Q&A with Dr. Emma Hakala, Finnish Institute of International Affairs on how India can use climate change in its foreign policy

Q. How can India use climate change as a foreign policy tool with both the developed countries and developing countries ?

A. I think it is quite possible for India to use climate action as a foreign policy tool, both with the developed countries and with the developing countries.

In the first case, India has a lot to gain by acting as a committed party in international climate negotiations. By acting as a “climate leader” and being among the “coalition of the willing”, India will be able to justifiably stake a claim as being one of the actors setting the agenda. While this means that India will need to commit to raise ambition in its own emissions reduction targets, it also creates yet more presssure on other leading actors – such as the European Union (EU) – to do the same, and to further develop the mechanisms on tracking progress on the so called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Meanwhile, with the developing countries, India can create new partnerships especially through the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Through the ISA, it has the potential to advance both the practical implementation of technical solutions and to leverage more climate financing at a global level.

Q. Climate change will cause a dip in economic growth? As a social scientist, how do you think a country as populous like India should handle this delicate balance?

A. Unmitigated climate change will certainly hinder economic growth, and it is likely to do so even more in countries that are relatively vulnerable e.g. to the risks of extreme weather, as India is. Therefore, addressing climate change is one way of avoiding even greater adverse economic impact. However, climate policy still needs to take into account economic equality and justice, both globally and nationally.

This is by no means an easy task, but it means that any action that is taken should be considered with regard to their consequences for those who are the least well-off. Globally, this means that the most wealthy/early-industrialized countries need to bear the largest financial share of climate action. Nationally, it means that the least wealthy part of the population should not be adversely impacted by climate action.

Well-being should perhaps prioritized over growth. However, this indeed is easier said than implemented.

Q. India has deepened security ties with several nations in recent years. A reason is that security opens up further scope to deepen economic ties. How can it instead leverage climate action to deepen economic ties. What are the three things it needs to do to achieve this?

A. There is a lot of potential for international cooperation and economic relations as a result of climate action.

First, India should use the ISA initiative to leverage climate financing and create commercial grounds for sustainable energy solutions with the trade partner countries.

Second, India could increase its cooperation with the EU, which has aimed to take on the role of being a front-runner in global climate action. The EU’s strategy paper on India, published in 2018, strongly focused on sustainable and low-carbon development, suggesting that this could lead to mutual benefits.

Third, climate action could give an opportunity for joint action between India and China, both of which are dealing with a similar struggle as to how economic development can be achieved while reducing emissions.

Q. The true test of India’s efforts on the global climate table would be its ability to source climate finance. Do you agree? How can this be achieved?

A. I agree that financing is one of the main challenges and preconditions for global climate action. On one hand, there is potential for India to replace investments in fossil fuels with investments in sustainable energy, such as solar power.

At the same time, there is a need to raise the level of ambition in leveraging global climate finance. One of the ways in which India can contribute to this is by being a credible and committed actor in international climate negotiations.

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