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The Long Road to Ratification: India Signs Paris Climate Agreemen

This article was originally published by the Center for Global Development.

By Kartikeya Singh and Jennifer Richmond

Since the start of international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), India helped lead the global South in demanding its rightful share of the global carbon budget, while simultaneously wagging a finger at the developed world for creating and exacerbating the climate problem. India has struggled to do so while accounting for the fact that unabated climate change will continue to inflict devastating impacts on the Indian people, especially those who are poorest and most vulnerable. Yet on October 2, India signaled its serious commitment to climate action by ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, which is the most promising international climate agreement since the hailed success of the Montreal Protocol agreement from 1987.

India’s ratification will shrink the remaining margin needed for the agreement to enter into force. A total of 55 countries, who produce at least 55 percent of global emissions, is required for the agreement to take effect. Currently, 61 parties have ratified, accounting for 47.79 percent of emissions. India adds another 4.1 percent of emissions, bringing the total to 62 parties and 51.89 percent of emissions.

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Changing discourse and the road ahead

The road to ratification has not been easy for a country of over one billion people, nearly 400 million of whom lack access to reliable electricity and over 20 percent of the country lives under the poverty line ($1.90/day). The timeline here highlights major milestones in India’s domestic and foreign climate-related energy policies. A closer examination of these markers reveals a struggle between ideologies and ground realities.

Historically, India has sought compensation from industrialized countries who exploited cheap, carbon-intensive expansion at the expense of the global South’s opportunities for growth. But in an increasingly hot world where India’s summer heat waves are reaching inhospitable temperatures, continuing to pursue a stalwart position on climate action would not even be self-serving at this point. In May of this year, the state of Rajasthan recorded India’s highest temperature ever: 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit. A recent study projected that parts of South Asia and North Africa are experiencing temperature increases at a rate that may make certain areas uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century. This is exacerbated by other major stressors attributed to climate change, such assea-level risedesertification, and increasing mortality due to industrial air pollution.

Balancing climate action with growth continues to present a challenge for India’s leadership. Gaining access to energy is key to unlocking economic growth, essential for tackling India’s poverty. India has vast coal reserves and will continue to tap into them to connect millions of citizens to the grid, but the Modi government also aims to increase its mix of renewables to meet 40 percent of the country’s electricity demand by 2030. This makes sense given that India is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the US (excluding the EU) and is projected to continue growing steadily with a current economic growth rate of 7.5 percent. Ultimately, India’s political will to emerge as a responsible superpower and mounting pressures to abate the worst impacts of a shifting climate have reshaped its posture as a leader in international climate negotiations.

Domestic policy action

India’s educated middle class is rapidly expanding and will require millions of new jobs, nudging the government to create employment opportunities while ensuring secure energy in the context of a climate-constrained world. The Modi government has announced several national missions that promote greater energy security by developing more renewables at scale. India has also realized its potential to save energy, especially among its fleet of coal-fired power plants. India’s energy efficiency programs and the desire to foster a business environment that supports low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles, could make it a leader in both these sectors.

Partnerships for progress

India’s proposed actions to address climate change through a web of policies at the national and subnational levels may serve as a blueprint for nations interested in driving clean energy innovations. However, the country cannot do it alone. India has acknowledged that it will need the help of partner countries to achieve its ambitious energy goals. Rather than developing independent agendas, multilateral development institutions and bilateral partnerships should aim to help India meet its impressive targets. Simultaneously, to make these partnerships productive, India should be more transparent about its progress on achieving its targets. India’s commitment to ratify the Paris Climate agreement sends a strong message, but the leadership’s determination to pull off such a comprehensive and long-term effort demands successively concerted action over the next several years.


Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer and India’s Climate Strategy

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At the beginning of this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the Tokyo Declaration along with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, mentioning among other things, the decision to “spur cooperation… in cutting edge fields such as…clean and renewable energy, water technology, climate change science and outer space”. The recently concluded meeting comprising leaders of Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC), at New Delhi, there was discussion on the approach of the BASIC countries for the 2015 Paris CoP, with an emphasis on how developed countries must fulfill their obligation towards developing countries in the form of funding, technology and support for capacity building.

We are seeing a greater emphasis on the need for technological self-sufficiency in India’s negotiating stance. This is because, the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the quintessential solution to the mammoth task of emission reductions, and this shift will occur only through large scale investment in R&D and manufacture of accessible green technology. At the climate talks in Warsaw in 2013, India reiterated the need for financing for green technology along with transfer of patents by developed nations to help developing nations achieve their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).

From what we have observed through the several rounds of negotiations taking place, India and other Like Minded Developing Countries have consistently pushed for the removal of intellectual property barriers for renewable energy technology in order to aid their domestic climate action. However, this has been equally opposed by the United States, Canada, European Union and Switzerland, citing that intellectual property rights were not hampering technology transfer, but the removal of the same would have a negative impact on innovation and inhibit technology transfer, which would be undesirable to the global community.

In light of this debate, it is crucial to examine the relevance of intellectual property rights in achieving the larger goals of climate action. It has been argued that patents comprise only a small fraction of the cost of developing renewable energy technology and that removing patent protection for the same would not affect the total cost greatly. Patents must be accompanied by technical capacity, expertise and trade secrets in order to be successful. Currently, developing countries are placing a disproportionate emphasis on patents in the international negotiation process, which might just result in a forced and ineffective regime.

Also, we need to keep in mind the massive venture capital required to operate renewable energy companies  and encourage innovation, which is something that cannot be achieved if innovation is not incentivised. I believe that removing or relaxing the patent regime is not the best method to achieve technology transfer, except maybe in very limited areas such as bio-fuels. Moreover, under the obligations of the Montreal Protocol we have seen the successful international diffusion of substitutes for ozone-depleting substances while keeping patent protection in place.

Therefore, India should not place inordinate importance on patents within the technology transfer debate during climate negotiations. Instead, there must be emphasis on removing economic barriers to technology diffusion and this can be achieved by more intergovernmental public private partnerships and investment in developing nations in the development process, along with voluntary dissemination of climate related technology through Climate Technology Centre and Network under the UNFCCC. The UNEP Finance Initiative is also an effective way of ensuring international funding in domestic  renewable energy ventures.

Which is why the Tokyo Declaration is significant because it marks a welcome change from an patent based approach to technology transfer to an approach which recognises the importance of joint research laboratories and growing collaboration in developing climate friendly technologies between India and Japan. One hopes that the upcoming negotiations in Lima will adopt this rationale in international technology transfer between developed and developing countries.