The shape of climate justice in a warming India
The G-20 summit convened in Delhi from September 9-10, 2023, reached a consensus to triple renewable energy capacity and voluntarily double the rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030. However, the summit failed to find a common ground on a pressing issue—the phase-out of fossil fuels, which is the root cause of the ongoing climate crisis.
Addressing the climate challenge requires adhering to two fundamental principles.
- Firstly, it necessitates those responsible for greenhouse gas emissions to bear the social and environmental costs.
- Secondly, it entails compensating those adversely affected by climate change, recognizing that the contributors to climate change may not always be the ones who suffer its consequences. Therefore, any effective mitigation effort should rectify this carbon injustice by making wealthier nations or classes contribute to the energy transition.
Although these principles are articulated at the global level, their impact on domestic policy and politics often goes unexamined.
- India’s stance on this matter has largely been shaped by foreign policy considerations and its commitment to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) in international negotiations.
- This principle allows developing countries, especially those in the global south, to prioritize economic growth and development over immediate climate mitigation efforts. Given India’s historically lower greenhouse gas emissions, economic growth has understandably taken precedence over climate concerns.
GS-01, GS-03 (Climate change, Conservation)
- Analyze the challenges posed by climate change and the energy transition on domestic and international fronts. Discuss the impact of these challenges on inequality across various levels within India and propose strategies for addressing these challenges for a more sustainable and equitable future. (250 words)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Inequality Matrix and Climate Impact
- Greening Development and its Impact on Inequality
- Greening Federalism and Regional Implications
Inequality Matrix and Climate Impact:
- Climate-induced challenges, such as droughts, have compounded the agrarian crisis and related economic activities. Fluctuations in rainfall, temperature, and extreme climate events have direct and adverse effects on agricultural productivity, leading to income losses for farmers. Additionally, rising ocean temperatures are depleting fish stocks, adversely impacting fishing communities.
- While the relationship between inequality and carbon emissions is intricate, it is evident that addressing both environmental and socio-economic disparities concurrently is vital for sustainable and fair development. It is increasingly clear that less egalitarian societies tend to have higher carbon emissions per unit of economic activity.
- Given India’s pronounced economic inequality, the nation finds itself in a precarious situation. International experience indicates that addressing climate change, which requires public action and strong state capacity, is more challenging in highly unequal settings.
Greening Development and its Impact on Inequality:
- India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) aim to achieve that 40% of total installed power generation capacity is derived from clean energy, with the country committing to achieving net-zero emissions by 2070.
- As of 2021, coal remained the dominant energy source in India, constituting 56.1% of the total energy supply, followed by crude oil at 33.4%.
- The industrial sector consumed over half (51%) of the total final energy consumption, with transport, residential, and agriculture sectors following.
- Any increase in energy prices may lead to a contraction in manufacturing, a scenario India cannot afford, given its already modest manufacturing base. Therefore, a just energy transition requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account economic, social, and regional disparities.
- While the adoption of renewable energy sources is crucial, this shift should not exacerbate existing inequalities. Regions heavily dependent on coal production often face unique challenges, including pollution, poverty, and low-quality employment.
- Transitioning to renewable energy sources necessitates a deliberate focus on safeguarding livelihoods, offering alternative job opportunities, and ensuring that vulnerable communities do not suffer adverse consequences.
- The Paris Agreement underscores the importance of a “just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs per nationally defined development priorities.” The skills and jobs required for renewable energy significantly differ from those in fossil fuel industries, which also play a crucial role in providing job opportunities for disadvantaged groups in India.
- A transition to renewable energy could potentially disrupt the generational mobility achieved by these marginalized communities. To ensure an equitable and sustainable shift, strategies must target both reducing inequality and promoting green investment simultaneously.
Greening Federalism and Regional Implications:
- Regions heavily reliant on coal production may face a loss of revenue and livelihoods as India transitions towards cleaner energy sources. This regional divide in economic inequality mirrors the energy source divide in India, with coal predominantly located in economically disadvantaged regions in eastern and central India. In contrast, renewable energy hubs, driven by wind and solar photovoltaic technologies, are situated in the more prosperous southern and western regions of the country.
- Despite the environmental challenges posed by the coal sector, which is primarily owned by public sector miners (85%), it remains a significant source of revenue through taxes, royalties, mining fees, and employment for state governments in Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. India’s energy transition strategy should take into account these regional inequalities, channel funds to states heavily reliant on coal, and create state-specific programs for skill development and local rehabilitation.
- Therefore, a green transition should be accompanied by a federal approach. India’s federal governance structure implies that sub-national governments play a vital role in addressing climate concerns. However, the priorities of these sub-national entities may significantly differ from those of the central government.
- Examining sub-national responses reveals how state governments are essential in addressing climate inequality and mitigation. State governments often implement policies related to climate justice, adaptation, and disaster management that may conflict with the development goals of the central government.
India’s journey toward a greener and more sustainable future is contingent on its ability to tackle climate challenges while also mitigating inequality. By adopting a comprehensive and inclusive approach, India can create a more equitable and resilient society that thrives in harmony with the environment.