Responsible Climate Action

Responsible Climate Action

While India needs to rework its priorities and address vital issues to tackle climate change, blaming India alone for climate change is not fair. All the countries can responsibly co-operate to find solutions for climate issues.

For those of us who held on to some hope of COP 27 paving the way to cooperation if not finding all the answers to address climate issues, the final takeaway is bound to be a big disappointment. For not only is the world wildly off track in adhering to its action plan to halt climate change but as the curtain came down last week on the Egypt summit it was evident that tackling the climate crisis has no easy solution and despite the extension of the conference by a day; a number of oil-producing nations were vociferous in their efforts to stonewall the proposal to phase out fossil fuels – a crucial step to halt and reverse global warming.

However, for some time now, each time the venerable COP group convenes, all eyes are on India and while there is a small group battling to find collective solutions, there are others who prefer to get locked in a blame game. These murmurs in the corridor often start or end with India as one of the rogue nations in the climate damage tragedy. Sadly, these allegations are often picked up by the media and then churned into copies with headlines like ‘The World needs India to avert Climate catastrophe. Can Modi deliver? or ‘COP27: Island nations want China and India to pay for climate damage’ etc. which might have been easy to contend with, if it was factual or more importantly, a solution to the problem.

Without a doubt, India’s carbon emission is sizeable, and as the world’s fourth-largest economy and the fifth-largest greenhouse (GHG) emitter, its impact on an increasingly fragile climate situation cannot be overlooked or condoned. But to be singled out or accused may not be fair.

To be honest, the elephant in the room is not India. As per European Commission’s report in 2021, China contributed 33% of global CO2 emissions, followed by the United States at 13% while India’s contribution is 7% and despite its’ economic and development challenges, the country is working towards achieving the targets set out in the landmark Paris climate agreement. According to the Environment Program’s Emission Gap report, India is among the few countries that are well on track to achieve its targets.

But that certainly does not absolve us. The country’s record in fossil fuel usage, increased deforestation, a surge in greenhouse gases, and rising levels of methane and nitrous oxide put us in the red category. Coal accounts for 70% of the country’s power generation and continues to be a dampener in achieving green energy goals. So, despite ambitious projects like the Bhadla Solar Park, which spreads over 5,700 hectares in Rajasthan and is acknowledged as one of the biggest solar farms in the world, the focus continues to be on India and how much more we need to do.

As per a report by the Centre for Science and Environment, between 2019 and 2021 while the share of India’s energy from renewable sources increased by almost 3% we continue to lag behind other carbon emitters in making this shift. For in the same period, the European Union made a 19% shift to renewable energy and China’s renewable energy capacity grew by 15% while the United States cited an 11% shift.

While it is based on these numbers that we are held accountable, for a developing country with a will to transition to green fossil, the steep outlay is taxing and it needs to be juggled with several other priorities. In the meantime, other compelling data indicates that India, like several other developing countries which are not the major contributors to global warming, will have to bear the brunt of extreme weather. As per a report in the Economic Times, ¹ India has to confront a loss of approx. $10 billion every year because of climate change underlining the urgency to collectively address the issue.

Bhadla Solar Park

Bhadla Solar Park, Rajasthan. Photo: Business Wire

Loss & Damage support

For the first time amidst the innuendos and blame games at COP27, there were also voices of protest that called for countries that have contributed the most to global warming to compensate poorer countries to recover from the resulting disasters. Frankly, while loss and damage were not really a new ask, (island countries like Maldives and Vanuatu have been protesting for some time now about how they are bearing the brunt of sea waters rising) it is the recent struggle for survival by Pakistan (after being first hit by a deadly heat wave and then by disastrous flooding despite it being responsible for less than 1% of planet-warming) that forced this ask to gain momentum and cross the finish line. Fortunately, after the initial reluctance and chaos about the use of the right terminology for this pay-out (still undecided between “liability”, “compensation” or the more recent “reparations”) an agreement was finally reached to set up “loss and damage” fund to help vulnerable countries cope with climate disasters. While this is a major step, it would be naïve to presume that “developed” states will not push back about taking complete responsibility (especially if it results in litigations by nations) as countries like India and China continue with their high CO2 emissions.

India will need to find new solutions and clearer strategies quickly or face lawsuits that will only add to the existing burdens. A senior climate expert at Sharm E-Sheikh according to a news report² indicated how many feel when he said “the statement (by India at the summit) had nothing on the key issues …if you look at the 75 points referred under the ‘list of actions’ you will find most of them are mere wishful suggestion than real actions on the ground”

The urgency for Collective Action & Global Commitment

But climate change is not a problem for any one country to solve. We are all aware that the planet is on the threshold of irreversible damage and with many ecosystems at a tipping point; finding a solution is critical and requires collective will and action. While it was encouraging to note that at this summit, US and China managed to keep aside their differences to at least start a discussion and finally announced a commitment to cooperate on the climate crisis;  the overall impact, as per the European Union’s Climate Chief Franz Timmermans  “was a disappointment….what we have in front of us is not enough of a step forward for people and planet … we should have done much more” and as per final summary it was with great difficulty that all countries agreed that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels – a threshold that is fast-approaching as the planet’s average temperature has already climbed to around 1.1 degrees.

And of course, closer home, India needs to rework its priorities by correcting its present stance and addressing this vital issue because as per the Climate Action Tracker the  country’s present goals are cited as “critically insufficient to meet even its 2022 target (ref: A report by S&P Global)

Reena Mathai Luke | General Manager Communications

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