIS based INDC management system is another possible area for private investment where information technology industry investments can lift the management of INDC from possible delay to real time and from tedious paper records to a convenient “click away”. Such investment will help India report its progress towards the Paris Agreement as well as measure achievements of its INDC. A newer role of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in shaping what East Asia does apart from institutionalising resilience and capacity development to implement COP21 agreement, especially fom the view point of private sector investments in low-carbon economy is important. Similarly, private investments in India can benefit not only from India’s market but also from the ASEAN-wide market for INDC management and implementation.

Regional power transmission is another area where private sector investment can play an active role in making COP21 implementation harmonious across the region. Solar and wind and other renewable powers must be transmitted across South Asia for effective and timely use to fuel accelerated economic growth. “India has a very large land mass and therefore raw material required for renewable energy is right in front of us. It would be sheer incompetence if we are not able to convert this into a resource”, said Arun Jaitely at the RE-INVEST 2015 which concluded with 2,66,000 MW Commitments of Green Energy.

The aforementioned initiatives will be more effective with capital market reform programmes that define and strengthen the investments in green and clean areas of the economy. ‘India stands to reap more green jobs, slash deaths from air pollution and save money from avoided fuel imports should the country embrace an ambitious climate action plan’. As a regional network, the Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA) has vociferously advocated the cause of zero emissions. It can make sure that above investments create clean and green jobs for youth in countries of South Asia like India.

The second area is public accountability. The most effective way to ensure the accountability for the actions taken and the money spent – international or national- is to make communities central to COP21 implementation in India through the following:

  • Evolution of suitable administrative structures which empower communities to observe and report emissions to the concerned authorities;
  • Leveraging on the work of Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). CDKN has championed the cause of climate compatible development in India through active community engagement. Good practices and approaches from CDKN’s previous work can be built upon to have a meaningful community participation in the INDC implementation process in India;
  • Greater emphasis on the promotion of community based irrigation and forest rehabilitation systems;
  • Facilitating greater rural urban water reuse integration;
  • Rethinking information and communication technologies for competitive INDC implementation;
  • Promotion of climate compatible urban planning, wherein, adequate urban infrastructure is developed for climate sensitive urban solutions such ‘car free zones’ and ‘smoke free industries’ in each SMART city urban area.

The third area is learning and knowledge management. India has already taken many innovative initiatives across cities and villages that can easily be upscaled for the implementation of the COP21 agreement. One reason why this is not happening more is that India is not learning fast enough to make use of the results of these initiatives. Electricity grid strengthening is a case in point. CDKN has supported pioneering work on this in Bihar with TARA and cKinetics. In order to expand rural energy acdess, the initiative seeks to introduce a solution through development of a franchising approach for conversion of the diesel generator operators to renewable energy operators, graduating to a RE based Energy Service Company, known as ESCO. Far more can be drawn from such experiences for national use. Innovations like these must be mainstreamed in knowledge and learning in higher education.

Similarly, the power of good data needs to be leveraged. Robust poverty and social analyses based on good data can massively add to  existing knowledge and helps in easily achieving the ambitious targets of India’s INDCs. A readiness to access and deliver international climate finance on India suggest that ‘India has limited experience in measuring, reporting, and verifying domestic, private, and international climate finance. Systems for tracking volumes of climate finance have not been systematically applied, and estimates on the impact of climate finance spend are even more limited’.

The fourth area is cities. Transforming urban infrastructure for greener cities was a recurring theme at COP21. Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, has clearly said before and after COP21 that the way cities live and function will have to change for the benefit of all. “The world must incentivise green growth activities as ‘Green Credit’ instead of Carbon Credit Mechanism, which provides a way out for the Emitter to get rid of the blame of pollution by paying for the emissions.”, he said. This change may be slow or in phases, but it must be effective. India hopes to pursue the imperative of greener and cleaner cities with two of its flagship urban renewal programmes known as AMRUT and SMART Cities Mission. Adequate investment in greener and cleaner urban solutions will play a key role in the implementation of COP21 agreement in India.

India is taking an active lead in championing the cause of urban resilience in South Asia. This is critical because not only is South Asia extremely vulnerable to multiple hazards, the crumbling infrastructure of its cities greatly amplifies the risk of such hazards precipitating into disasters. Climate Change has added another dimension to the existing risks by making South Asian cities more vulnerable to climate extremes. Therefore, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) have become increasingly intertwined in the region. By welcoming adoptation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) in the Paris Agreement has added the required urgency to engender a meaningful and effective integration between DRR and CCA in South Asia. India can take the lead to engender such an integration in the region by advocating the evolution of green and sustainable cities.

The aforementioned four areas for action are indicative not exhaustive, as far more areas will emerge in the due course of time. COP 21 has paved the way for a greener and sustainable future, the onus is now on India and the world to walk this path. After the Paris agreement, the question is “Now what Action?” seems to be the only resounding answer to this question by the citizens of India.

Picture Courtesy: Abbas Mushtaq, CDKN

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