Bengaluru: Proposing to host the 33rd COP in 2028 in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that developing countries should be given their fair share of the global carbon budget (for just and equitable development), in his remarks at the opening ceremony of the High-Level Segment for the national statements of nations on December 1.
Modi, in his address, said that India was one of the few countries that was on track to achieve all its Nationally Determined Contributions before time. He called on all nations to fulfill their climate targets. He also introduced India’s “Green Credit Initiative” to the world, and launched it at the High-Level Event on the Green Credit Initiative later in the day.
‘Balance between ecology and economy’
Despite the fact that India is home to 17% of the world’s population, our share of the world’s carbon emissions is less than 4%, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while speaking at the ceremonial opening of the High-Level Segment for national statements on the second day of COP28 in Dubai, UAE.
“Over the past century, a small section of humanity has indiscriminately exploited nature, however, entire humanity is paying the price for this, especially people living in the Global South,” he said.
“We need to give all developing countries a fair share in the global carbon budget, we have to be more balanced,” he said. A balance must be struck between adaptation, mitigation, climate finance, technology, as well as loss and damage, he added. Moreover, energy transitions must be just, inclusive and equitable. He urged that every country fulfill its climate targets. Modi also offered that India would host the 33rd COP in 2028. India was one of the few countries that was on track to achieve all its Nationally Determined Contributions before time, he said.
India has also presented “a model of development to the world by striking a great balance between ecology and economy”, Modi added.
However, former environmental minister and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh commented that Modi followed the “Maximum Global Talk, Minimum Local Walk” in his speech. Modi’s claim that India has “struck a great balance between ecology and economy”, is “yet another of his trademark falsehoods”, Ramesh said in a press release that he tweeted on December 1.
The reality is that several legislations to protect the environment have been diluted by the Modi government, Ramesh said. The Forest Conservation Act 1980 “has been made completely hollow with a 2023 amendment” and this removes protection for 25% of India’s forest cover, in violation of the 1996 TN Godavarman Supreme Court order, apart from doing away with the consent of forest communities, and with requirements for forest clearance in vast areas.
“It is paving the way for the Modi Government to exploit forests and hand them over to a select few chosen corporates,” he said.
He added that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 was weakened with a notification in 2022 and that forests can now be cleared without consulting those who live there. Consent from gram sabhas is no longer needed to use forest land, he said. Similarly, the National Biodiversity Act of 2002 has been “massively diluted” to allow private companies easier access to forests without benefit-sharing with communities. “The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), formerly an independent body able to keep a check on the government, has been completely put under the control of the Environment Ministry,” Ramesh wrote.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Modi government passed 39 amendments to rules under the Environment Protection Act; the National Green Tribunal has been weakened since 2014 as have Environmental Impact Assessment norms since 2020, he added.
“Timelines for hydro and mining project clearances have been arbitrarily extended, major project types have been removed from central government clearance, public hearings and participation have been skipped. In eco-sensitive areas like the Himalayan region, the Modi government has illegally bypassed the need for Environmental Impact Assessment by splitting large projects into small segments. The Silkyara tunnel disaster is only a symptom of the larger malaise.”
Air pollution has turned into a “grave public health crisis” under the Modi government, becoming a major threat to life expectancy, Ramesh also wrote.
“From 2015 to 2020 alone, the share of Indians exposed to PM2.5 above 100 has doubled, reversing improvements over the previous years. The Modi government has not only been ineffective in dealing with worsening air pollution across the country, but it relaxed norms for coal transportation and emissions scrubbing.”
“How can anyone take what the Prime Minister says globally on [the] environment seriously in light of his disastrous track record in India,” Ramesh asked.
Green Credit Initiative launched
Modi in his speech at the ceremonial opening of the High-Level Segment for national statements on December 1 also introduced the Green Credit Initiative to the world.
The Green Credit Initiative is based on the national Green Credit Programme that India launched in October this year. Per the Programme, it is “an innovative market-based mechanism designed to incentivize voluntary environmental actions across diverse sectors, by various stakeholders like individuals, communities, private sector industries, and companies”. The first phase of the GCP aims to focus on water conservation and afforestation.
