Volume IconDid India fail COP26 or take a step forward in the right direction?

COP26 climate summit ended with India and China forcing an replacement of the word 'phase-out' with 'phase-down' in relation to coal in the final draft. What was behind India's move? Let's find out

Coal plants

The 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP26, has come to a close and it has been declared a success from the Indian perspective. India got its way through a last-minute change in wording about coal but has been accused of weakening efforts to end use of coal. This report analyses whether the criticism towards India is warranted.

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After two weeks of negotiations, nearly 200 countries have reached a consensus at the COP26 climate summit. India teamed up with China to successfully push through a change in the wording of the final deal that was agreed upon, despite strong objections from developed countries. They alleged that the initial draft was watered down due to the amendment. Coal is responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The final draft called for “accelerating the phase-down of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels.”  Here, unabated means coal power that is not tied to carbon capture and storage technology.
India still relies on coal for 70% of its electricity needs and nuclear power accounts for less than 2% of the energy capacity. Environment minister Bhupender Yadav, who led India’s negotiations at Glasgow, said the country still has to “deal with its development agendas and poverty eradication”. Moreover, about four million people in India depend on the coal industry for their livelihoods. India maintained that the current climate crisis has been precipitated by unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns mainly in the developed countries.
At the summit, India has pledged to derive 50% of its energy from renewable resources by 2030. The agreement reached at the summit does not mention the other two fossil fuels-- oil and natural gas -- which are used extensively by the US and European countries.
India and China may be the world’s two biggest coal polluters but on a per capita basis, Australia and South Korea lead among the G20 economies, according to energy and climate research organization Ember. India’s per capita emission from coal power is far less than the global average.
India has been portrayed as a spoiler for its stance on coal, with unfavourable coverage and reactions emanating from COP26. However, such a label is far from accurate. 

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Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and senior fellow at Centre for Policy Research, says India's intervention to get the language on coal watered down might have been a misstep
It was for the first time that any COP decision called for reducing the use of coal power. Experts say it is no less than an achievement. What the deal still did not achieve is the ambitious goal set in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The countries had then pledged to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100. Even with the current pledges, the world is on track for 2.4 degrees of warming. But to make progress on this, countries have agreed to meet next year to discuss further carbon cuts. Most nations agreed that it was a small but important step towards the right direction.

First Published: Nov 16 2021 | 8:15 AM IST

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