Praveen Gupta was recently in conversation with Aarti Khosla. Aarti is a seasoned communications professional with a demonstrated history of working on the subjects of climate, energy, and the environment. She is passionate about communicating climate change in a better way. As founder and director of Climate Trends, she focuses on building public and policy understanding on issues of climate change, clean energy and clean air. Aarti also runs CarbonCopy, an editorial venture with an aim to expand coverage of climate change issues in India.
All I was seeking, says Praveen Gupta, was a well-informed perspective on India's poor ratings in climate action tracking. However, it turned out to be a lot more insightful - covering geopolitics, the global south, corruption, and climate financing.
Praveen Gupta: Which way is the climate discourse headed?
Aarti Khosla: Climate discourse is such a geopolitical agenda these days that nations are using it more to manipulate other nations than to be in any race to the top. It has come to a point where the world is already on a path of runaway climate change. Wildfires in Canada, and heat waves in India are a clear signal that the global climate is at a point of no return. While there is ample and urgent domestic imperative to act, and climate change is influencing all aspects of the lives of people across the world. Yet the politics of climate remains divisive and a downward spiral.
It’s important to acknowledge here that the argument of low per capita carbon emissions was developed to hammer home just how little the Global South was responsible for the climate crisis. And nobody’s denying it. But the planet’s climate system is sensitive to how much CO2 it has to deal with, not how many people are behind it. Also scratching the surface reveals some of the reasons why climate financing has been hard to come by.
For one, allocating blame is tricky at the best of times, and it’s unpleasant at a time when burying the differences and working together is critical. Secondly, the Global South is termed so because of its track record with corruption as well. Not every country in the bloc is equally guilty of course, but there is the prospect of the funds being misappropriated.
PG: Whither are the two largest emitters?
AK: The notion that US enthusiasm to act first is the answer to global problems like climate needs to change. The cloud of false notions that the US is taking an unfair share of the global burden is also not true. And that is evident – China generates almost twice as much wind electricity as the US. China has outpaced the automakers of the US and Japan on EV tech.
The way China has tackled its infamous air quality by embedding air quality management into the heart of its industrial policies makes for a blueprint that other countries would be wise to follow.
PG: Where do you see India?
AK: Notwithstanding politics, even on matters of domestic policy implementation, India is a tough one. Having said that, India is fast becoming the de-facto voice of the Global South. It’s the only developing country to be a member of the US-led Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) despite the intense scrutiny of its climate policies and even the occasional bit of scathing criticism. For e.g., Climate Action Tracker ranks India’s overall efforts as “Highly Insufficient” and its 2070 target of net-zero as “Poor”.
Is there much merit to the evaluation? Unlike the criticism itself, the answer is complex. India’s primary energy consumption is set to double between now and 2050 and its population rightly demands access to a higher standard of living. The way the world has developed we know that this comes with a sharp rise in energy consumption and emissions. Of course, now we’re faced with the crisis of climate change, and pressures on natural resources, so we’re tasked with developing the fifth-largest economy without the luxury of ballooning emissions.
India has shown climate action by ramping up its share of renewables, and India’s emissions intensity has dropped by 24% over 2005 levels and it posted a 9.10 pc growth rate in 2022. These are remarkable by any measure and the country is not just focussed on itself. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) expressly wants to propagate solar power throughout the Global South and is currently raising USD $700 million. This is to pave the ground for private investors – most of them from the West – to feel confident about financing solar projects in some of the poorest countries and the challenges they come with.
India’s electric vehicles market meanwhile is projected to grow at a staggering CAGR of 66.52% through to 2029 and the country aims to produce 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030. A large percentage of it will go towards feeding its industries, and this is timely as the West is looking for a trustworthy and politically cooperative alternative to China.
PG: Is there a clear flight path?
AK: India for its part, though, could be a lot more proactive. Bringing up historical responsibilities for climate change has unfortunately become a staple of climate meets and try as it might, the Global South has been unable to unlock much climate financing. The most recent dismissal came at Bonn on June 16 and more may follow.
More distrust will lead to bigger chasms in the global climate conversations. Either we can wait for miracles to happen in the climate geopolitics, or we can look at how the markets and investors are already beginning to act.
India is uniquely placed to work with the Global South and develop the bloc’s gigantic trove of resources. It has the trust of the less developed nations and together they can manifest the solutions they need for themselves. This includes mining for critical minerals and rare earth metals, manufacturing zero emission vehicles and tapping into the bloc’s vastly underdeveloped potential for solar, wind, hydro and tidal power.
India needs to take the first steps and capitalise on the goodwill it enjoys. It’s the US’s, NATO’s and Australia’s preferred geopolitical ally in South Asia and could also become a magnet for investments. Deployed correctly, this vehicle is potentially a more palatable alternative to the sanctioning and debt servicing of billions in development loans.
Perhaps equally important is the fact that India protects intellectual property rights by law. So what’s needed is for it to lower the barriers for foreign entrants – like slashing the import duties for Tesla – and use the funds to massively expand its capacity to manufacture EVs, batteries and clean energy components.
The edge it holds over every other developing nation is its abundance of a low-cost, young, and bright workforce and its port infrastructure and location make it an ideal centre for exports to the Global South. So instead of locking itself into debates, it’d be a smart move for India to revamp itself as a profitable destination for Western investments.
PG: Many thanks for this interesting perspective, Aarti. Look forward to following your excellent work.
This article is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.