COP26: Are India’s commitments enough?

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP26, was the 26th annual conference, held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021. Around 197 countries attended. The representatives were either the country’s leaders or delegates.

Here is a summary of what India what has agreed to in COP26.

Source :

There are only 7 more countries which have not agreed to all the three : End Deforestation, Quit Coal, Cut Methane Emissions and not set a net zero target date. These are the countries : Cook Islands, Dominica, Iran, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Tajikistan, Venezuela. Do we really want to be in the company of these handful number of countries?

India will be the most populous country on Earth somewhere between 2025 – 27. Like how China has had a major impact on the world’s climate over the last few decades, how India behaves over the next few years is going to have a strong bearing over humanity’s existence. China, in order to compete with the growing Western powers, moved to a state-capitalistic system with reforms starting in 1978. The race for ever growing GDP, industrialisation and consumerism has wreaked havoc on climate, quality of life and natural resources. With the economic liberalization of 1991, India chose to go down the same road and there has been no looking back.

Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics

Unfetterred capitalism might have seemed prudent during the early 1990s. This is because it seemed like it was the fastest way to get rid of poverty, increase employment and reduce diseases. But, now we know that the pursuit of these few metrics at such a quick pace came at a huge cost to other metrics such as climate change, sea level rise and biodiversity collapse, threatening human existence. Leaders across the world continue to focus on GDP as though continuously increasing consumerism is going to solve social problems. We are not staring at a production or supply problem any more. There is enough food, clothing, shelter for the entire global population, which is expected to stabilize between 10 and 11 billion, that can be produced using existing infrastructure and technology smartly. What we now have is a distribution problem : and to solve this problem, we will need reorganizing of society and economy at a massive scale. The only coalition of institutions capable to execute such unprecedented realignment at that scale are the government, administration and the judiciary of the country.

There are other ecologically and economical sustainable ways to provide a good quality of life to a majority of the population. They involve agriculture based on acro-ecological principles, renewable energy, local circular economies to increase efficiency of energy + resource use and generate employment, biodegradable packaging etc.

Such strategies need redistribution of wealth and income and power from the strongest to the weakest, the richest to the poorest – so, no one will do it of their own volition. Peasant uprisings for debt cancellations have happened repeatedly in human history across countries. (Debt : First 5000 years by David Graeber) I think this cycle needs to end some day. A truly modern economic system would be one in which no one is under debt and everyone has the opportunity to pursue whatever they want to. The best and brightest of the education system across religions, castes, genders need to lead this reorganizing effort.

COP26 Pledges

Quit Coal

“How can anyone expect that developing countries make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies? Developing countries still have to do deal with their poverty reduction agenda,” India’s Environment Minister, Bhupender Yadav, said, agreeing with China

The argument that only increasing energy production can results in poverty alleviation doesnt hold much strength. Throwing more industrial capacity at society and expecting poverty, income & wealth inequality to be solved on its own is not a proven strategy. Coal is the dirtiest source of energy- and pollution and climate change on account of thermal energy use disproportionately affects the poor. But, to afford a minimum basic quality of life that most other countries are afforded are on every government’s poll promise. So, India’s energy requirements will continue to increase. Besides, India’s electrical energy use per capita per year is at 935 kWh, whereas the global average is 3081 kWh. The responsibility of lowering energy intensity of lifestyles and moving to greener energy sources should lie with countries which are way beyond the global average. Having said that, India must continue to invest in renewable energy projects of Solar and Wind in the near and far future.

I am surprised the US hasn’t pledged to quit coal even though coal’s contribution isn’t much in its energy mix any more.

Cut Methane Emissions

Methane is a ~30x powerful green house than carbon dioxide and is a significant contributor to cumulative emissions. The major sources of methane are fossil fuel extraction, animal agriculture and plant agriculture.

Cattle needed to feed milk to the growing, albeit now stablizing, population and to provide manure to the land will always contribute to methane emissions. Because we are always going to grow rice, India will never be able to eliminate have methane emissions – the flooding of rice fields causes anaerobic conditions in the soil, which results in methane production. While there are dry land methods to cultivate rice which will lower methane production, it will need massive behavioural change in the farmers to move to these methods. It is impossible to ask any country which produces so much food for itself to expect to eliminate or even methane emissions.

