After making great strides in promoting renewable energy, India is once again being singled out as a global climate laggard. Its negotiators blocked agreement on tackling emissions at the G-20 meeting in Naples earlier this year, publishing an eye-catching dissent calling for the group to focus on bringing down high per-capita emissions in rich countries.
India later skipped a ministerial meeting meant to prepare for the next global climate-change summit — the only one of 51 invitees to do so. Its leaders clearly resent pressure to set a date for reducing net carbon emissions to zero, as rival China has.
The West’s focus on India’s lack of a net-zero target, however, may be misplaced. It risks missing a potentially major shift underway in the country.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always taken climate change seriously, he hasn’t typically highlighted it as part of his domestic policy agenda. His recent Independence Day speech was different. Modi uses the speech, delivered from the ramparts of Delhi’s Mughal-era Red Fort, to outline his government’s major upcoming policy initiatives. Previous speeches launched his “Make in India” manufacturing push and his program to improve India’s sanitation and hygiene.
This year, Modi focused on climate change. He tailored the appeal to suit his hyper-nationalist image, pitching the energy transition as a matter of “environmental security,” as crucial as defending against the likes of China and Pakistan.