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  Opinion   Columnists  07 Dec 2023  Sunanda K. Datta-Ray | Will 2028 COP in India help us to battle climate change?

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray | Will 2028 COP in India help us to battle climate change?

Sunanda K Datta-Ray is a senior journalist, columnist and author.
Published : Dec 8, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Dec 8, 2023, 12:05 am IST

Mr Modi appeared to claim in Dubai that India was especially qualified to play host

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government session during the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)
 India Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government session during the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

No one would dream of questioning the importance of the international climate conferences during what the United Nations

Secretary-General, António Guterres, calls an “era of global boiling”. But many people may wonder if India can afford to host one of these high-powered jamborees of captains and kings such as the latest summit in Dubai that Britain’s King Charles III also attended.

One must also ask if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s generous offer at the Dubai COP28 (Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) to host COP33 in 2028 was at all linked with India’s general election due to be held next year. Basking in the afterglow of the G-20, which reportedly cost a phenomenal Rs 4,100 crores, Mr Modi appeared to claim in Dubai that India was especially qualified to play host because its population of 17 per cent of the world’s accounts for only four per cent of the global carbon emission.

That is precisely the problem, prompting misgivings about the extent of industrialisation and per capita car ownership in a country whose GDP ranks 139th internationally and which languishes 132nd in the UN Human Development Index. Given the state of public health, India is understandably coy about signing the declaration linking it with climate change. The actual cost of COP28 is not known but it was a collective effort with the initial funding estimated at $475 million. The host, the United Arab Emirates, pledged $100 million, as did Germany. The European Union promised $275 million, the United States $17.5 million, Japan $10 million and Britain £$2 billion to the Green Climate Fund.

Funding COP33 may have seemed less formidable if India had not been burdened with other commitments and extravagances. One such is the world’s tallest statue, the $450-million figure of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, whose “made-in-China” accessories make it a less than national monument. Another is New Delhi’s ongoing Central Vista project, which is reported to cost $1.8 billion and which seems intended to recast the past in unreal terms to cater to present political proclivities.

It’s not that other countries do not also indulge in global public relations exercises for domestic reasons. The American saying that “all politics is local” associated with the former House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill could not be more apt. People suspect that the offer by Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to host COP31 in 2026 has more to do with his consolidation of personal power and Eurasian prestige than concern for global warming. His announcement at the Dubai gathering put Turkey in the race against Australia, whose candidacy was announced earlier this year by the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, and won instant support from most West European governments.

However, the Pacific community that Australia traditionally leads is not quite as enthusiastic about Mr Albanese’s role. “The Australian government has promised to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with its Pacific family in response to the climate crisis,” said a group advertisement in the Fiji Times. “Yet the response to our natural disasters, sea level rise, heat [and] food insecurity has been to pursue more gas and coal projects -- the very thing driving the climate crisis.”

The competition between Turkey, a candidate for European Union membership, and Australia, which formerly had Asian ambitions but is now a key member of the AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) security pact set up in 2021 primarily as an American instrument to contain China, has interesting implications. AUKUS was announced ahead of the Quad summit, of which India and Japan are members, and promises Australia nuclear-powered submarines.

Although India is not part of the nuclear deal and is silent on containing China, there seems little doubt that Quad membership also expresses the Narendra Modi government’s pro-US stance. When the Prime Minister says “We do not have much time to correct the mistakes of the last century”, he is ostensibly addressing the threat of global warming, the need for rich countries to transfer technology to help emerging economies fight climate change, and achieve non-fossil fuel targets ahead of deadlines all over the world. But his strong support for Israel in the war on Gaza indicates that Mr Modi might also have in mind those non-alignment years when Jawaharlal Nehru bluntly told Loy Henderson, the American ambassador: “If there is friction between an Asian and a non-Asian power, I must be on the side of the Asian power”. Mr Modi certainly will not endorse Nehru’s sweeping view that the fewer Indians who visited the United States the better.

Ideology apart, India’s government has so many administrative tasks on its hands that it cannot possibly be involved in one exciting global circus after another without being charged with neglecting the domestic responsibilities for which the BJP was elected to power.

The minister of state for space, Jitendra Singh, boasts that “the Russian moon mission, that was unsuccessful, cost Rs 16,000 crores, and our (Chandrayaan-3) mission cost just around Rs 600 crores”. That may be true but the crucial question is: What has the Rs 600 crores spent in landing an craft on a neglected patch of the moon’s surface achieved for Indians? Has it reduced a 47 million-strong army of unemployed people by creating a single job? Has it established more schools, public buses or hospitals? Has it even improved the appalling arrangements for disposing of India’s dead?

Of course, lavish infrastructure spending accounts for the high 7.6 per cent growth during the July-September quarter. But not all the signature projects on New Delhi’s agenda are productive investments. Some, indeed, carry a whiff of party or personal propaganda. Reports that the Chenani-Nashri road tunnel, India’s longest, which was ostentatiously dedicated to the nation, was conceived under Dr Manmohan Singh, prompted jibes that Mr Modi might next inaugurate some scheme that the UPA had already launched. Some wondered if a Rs 3,600-crore Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial served any utilitarian purpose. Others feared that a bridge across the Chenab may have been selected in a spirit of one-upmanship to beat the railway bridge across the Beipan river in China. And, of course, the controversial and apparently ill-advised Rs 12,000-crore Char Dham highway from which 41 workers were rescued may have placed religious sentiment above human safety.

Global warming threatens man’s future. It deserves to be met seriously with all the resources at our command. It should not be treated as an opportunity to win friends and influence people for political advantage.

Tags: cop28, prime minister narendra modi, climate summit