COP21: How PM Narendra Modi steered India’s elevation from spoiler to facilitator

On Saturday, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was about to board his official plane — Air India One — to visit his parliamentary constituency Varanasi along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he got a call from France’s President Francois Hollande.

“Let me call you back the moment I reach Varanasi,” Modi responded when he learnt Hollande was eager to share the content of the draft prepared by the Paris climate summit, better known as COP-21 (21st session of conference of parties).

Though Modi played a critical role in setting the tone of the conference by speaking on behalf of the developing nations, he didn’t allow his curiosity over the call to take precedence over his immediate task at hand: Abe’s visit.

Knowing the pressure under which Hollande had been working in Paris where representatives of 195-odd nations were putting their heads together to chart a course for a less polluted world and better future, Modi called him on reaching Varanasi and got briefed about the draft.

Hollande was emphatic in his assurance that the concerns raised by the Indian PM were taken care of. The draft mentions “climate justice and lifestyle” issues at the insistence of India. It has also been left open-ended deliberately to accommodate the “carbon space” as demanded by Modi on behalf of the developing world.

 COP21: How PM Narendra Modi steered India’s elevation from spoiler to facilitator

File image of PM Modi at the COP21 in Paris. PTI

Though Modi was seen conducting a guided tour for Abe along the ghats of Varanasi, his mind was equally clued in to the Paris summit where there was a consistent attempt to paint India as the spoiler. Given his own commitment to environmental issues, Modi was quite concerned about the fate of the conference.

In fact, Hollande’s call to Modi was preceded by a long telephonic conversation that the Indian Prime Minister had with US President Barrack Obama at the peak of the summit. Obama dwelt at length on the necessity of forging an international consensus on limiting global warming to 2°C from the pre-industrial epoch. In their talks, the broad contours of the draft were agreed upon.

Just as there was jubilation in Paris following the adoption of the draft, Modi and his guest Abe seemed quite at ease with each other, sharing relaxed moments while performing rituals at Varanasi’s ghats. Given the acrimonious background against which the Paris conference was held there were enough reasons for India to be wary of the approach of the developed nations in general and the US in particular. But these hardly reflected in the Prime Minister’s interaction with Abe.

In fact, the stage for confrontation was set much before the conference when US Secretary of State John Kerry insinuated that India’s intransigence to reduction of green house gases (GHGs) would derail the summit. This provoked sharp reaction from Minister of Environment Prakash Javdekar.

Highly placed sources in the government admit that just before the COP-21 summit was about to begin, there was more pressure on India than China. But what appears to have eased the tension is the manner in which Modi articulated his position in Paris and made it clear that though he was genuinely committed to environment protection, it could not be attained without conceding carbon space to developing nations and looking into the “lifestyle” of the rich nations.

Like in the past when climate conferences collapsed for want of consensus, the issue of per capita GHG emission by developed nation was once again raised to highlight distortion in ongoing discourse on climate.

“The energy consumed by the African continent will barely be able to sustain the power consumption of New York,” pointed one of the participants in the conference. Hence the “lifestyle” issue in developed countries is eminently relevant in the context of the climate debate, the Indian side persisted.

Apparently, the eruption of joy in Paris over the conclusion of the draft had an echo in Delhi where the future energy requirement is heavily hinged on alternative source of energy.

By 2021, the government has committed itself to shifting considerably from fossil fuel and generating over 1 lakh MW through alternative sources like wind, solar and nuclear energy to reduce the country’s carbon footprint.

From the Indian perspective, the biggest takeaway from the Paris climate conference was to make the developed world conscious of their greater responsibility in making the planet less polluted. The developed nations’ commitment to invest in technological innovation to reduce dependence on fossil fuel for energy source has mitigated the concerns of the developing and under-developed nations.

The long telephonic conversations between Obama, Hollande and Modi before the Paris climate draft concluded was recognition of the critical role played by India at the international forum. Within less than a month’s time, the suspicion about India being a spoiler was replaced by India being a great facilitator in evolving the consensus draft.

And that indeed is a great achievement.

Updated Date: Dec 14, 2015 16:26:16 IST