The Hindu Editorial Analysis
14 April 2021

1) In climate change noise, India’s role as conductor

New Delhi needs to introduce equity, differentiation, and justice in the ‘net-zero’ debate

GS 2: Climate Change; National Environment Agencies, Legislations and Policies; International Environment Agencies & Agreements

 


Context:

  • U.S. President Joe Biden’s ‘Leaders’ Summit on Climate’ scheduled for April 22-23 will also set the stage for major countries to outline their plans.
  • One thing is clear: Climate action and climate leadership are being increasingly measured against a planetary imperative of emissions-reducing to net-zero by 2050.
  • They need the carbon space to develop but they are also among the most vulnerable countries to climate change.
  • Recent debates on whether India should declare a net-zero year or withstand mounting pressure have centered around two alternative strategies.
  • The first is to delegitimize long-term targets.
    • This view proposes focusing on measurable near-term progress and paints the long-term (the year 2050 and beyond) as too far to be meaningful in terms of progress towards a deeply de-carbonized world.
  • The alternative approach argues that without long-term targets, the path to decarburization has little certainty.

Fine points

  • India’s critical low-carbon objectives in the next decade
    • Ambitious renewable energy targets,
    • Improvements in energy efficiency and
    • Fast penetrations of electric vehicles are among.
  • Yet, rapid advances in these do not substitute for the need to set a clear direction of travel with the aim to reduce emissions to net-zero.
  • Avoiding this choice makes India look like a climate laggard when its actions actually speak louder than the words of many developed countries.

India needs to Re-plan

  • India should, instead, reframe the net-zero debate from the perspective of the planet and for the prosperity of its people.
  • India had ensured that “climate justice” was inserted in the preamble to the Paris Agreement.
  • As the climate crisis unfolds, climate justice should imply that humanity respects the planetary boundary of permissible greenhouse gases but also ensures that countries assume equitable responsibility based on their past and future emissions.
  • This approach would be different from merely blaming developed countries for historical emissions and, instead, would establish the criteria by which economic advancement and climate responsibility could go hand-in-hand.

Income Disparity

  • The World Bank classifies a high-income economy as one with gross national per capita income of $12,536 or more in 2019 prices.
  • Any high-income country should not get more than 15-20 years to achieve net-zero emissions from 2020 onwards.
  • This would imply that the European Union or the United States reach net-zero no later than 2035-40, rather than 2050 as they currently propose.
  • China will enter this income category after 2025, so it should achieve net-zero by 2045, rather than 2060 as it proposes.
  • India is expected to become a high-income economy around 2050, and it should target net-zero closes to 2070.
  • As a recent Council on Energy, Environment and Water report shows, today’s high-income countries would still have a much longer transition period between peaking emissions and net-zero than India would get.

Issue of aggregate emissions

  • However, per capita income cannot be an excuse for inaction in correcting emissions-intensive development pathways.
  • The historical (past century) and future (this century) aggregate emissions of each country not yet in the high-income category should aim to be progressively smaller than those which have achieved high-income status.
  • This approach acknowledges the potential to tap into technological advances and cost reductions and reinforces the need to give a long-term net-zero signal.
  • This approach would trigger a rethink about each country’s sustainable development priorities and sectoral pathways — and create the conditions for further innovation and investment in climate-friendly infrastructure, technologies, business models, and lifestyle and behavioral changes.
  • As the suite of mitigation technologies becomes more widely available and cheaper, all countries could achieve net-zero much earlier.
  • The debate between prioritizing only near-term actions versus announcing long-term net-zero goals presents a false binary.
  • Both are needed to establish certainty of action, the credibility of promises and create incentives for markets to respond.
  • The real debate should be about climate justice for people and the planet.
  • India would do well to propose alternative formulations that establish equity, differentiate the pace of desired action, and yet be progressive in its ambitions.

2) BIMSTEC needs to reinvent itself

The grouping, a work in progress, has several obstacles to overcome

GS 2: International Relation


Context

  • The foreign ministers of BIMSTEC (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) met virtually on April 1 for their 17th meeting.
  • They advanced the agenda, which had been arrested by the pandemic, since the last ministerial meeting held in August 2018.
  • Their major task was to pave the way for the next summit, the grouping’s fifth, due to be held in Sri Lanka in the “next few months”.
  • While most multilateral groupings from G20 to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) held their deliberations at the highest political level in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, BIMSTEC leaders failed to do so.
  • In contrast to a meeting of even SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders held at India’s initiative a year ago, BIMSTEC could not arrange its ministerial meeting until April 2021.

