Indian experts have cautiously welcomed New Delhi’s stand on last week’s “historic” agreement signed at the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt that aims to set up a loss-and-damage fund to compensate countries for environmental destruction brought about by developed nations.
New Delhi has hailed the new fund as a victory for the nations that are already facing the brunt of climate change but remain among the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases that are counted as the primary reason for global warming.
Loss and damage refers mainly to the irreversible effects of climate change on the planet that cannot be corrected by mitigation or reduced through adaptability such as the use of clean energy.
It not only includes economic damage to the population through flooding or drought, but also loss of livelihoods and destruction of biodiversity.
India has long argued that developed countries such as the US and European powerhouses pay monetary damages to less polluting nations, including itself, for triggering adverse environmental conditions that are posing an existential threat to humankind.
But some experts say the new climate damage fund agreement may not help India — one of the leading global economies — at all and in the worst-case scenario could turn it into a donor country.
“The developed world has said they are happy to pay only if major economies contribute,” Vaibhav Chaturvedi, a fellow on India's Council on Energy Environment and Water, told The National.
“Major economies mean China and India. That is a bigger twist and has completely changed the whole perspective as it is a smart negotiation move on their part.”
The tiny pacific island nation of Vanuatu — representing many vulnerable island nations — has been campaigning for more than three decades to seek monetary compensation from the bigger western economies.
It introduced the loss-and-damage draft to the UN climate body before the member nations agreed to set up the fund to help them to deal with the effects of climate change such as relocating people displaced by floods and other natural disasters.
India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav, who represented New Delhi at Cop27, welcomed the agreement, saying the fund was long overdue.
“You are presiding over a historic Cop where agreement has been secured for loss-and-damage funding arrangements including setting up a loss-and-damage fund. The world has waited far too long for this. We congratulate you on your untiring efforts to evolve consensus,” Mr Yadav said after the agreement was struck.
But Mr Chaturvedi said New Delhi’s enthusiasm on the agreement was misplaced, although the fund marks a major step in recognition of the decades-long efforts of developing and vulnerable nations.
Mr Chaturvedi anticipates that amid the lack of consensus on who will pay and how much, New Delhi could be asked to contribute.
The South Asian nation is the fifth largest economy in the world in terms of GDP. However, the nation with a mammoth population of 1.4 billion is still a developing country.
It is currently also the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter and has faced flak for its reliance on coal as a source of energy — one of the most significant sources of pollutants.
About 55 per cent of India’s energy needs comes from coal-based power and New Delhi says it will rely on coal for another three to four decades to meet its energy requirements and develop infrastructure.
The EU has already asserted that major economies such as China — which is still considered a developing nation but is the second-biggest cumulative emitter — should also contribute to the loss-and-damage fund, although it did not name India.
The US, one of the leading emitters, wants China as well as India to contribute to the compensation.
“We should know that we are very far from meaningful delivery and now there is major confusion about who will pay and how much, even for the mitigation,” Mr Chaturvedi said.
He said the EU’s position had deepened the divide over loss and damage and its prospective recipients.
The ambiguity over donor and beneficiary nations will delay the process of financing and fuel climate “politics” across the countries, he added.
“The developed world has tried to create some divide that only vulnerable countries will get funds but who will decide what vulnerable countries are? They will continue to buy time and we will see climate politics,” Mr Chaturvedi said.
“Earlier it was developing versus vulnerable in terms of who will get the money but now it has become developed plus major economies. Ensuring that the developing countries bloc stays united is very critical for India.”