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Insights into Editorial: Working towards climate justice in a non-ideal world




Climate change is a pressing international political issue, for which a practical but principled solution is urgently required.

The election of Joe Biden as U.S. President has catapulted climate change to the top of the global agenda, allowing him to keep his promise to “lead a major diplomatic push” to increase global climate ambition.

This also works well for him in rebuilding the trans-Atlantic alliance apart from keeping at bay the domestic fissures from a tenuous hold of the Democrats in the U.S. Congress while being resolute on climate change.

Climate Justice in a Non-Ideal World aims to make normative theorising on climate justice more relevant and applicable to political realities and public policy.


The U.S.A’s moves on climate change:

  1. Interestingly, the U.S. is not just returning back to the Paris Accord with its voluntary commitments but is taking an extra step forward through its call to reconvene the Major Economies Forum (MEF) starting with a Leaders’ Climate Summit in the coming months.
  2. This amounts to a strong step forward to get the major emitters to agree to stronger climate commitments.
  3. The MEF was first convened in March 2009 to rope in major emitters. The serious unwillingness of emerging economies to be labelled “major emitters” saw the meeting retitled “Major Economies Meeting” given the link between GDP and GHG.
  4. It was also to push a way forward on climate change without heed to the principle of differentiated responsibilities and recognition of historical responsibilities, which are rightly hallowed principles of the climate discourse given the decades of staying power of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere.
  5. The serious unwillingness of emerging economies to be labelled “major emitters” saw the meeting retitled “Major Economies Meeting” given the clear link between GDP and GHG.


Commitment to net-zero Emissions (GHG emissions):

  1. All countries have been asked to commit to net-zero (GHG emissions) by 2050 with credible plans to ensure meeting this domestic target.
  2. The Chinese, who posited themselves as reaching there by 2060, have been sternly told to be there a decade earlier.
  3. The UN Secretary-General has called on countries to declare national climate emergencies apart from building a coalition for a carbon-neutral world by 2050.
  4. As of today, countries representing around 65% of global CO2 emissions have already agreed to this.
  5. The UN Secretary-General would like this figure to reach 90% within 2021.
  6. These plans and their implementation will, undoubtedly, be subject to international reviews and verification.


India’s contribution:

India, with its huge population and now one of the world’s largest economies, but India has an extraordinarily small carbon footprint in per-capita terms. India’s per capita CO2 emission stands at around 2 tons.

India has been a global record-setter in pushing renewables and has been an active participant in climate negotiations representing the interests of the developing nations.

It has been a strong orator of the principle of differentiated responsibilities and recognition of historical responsibilities.


India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) targets:

The INDCs will largely determine whether the world achieves an ambitious 2015 agreement and is put on a path toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.

India has submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

India’s INDCs are:

  1. To reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 level.
  2. To achieve about 40 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030, with the help of the transfer of technology and low-cost international finance, including from Green Climate Fund.
  3. To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.


A fund pay-in:  Idea by Raghuram Rajan will possible to implement?

  1. The issue of money, especially the lack of it, is a perennial one in the climate discourse.
  2. In this context, Raghuram Rajan has recently put forward a proposal for India to consider it calls on countries to pay into a global fund amounts based on their carbon emissions over and above the global per-capita average of five tons.
  3. This obviously disincentives coal in a big way while incentivising renewables. Those above the global average would pay, while those below would receive the monies.
  4. While this would suggest a certain equity, it may be unacceptable to the developed countries even though Mr. Rajan has gone along with the drumbeat to forget historical responsibility.
  5. As far as India is concerned, for starters such a proposal may appear attractive as India today has per capita CO2 emission of only 2 tons and is a global record setter in pushing renewables.
  6. But will real politics allow a major economy to benefit from such fund flows or indeed even be the recipient of any form of concessional climate finance? Unlikely.
  7. Moreover, the long-term implications of such a proposal in a setting of a sharply growing economy and reliance on coal-produced electricity for several decades require examination in detail, quite apart from factoring in the twists and turns that negotiations could give to such an idea.
  8. And then, of course, there are alternatives such as emission trading.
  9. The new proposals seem to focus on current and future emissions, and in keeping with the contract and converge approach, allows practical considerations to trump fairness by not only giving a short shrift to historical responsibility but also denying priority access to the remaining carbon space for developing countries.
  10. In that sense, it double penalises them while giving developed countries a certain free pass.
  11. Here it bears noting that more than 75% of the carbon space available to humankind to keep global temperature rises to 1.5° C has already been taken up by the developed world and China.



Climate negotiations are not just about the environment and human well being or even energy, but are also about global governance, and will henceforth be pursued with a vigour which requires India to carefully calibrate its approach including on the economic and political fronts.

Climate justice is an imperative for India, which needs to leverage its green and pro-nature commitment to ensure carbon and policy space for its developmental and global aspirations.

India’s diplomatic and negotiating efforts must be quickly geared to that end.