India’s attitude towards international climate conferences has evolved over time. In 1972, Indira Gandhi expressed discontent with environmental concerns being characterized as a luxury that poor countries like India could not afford. In 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh received criticism for attending the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen at the last minute. However, India is now taking a leading role in combating climate change. This is due to its growing confidence as the world’s most populous and fastest growing economy among the Group of 20 (G20) this year.
In contrast, developed countries, which have been at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change, are now lagging behind. This was evident in last month’s G7 meeting on climate and energy, which rejected the drive to phase out unstoppable coal power by 2030. The US has set its end-of-life for coal in 2035, while Poland plans to continue burning coal well into 2049. Host country Japan has high hopes for a gasification and ammonia co-firing project that will extend the end of life. Despite the words in the official statement, there is still backtracking on pledges to end public support for international fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022. The US government’s export credit agency announced a $100 million investment to expand Indonesian refineries, while Japan is still building coal-fired power plants.
India, on the other hand, has made green development, climate change finance, and sustainable lifestyles its top priorities in this year’s G20 presidency. It has also made a commitment to the climate club proposed by Germany’s G7 presidency last year as a way to reduce industrial pollution. India’s enthusiasm to join the G7 Climate Club could represent an attempt to navigate the winds of trade policy and geopolitics and prevent a “carbon leak.” India will join an emerging semi-trade bloc alongside the affluent world, which could help achieve its ambition to rival China as the center of the world’s manufacturing supply chain.
India is working with China to introduce the concept of “multiple pathways” to net zero in the G20 negotiations, which could serve as a means of resisting demands from rich countries for a coal phase-out date. However, the uncertainty about which direction to take only underscores how the center of gravity is shifting. India’s emissions last year overtook the European Union and are likely to become the world’s largest after China and the United States. With the fate of the world increasingly in its hands, India can no longer keep its distance from the climate change debate.