End deforestation

Forest Landscape Integrity Index integrates data on observed and inferred forest pressures and lost forest connectivity to generate the first globally-consistent, continuous index of forest integrity as determined by degree of anthropogenic modification.

The forests in the hilly areas of the Western Ghats, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh are well protected because of inaccessibility and positive action from state governments over the last few decades. The politically and socially sensitive areas of Chattisgarh, Odisha and Telangana seem to be even better protected despite of years of mining and coal projects. The resistance by native tribes such as Dangaria Kandha and others, activism led by the likes of Sudha Bharadwaj against the state-industry nexus have managed to restrict runaway industrialization in the mineral rich belt.

Forests provide tremendous amount of benefits and their true values cannot be captured by GDP or any other metric justifiably. Taking an objective decision on when to end deforestation is difficult. If we can measure the tremendous of amount of carbon the soil and trees capture effectively, then the carbon credits that we would have to pay to forests would be tremendous.

With barely any forests left and the existing forests under threat of deforestation by industrialization, i think India should have pledged to End Deforestation. There are only positive results to that, very few negative.

Net Zero

Most developed nations set up targets of 2060 or earlier for achieving net zero. Among the countries in the list above India, Germany has set a target of 2045, USA has set a target of 2050 and the rest have set 2060 as their net zero target.

If these countries, which have had a much larger carbon footprint on this planet than India, are able to set aggressive target of 2060, there is no reason why India shouldn’t set a target on par or even stronger than them.

India has plenty of degraded land available where it can regrow forests and practice sustainable agriculture – all of them can act as carbon sinks.

Whereas the west has set targets on the basis of tech-utopia solutions such as Direct Carbon Capture and Storage which hasn’t even been succesfully proven at scale yet. Merely transitioning to electric vehicles is only going to reduce emissions, not aid carbon capture. Yet, the focus of the largest economy in the world is to build an illusion that Green Growth will save us from climate change and civilizational collapse. Carbon capture needs to be incorporated in each and everyone of our daily lives – and as a consequence in policy,

Food miles + footprint

Technology based solutions enivisioned by the Musks and Bezoses of the world are not accessible to all and will never be. Because they need massive industrial supply chains which rely on exploitative labour or resources. Mining has become one of the biggest single drivers of deforestation, ecosystem collapse, and biodiversity loss around the world.

The first sentence of this post says it all. Reducing food miles maybe the most important strategies in our arsenal of tools against climate change because transportation sector is a major greenhouse gas emitter. Reprioritizing our diets to more plant based diets is extremely crucial in our battle. While India is among the lower meat consumers per capita, the increasing trend is not an encouraging sign. But, developed countries have a disproportionate amount of meat and dairy in their diets. So, they have a much larger responsibility of fixing the way they produce and consume food. Yet, there seemed to be very little discussion on agriculture and diets in the UN Climate Change Conference 2021.

Agriculture occupies a central position when it comes to climate change. It is both highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change but also a net contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their increased concentrations in the atmosphere. Climate change is already affecting agricultural systems through changes in productivity, biodiversity, nutrition and natural resources, with wide-ranging impacts on food security and other socio-economic dimensions. It negatively affects rural as well as urban livelihoods, particularly in developing countries. Agricultural systems together with food security and socio-economic dimensions, however, can also provide much-needed solutions to the climate crisis as they inherently possess enormous potential for adaptation and mitigation measures.

Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, COP23


While India’s pledges for not quitting coal and not cutting methane missions might be logical, it is irresponsible for India not to determine to end deforestation and not setting a more aggressive net zero target. It might be too late if the largest country in the world takes such crucial steps too late. 😦

Returning to the title, only time can answer the question. But, I personally don’t think the commitments are enough. Several countries needs to lead the way in showing the world a more gentler greener path to human progress. India had the chance to be a global leader in the fight against climate change, given how low India’s greenhouse gas emissions already are. And we squandered the opportunity.



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One Comment Add yours

  1. Alamandha Madhan Kumar says:

    It is an interesting account of the challenges and the foresight regarding the pathway. How can one join the pathway which secures sustainable way of living without burdening the earth leading a need based living?

    Liked by 2 people

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