India takes moral high-ground on Paris climate deal

Modi: 'Morally criminal act' to avoid environment

(CNN) - India was one of two countries singled out by President Donald Trump when justifying his decision to end US involvement in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

"The bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States ... India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it. India can double their coal production. We're supposed to get rid of ours," he said Thursday.

But India doesn't take its commitment to preventing climate change lightly.

Originally a reluctant signatory, this week Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it would be a "morally criminal act" for the world not to do its part on climate change. New Delhi is yet to comment on Trump's decision.

Growing anger in India around air pollution and the economic benefits of cheaper, renewable sources of energy have made Modi's government a strong supporter of the agreement, CNN's Ravi Agrawal said.

"(The US departure) doesn't change the bigger picture: the moral, political, and economic incentives all seem to be aligning in favor of staying with the Paris agreement," he said.

The vast majority of India's power still comes from heavily-polluting coal power plants, just under two thirds of its total capacity, but India is aiming for a target of 40% renewable energy by 2030.

In 2016, a report submitted by India to the United Nations said 71% of its carbon emissions came from the energy sector, while agriculture contributed another 18%.

However experts say Modi isn't blind to the risks inherent in the United States withdrawal from the global climate change accord.

Professor Raghbendra Jha, executive director of the Australian National University's Australia South Asia Research Center, told CNN that India would fight to ensure the continuation of financial assistance as promised under the agreement.

"India needs to use its negotiating power as an emerging economic superpower to twist some of the agreements of the Paris accord (in their favor)," he said.

Under the Paris Agreement, developing nations such as India would be provided with financial assistance by their developed peers to assist in the transition to renewable energy

Third largest emitter in the world?

India was late to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The country ranks as the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind only China and the United States.

But in per capita terms, it is just the 128th most polluting country in the world, between Anguilla and the Republic of Moldova.

India accepted the agreement on October 2, 2016, one month behind the US and China.

Modi has made it clear when the Paris Agreement was first broadly agreed to in 2015 that more developed countries needed to shoulder more responsibility for reducing carbon emissions.

"Democratic India must grow rapidly to meet the aspiration of 1.25 billion people, 300 million of whom are without access to energy," Modi said at the time.

But now they're involved, Jha said there is a very good reason for India to remain committed to stopping climate change.

"If it creates the kind of damage that has been predicted, then India would be one of the most seriously affected countries, so it is in their interest to try to arrest climate change," he said.

It's all about the money

In a pointed declaration made at the time of signing, India put it on the record that its involvement in Paris depended on financial assistance from other major powers.

"(India is ratifying) keeping in view its development agenda, particularly the eradication of poverty and provision of basic needs for all its citizens ... and on the assumption of unencumbered availability of cleaner sources of energy and technologies and financial resources from around the world," the statement read.

Funding for developing nations was agreed to under the Paris Agreement, to help them make the move to renewable forms of energy.

Developed nations, such as the United States, would donate funds which under the climate pact was designed to reach $100 billion a year by 2020.

The Green Climate Fund, one of the distributors of international UN renewables funding, announced $34.3 million in funding for a ground water and solar irrigation project in India in April 2017.

But Trump stopped all contributions of the Green Climate Fund, as part of his Thursday announcement. Under Obama, the US had been intending to contribute more than $3 billion to the fund.

"India still needs money to set up solar and wind farms. In that sense, it may hurt from the US pulling back," CNN's Agrawal said.


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