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Unpacking India's COP21 Positions

Earlier today, I attended a press conference hosted by the Climate Action Network (CAN) where four members of civil society from India discussed the Indian positions at COP21. India is a particularly interesting country to follow at the COPs. India contributes significantly to the world's greenhouse gas emissions and is developing rapidly, but they do not have the same technological and financial capabilities of China or developed nations. One of the presenters of Vasudha Foundation shared that of India’s 1.25 billion citizens, over 300 million have unreliable access to electricity or no electricity at all. India does not believe they can close this gap with non-coal energy sources. At the same time, over 22 million citizens are currently employed by climate dependent jobs that are vulnerable to the continued burning of coal. These tensions and apparent contradictions were clear in this morning press briefing.India’s decisions have strong implications for the ambitious climate deal for which we are hoping, so it is important to stay tuned in to their positions. Here are the highlights:Let’s talk about coal:India will continue to rely on coal for the short and medium term because their priority it to secure their energy future. Their goal is to ensure that every citizen has access to electricity by 2022, and it seems that the means to reach this goal are not important.When asked if India plans to reduce the coal they import, they reported that coal in India is poor quality, so it would be more harmful to burn their coal than to import coal from other countries.India cannot commit to cutting carbon, but they will try to cut carbon intensity.How about nuclear power?According to the delegates at the press briefing, India is not pursuing nuclear power because it is cost prohibitive, time intensive, and they do not have the technology to make it successful. They referenced that the time it would take to implement nuclear power would not allow them to reach their 2022 electricity goal.What about signing a legally binding agreement?India is not opposed to signing a legally binding agreement for all countries, but they will only consider the agreement if differential responsibilities plays a strong role in the text. India needs to see that historic emitters are going to make large contributions and see that they can still continue to emit on the track that they are on in order to sign the agreement.India states that they want an ambitious agreement, but the stipulations above create some obstacles to see that to fruition.Yesterday’s announcement:During the world leader statements yesterday, which opened COP21, the prime minister of India launched the International Solar Alliance which over 120 countries have already signed. Many of the countries are in “solar rich” regions between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The Indian government has pledged to support this alliance both financially and by hosting the secretariat for the next five years. This is an exciting advancement to expand solar power significantly.So, while there has been some exciting news out of India, the coal story continues to be concerning in terms of keeping the global temperature below two degrees Celsius. The sentiment at the conference seems to be that a lot will change between now and December 11, so stay tuned for more updates.

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