Modi’s COP26 speech: ‘a declaration that India will do things differently’

Climate economist Prof Nicholas Stern – who helped negotiate the $100 billion climate finance assurance in 2009 and led the landmark 2006 ‘Stern Review’ on the Economics of Climate Change – speaks to ET from Glasgow on Net Zero, climate finance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s COP26 declarations and what developing nations like India stand to gain and lose. Excerpts of the video interview with Anubhuti Vishnoi:

On COP 26 ambition

We are falling short of 1.5 degrees. We must get together every year or every two years in this decade to ramp up ambition. As we move forward, countries around the world will feel the confidence to increase the ambition.

There are many other parts of it, like methane, driving past coal, getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, pacts around forests – all those have real value.

The finance side will be important. $100 billion was designated for 2020 which we have missed. The delivery on that is extremely important. So, there’s scope for quickly designating the kind of climate finance that we need and pressing for an agreement for that, probably next year in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

The $100 billion trust deficit

There is no doubt the failure to deliver $100 b by 2020 is a breach of trust and that has to be corrected. I do think next year there’s a good chance of delivering it. Time has also come to move beyond. I see the need for much stronger action now because we have seen in the intervening dozen years, stronger and stronger evidence of how dangerous climate change is. It is, in fact, the danger to existence for many people.

India & developing nations on the 1.5-degree push

If we went to anything like 3 degrees or even 2 degrees, there are many parts of northern India where temperatures in the summer could be so high you could be dead if outside for 3-4 hours without air conditioning.

I have been to India since 1974 and lived and worked there for long periods. It’s not fair for children to breathe in Delhi and we can change all that.

There is immense incentive for all of us to work very hard to go to 1.5 degrees and India is so big it shapes the world. I think India can lead the world in a new form of growth.

Prime Minister Modi’s speech last week at the COP26 was a very important one. It was recognised as a leading speech and as a declaration that India will do things differently, adopt low carbon growth and shift half of its energy from non-fossil fuel by the end of the decade.

The ‘Panchamrit‘- this is a story of a different and better form of growth. I felt what PM Modi announced last week is a declaration for a more resilient, sustainable, inclusive form of growth which offers new opportunities to poor people, to women and in fact all.

This declaration is an extremely important moment in India’s history, world history and, of course, the COP.

The ‘cost’ of Net Zero

More and more people see that perspective as outdated and not consistent with the facts. If you look at renew power in India, they are beating fossil fuels and as the cost of capital comes down – as it should – it becomes even cheaper. The idea that somehow it is a heavy burden, is actually not right.

Of course, there will be some things that will be more expensive for a while, but that gap will close – steel, for example. You have Reliance Industries’ Mukesh Ambani declaring a $1 per kg pricing target for green hydrogen in a decade; that transforms steel completely and brings in a much more efficient method of growth.

80% of the Indian infrastructure for 2050 is not yet built – there is a huge opportunity to do things differently and make India’s development attractive, to help protect and enhance lives.

That’s about the cost in the normal sense. What about having clean air? The world kills 5-10 million per year from air pollution and a big chunk is from India. If you think about managing our natural capital, protecting our forests, water, it also makes you safer and hence is a better form of growth.

Historical responsibility and Net Zero
Net Zero is not political as such, it’s physics – if emission concentration goes up, temperature goes up and we are all in a problem including very much India – it’s as simple as that.

So, Net Zero is not political in that sense; it is simply an expression of the science. How we get there and who does what is political.

If we see the context of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and consider history, it is clear that rich countries got richer by fouling the atmosphere.

Then it seems to me that the right way to think of it is for the rich world to help bring down the cost of capital to allow the investment to a new and better form of growth. That’s the way that many have thought about justice and not as who is going to do the most poisoning in the time available.

Carbon markets and Loss & Damages

They matter, I don’t want to dismiss them but there are bigger issues. Voluntary carbon markets will develop very fast. I think Article 6 (of the Paris Agreement) can give them some guidance, but it will develop anyway. We shouldn’t trip ourselves over Article 6. We should just get on with it and come to a settlement

Loss and damage is something that is important. We might be finding bigger sums for adaptation, mitigation and finance for clean development.

It does matter how you label them, but not as much as making sure that ultimately there are big sums to make the investment for more resilience, for reducing carbon and managing low-cost capital for required radical investments.

Fossil fuel subsidies

It’s just a bad idea and bad policy. It is giving money to richer people to pollute the world.

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