STOCKHOLM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new global climate deal will not work without agreement by India and China, whose leaders will not attend a key UN climate summit next week in New York, experts at the lead of the discussions say.
“Both nations are so pivotal for any global agreement because they are such influential players in the global environment,” said Amina J. Mohammed, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning.
The two Asian giants are home to a third of the world’s population and China is now the world’s largest producer of climate-changing gases. What they decide will set the tone for other nations, the experts said at World Water Week in Stockholm.
“These two countries are really leaders … at least in Asia,” said Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said on the sideline of the meeting.
She and other experts said that while China was showing signs of adapting climate-friendly policies, India’s future plans remained ambiguous.
“We see quite clearly where China is going. India is still a question mark,” said Laurence Tubiana, a French government special representative on climate change and the UN climate negotiation process.
China has put a lot of emphasis on increasing its renewable energy production and increasing hydropower generation, van der Hoeven said. Richard Connor, the chief author of the 2014 U.N. World Water and Development Report, said a large share of the estimated $88 billion spent annually on renewable energy subsidies comes from Chinese assistance for renewable.
The IEA head also said China was investing in making its national power grid more effective.
The driver for the change, however, she said, is not concerns about climate change but the country’s aim to decrease air pollution, cut fuel import bills and meet energy demand.
In India, a focus on spurring economic growth to combat poverty has sometimes sidelined climate-friendly decisions, Tubiana said.
Van der Hoeven said India was still heavily reliant on cheap, high-emission coal, despite a new tax on coal use. The country’s cooperation with global demands to curb climate change will depend largely on how successfully it deals with growing power demand, she said.
In July 2012, over 600 million people were left without power for two days after drought dried up hydropower stations, the IEA said. Such reliance on climate-vulnerable hydropower makes coal attractive to India, van der Hoeven said.
U.N. adviser Mohammed said both China and India were aware of the threat climate change and environmental degradation presented for their nations, “but we should not impose the impossible on nations,” she said.
Van der Hoeven said that getting decisions implemented was relatively easy in China, where “a lot of things are being done on a top down basis.” In India, by comparison, “the states have a lot of autonomy that creates a complicated scenario.”
Tubiana said that in India negotiations between states on complex issues like transboundary water supplies can at times be more complex than international negotiations.
“India is a much messier picture,” she said.
The experts, however, said they felt optimistic India would ultimately be part of a new global agreement to curb climate change due to be agreed in December 2015.
Van der Hoeven said Indian authorities had taken action to limit emissions from popular three-wheeled vehicles and was showing interest in widening its nuclear energy and hydropower capacities.
“India has given some of positive signals… but lots of work needs to be done,” Tubiana said.
Amantha Perera is a freelance writer based in Sri Lanka. He can be followed on Twitter at @AmanthaP
(Editing by Laurie Goering; firstname.lastname@example.org)
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