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India, China and Climate Change: Getting Serious Together Alone!; By Prof. B. R. Deepak

C3S Paper No. 0182/2015

India and China, and many other developing countries, are at an important stage of accelerated industrialization and urbanization, and are facing enormous difficulties to control greenhouse gasses. If compared with the US, there is a lot of catching up to be done. For instance in India, China and the US, three largest emitters of the greenhouse gases (GHG) have 18, 113, and over 800 motor vehicles per capita. The per capita production of CO2 in these countries is 2.6, 8.13, and 19.86 tons respectively. Even if India is at No. 4 in terms of total volume of emissions (if we put the European Union at number 3), India only emits 6.96% of the global emissions comparing 14.4% by the US, and over 25.26% by China. Similar indicators could be applied across various domains of public life in these countries, indicating that it is not a level playing field for India from any perspective.

It was precisely owing to such an asymmetry in development levels that India in tandem with China took to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, in particular that developed countries should be taking the lead in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and providing financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building support to developing countries, for the global warming is not caused by a couple of decade’s development in India and China, but by the accumulated carbon emissions by the industrialized countries over two hundred years. The same stand has been reiterated in October 2009 Memorandum of Understanding between India and China, and even between the US and China in 2014.

India and China have also been emphasizing that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol (KP) are the most appropriate framework for addressing climate change. This was reflected in 2009 Beijing Summit when both India and China categorically opposed both the Danish and Tuvalian drafts, which envisaged deeper cuts in global emissions, as well as limiting the global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees rather than 2 degrees, and reiterated that the premise for discussion should be KP and the Bali Road Map (BRM) rather than bringing in a new protocol. However, 6 years down the line, it appears that both the countries have moved away from the rigid stand of yesteryears and are willing to negotiate climate change alone with other stakeholders; the US-China and India-US climate change announcements are a pointer to these new developments. It is clear that they are willing to take the lead and set agenda for the Paris Conference to be held in December, and will not mind if a new document emerges out of the conference.

As far as China is concerned, ever since the advocacy of building ‘a new type of major power relationship’ by President Xi Jinping in 2013, China has been taking proactive approach as regards managing and handing issues with the US. A year later in November 2014, it quickly reached a deal with the US on Climate Change. The article 2 of the US-China Joint Announcement stipulates that the US will reduce its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025. China declared that it intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030. Since then both sides have been strengthening their policy dialogue and practical cooperation that includes, joint clear energy research, utilization and storage of CO2, cooperation of HFCs, building low carbon cities, and trading in green goods etc. These emission cuts were reiterated by President Xi Jinping during his September 22-25 US visit. Buoyed by the success of its seven pilot schemes for ‘cap and trade’ (Beijing, Chongqing, Guangdong, Hunan, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin), Xi announced that China will implement ‘a cap and trade system’ by 2017 albeit analysts believe that allocating permits equitably could be a herculean task for China, especially when energy consumption, and growth rates varies drastically from region to region.

Another announcement that attracted worldwide attention was Xi Jinping’s  announcement of $3.1 billion in climate finance for developing countries, which is a notch above the US pledge of $ 3.0 billion Green Climate fund, signaling that China is ready to share greater responsibility at the international stage and help the developing countries to mitigate their emission concerns on the one hand and that the developed world in not doing enough to mitigate similar concerns of the developing countries on the other. India perhaps will not be in such a position, and will continue to uphold it earlier position till the time some parity is achieved on the emissions.

Nevertheless, the timings of the US-China announcements in 2014 and 2015 perhaps have set a stage for the success of Paris meeting, and put heat on others too.  As far as India is concerned being the third largest emitters of the GHGs, India pledged a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in emissions intensity from 2005 levels by 2020.  However, as every country is supposed to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ahead of December 2015 climate change conference, India submitted the same on 1 October 2015, which pledged to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% by 2030 from 2005 levels, and produce about 40 per cent of its electricity from “non-fossil fuel based sources” like solar, wind or hydropower. These commitments could be fulfilled only if India spends $2.5 trillion till 2030 at current prices.

It appears that though China has moved away from the notion of differentiated responsibilities albeit it does make mention of it in the US-China climate announcement made in Beijing last year, India owing to huge asymmetries in emission as well as development with China and developed world is sticking its guns to the old notion as demonstrated by India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s speech in New York. ‘The developed world must take moral responsibility for the state of the world today’ asserted Javadekar.  Moreover, India is poised to be the fastest growing economy in the world; it would require more energy resources for faster growth that will ultimately uplift millions of its poors from poverty; it is this vulnerability that India unlike China has not announced when its emissions might peak.

India’s emission commitment and economic vulnerability is also an opportunity to forge closer technological cooperation with developed countries. In this regard the US- India deal to “enhance cooperation” on cutting emissions and investing in low carbon energy sources signed in 2015 is a pointer. Though the deal cannot be compared to the US-China deal, nonetheless, India’s two pronged strategy of dealing with the emission cuts could be seen as a fine balancing act as for now. How successful PM Modi would be treading this line, we will have to wait and watch.

(Prof. B R Deepak is Professor of China Studies at the Centre of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own. He could be reached at

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