 

Unfolding rejuvenation

  • Established as a grouping of four nations — India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — through the Bangkok Declaration of 1997 to promote rapid economic development, BIMSTEC was expanded later to include three more countries — Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.
  • It moved at a leisurely pace during its first 20 years with only three summits held and a record of modest achievements.
  • But it suddenly received special attention as New Delhi chose to treat it as a more practical instrument for regional cooperation over a faltering SAARC.
  • The BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat, followed by their Outreach Summit with the BRICS leaders in Goa in October 2016, drew considerable international limelight to the low-profile regional grouping.
  • The fourth leaders’ summit, held in Kathmandu in August 2018, devised an ambitious plan for institutional reform and renewal that would encompass economic and security cooperation.
  • It took the important decision to craft a charter to provide BIMSTEC with a more formal and stronger foundation.
  • The shared goal now is to head towards “a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region”.
  • At the second swearing-in of the Modi government in May 2019, the leaders of BIMSTEC, not SAARC, were invited as honored guests.
  • Soon thereafter, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar observed that India saw a mix of “energy, mindset and possibility” in BIMSTEC.

Recent decisions

  • The foreign ministers cleared the draft for the BIMSTEC charter, recommending its early adoption.
  • They endorsed the rationalization of sectors and sub-sectors of activity, with each member-state serving as a lead for the assigned areas of special interest.
  • The ministers also conveyed their support for the Master Plan for Transport Connectivity, which will be adopted at the next summit.
  • Preparations have been completed for the signing of three agreements relating to
    • Mutual legal assistance in criminal matters,
    • Cooperation between diplomatic academies, and
    • The establishment of a technology transfer facility in Colombo.
  • What has been missing from recent deliberations is a reference to the lack of progress on the trade and economic dossier.
  • A January 2018 study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry had suggested that BIMSTEC urgently needed a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement to be a real game changer.
    • Ideally it should cover trade in goods, services and investment; promote regulatory harmonization; adopt policies that develop regional value chains; and eliminate non-tariff barriers. Also lacking was an effort to enthuse and engage the vibrant business communities of these seven countries, and expand their dialogue, interactions and transactions.
  • On this score, BIMSTEC remains a work in progress. Over 20 rounds of negotiations to operationalise the BIMSTEC Free Trade Area Framework Agreement, signed in 2004, are yet to bear fruit.
  • In contrast, much has been achieved in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and security, including counterterrorism, cyber security, and coastal security cooperation.
  • India has led through constant focus and follow-up — to the extent that some member-states have complained about the ‘over-securitization’ of BIMSTEC.
  • Similarly, while national business chambers are yet to be optimally engaged with the BIMSTEC project, the academic and strategic community has shown ample enthusiasm through the BIMSTEC Network of Policy Think Tanks and other forum.

Hurdles

  • The goal now should be to overcome the obstacles leading to BIMSTEC’s success.
  • First, a strong BIMSTEC presupposes cordial and tension-free bilateral relations among all its member-states.
  • Second, uncertainties over SAARC hovers, complicating matters.
    • Both Kathmandu and Colombo want the SAARC summit revived, even as they cooperate within BIMSTEC, with diluted zeal.
  • Third, China’s decisive intrusion in the South-Southeast Asian space has cast dark shadows.
  • Finally, the military coup in Myanmar, brutal crackdown of protesters and continuation of popular resistance resulting in a protracted impasse has produced a new set of challenges.

Conclusion:

  • As BIMSTEC readies itself to celebrate the silver jubilee of its formation next year, it faces a serious challenge:
    • To effect “a paradigm-shift in raising the level of our cooperation and regional integration”, as Mr. Jaishankar said on April 1.
  • The grouping needs to reinvent itself, possibly even rename itself as ‘The Bay of Bengal Community’.
  • It should consider holding regular annual summits.
  • Only then will its leaders convince the region about their strong commitment to the new vision they have for this unique platform linking South Asia and Southeast Asia.