India ditches key climate meeting after disrupting G-20

Climate protesters demonstrate in London on July 23, 2021. The London conference that India skipped was designed to lay the groundwork for a successful COP26 in three months' time.
Climate protesters demonstrate in London on July 23, 2021. The London conference that India skipped was designed to lay the groundwork for a successful COP26 in three months' time.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Global efforts to tackle climate change suffered another setback this week as India - the world's third-biggest emitter - failed to attend a key diplomatic gathering in London.

India was the only one of 51 invited countries that did not attend a two-day ministerial meeting in the British capital, hosted by the incoming president of the COP26 United Nations talks, according to people present at the summit who asked not to be named.

The conference was designed to lay the groundwork for a successful COP26, which is due to take place in Glasgow in three months time. COP26 president Alok Sharma has said it will be the last chance to ensure global temperature increases do not exceed 1.5 deg C - the lower limit of the Paris Agreement.

A Group of 20 meeting last week failed to clinch a more ambitious agreement on climate, and India was a key holdout.

The London event was positioned to follow on from the G-20 with a broader group, meeting mainly in person. India had been due to attend the conference, according to a statement released by Sharma's office beforehand.

Mr Gaurav Khare, a spokesman for India's Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said the government had decided against attending in person as the country had already made its views known at the G-20 in Naples. Then technical issues prevented it from taking part virtually.

Sharma "has constructive ongoing dialogue with his counterparts in India, having visited the country earlier this year where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi", a spokeswoman for COP26 said.

India's failure to show was perceived as a snub by the COP presidency, one of the people present at the London summit said. With all of the Group of Seven nations now having committed to eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the presidency is seeking to put pressure on emerging economies such as China and India.

Sticking points

The main sticking points to achieving the goals of the Paris accord are agreeing on concrete actions and a firm timeline to phasing out fossil fuels and subsidies, as well as commitments to ditch coal, the people said. The world's richest countries are also falling well short of financial pledges to support energy transitions in developing countries, they said.

India held out at the Naples meeting last week, with the final communique from the gathering included a footnote saying the country rejected the language agreed on net-zero emissions.

India is not alone in resisting these efforts, with a handful of other countries reluctant to sign up to the plans in full.

The nation - which has often taken the position that the richest countries should lead in cutting emissions - criticised those that have promised to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050. It instead urged G-20 nations to make a pledge that focused on per-capita emissions.

While India is the third-largest emitter on a country basis, it is also the second-most populous. As a result, emissions per head are extremely low, ranking 134, according to the Global Carbon Atlas project.

"Keeping in view the legitimate need of developing countries to growth, we urge G-20 countries to commit to bringing down per-capita emissions to global average by 2030," India said in a statement attached to the final G20 document.

Earlier this year, India had been mulling setting its own net-zero target by 2050, according to people familiar with the matter. A statement about the plan had been expected during a White House climate summit in April, but never came.

"With less than 100 days until COP26, India faces a clear decision: follow its friends in favour of an ambitious outcome on climate in Glasgow, or leave itself starkly isolated on the world stage by continuing to oppose the need for accelerated climate action before COP26," said Mr Tom Evans, a researcher at the think-tank E3G.