As per a new press release, also listed by the Ministry of External Affairs, the global Green Credit Initiative “has been conceptualised as a mechanism to incentivize voluntary pro-planet actions” to tackle climate change. Per the Ministry, the Initiative will issue “Green Credits” for plantations on waste/degraded lands and river catchment areas, “to rejuvenate and revive natural ecosystems”.
Modi launched the global Green Credit Initiative at a high-level event after the opening ceremony of the High-Level Segment on December 1. He said that he has always felt that the scope of carbon credits is “very limited” and that this philosophy is “filled with commercial elements”.
“Regarding carbon credits, I see the lack of a lot of social responsibility. We should lean on new philosophy in a holistic way. And this is the mark of green credit,” he claimed.
If we sacrifice vikruti, or destruction, and think that only if we advance the environment can we advance ourselves, only then can we save the environment, he said, likening the system to health cards.
“Just like we update our health cards…we need to think of our environment too. We need to see what we can do to increase the positive points in the health card of the earth. This in my opinion is “green credit”. That is my concept of green credits.”
“This green credit will be useful in future expansion and is tradable as well. The entire process will be fully digital – whether it is registration, plantation or verification, or to initiate green credit…We have to work together on several such ideas. So we are also launching a global platform. This portal will collect all ideas, expressions and innovations linked to plantation and the environment in one area. This repository will help shape the policies, practices and global demand in green credits.”
“We have a saying that nature protects those who protect them. Using this initiative I implore that for this earth, for our future, we build a cleaner, greener and better future,” he said.
Will the Green Credit system really be green?
“We need to think in terms of laws and actions about how we can merge green credit with the earth’s health card,” Modi added, about the Green Credit Initiative.
“For example, degraded wastelands. If we go by the concept of green credits, first we make an inventory of these degraded wastelands. Then any individual or organization will use these for “voluntary plantations”. And for this “positive action”, that individual or organization will be given a green credit.”
However, Modi’s “small example” of “degraded wastelands” is actually not a small one at all. Large tracts of lands classified as “wastelands” by the Indian government are highly productive and important natural ecosystems, often called Open Natural Ecosystems, and include savannas. Afforestation in such landscapes can be detrimental, scientists have found.
While considering “degraded wastelands” for restoration, it is important to keep in mind that many of these are savanna grasslands and other Open Natural Ecosystems that have been wrongly classified as wastelands, Abi Tamim Vanak, Director, Centre for Policy Design and
Senior Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, told The Wire.
“It is crucial that ecological restoration keeps the original ecosystem in mind, and we do not indulge in only tree plantation programs that are likely to damage these fragile ecosystems,” he said. Tree plantations in such areas may actually result in loss of below-ground carbon, reduce groundwater recharge and negatively affect pastoralist livelihoods and endanger biodiversity, he said.
In November, a study by a team of researchers including Ashish Nerlekar, of the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, Texas A&M University, found that converting old-growth savannas into agricultural tracts and afforesting them destroys and degrades the smaller, herbaceous plant communities that do not spontaneously recover on fallowed land. The team studied savannas in western Maharashtra.
Planting trees on India’s savannas under the guise of restoration is detrimental to native and endemic plants, commented Nerlekar.
“Our study shows that on average, planting trees on savannas results in a loss of 4 native herbaceous plants per sq. meter,” he said.
“We also show that the magnitude of these losses also depends on the kinds of savannas,” he added. “Planting trees on mesic or wetter savannas is much more harmful than planting on drier or semi arid savannas. Much of India happens to be mesic savannas so that [the Green Credit Initiative for “degraded wastelands”] is certainly bad news.”
Gaza in the spotlight
COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber said in his opening remarks at the high level segment ceremony that they had “collectively made history” yesterday by operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund. Over 170 heads of state and governments will deliver their national statements at COP28, he said.
The war and civilian deaths in Gaza in Palestine came under focus as several heads of states and governments mentioned the Israel-Palestine war which is ongoing in the Arabian continent even as COP28 progresses, while delivering their national statements. Fresh firing has been reported in the Gaza strip over the last two days.
Jordan’s King Abdullah said while delivering his country’s national statement that Jordan had initiated a food security programme and will deal with war refugees. He said that war was making the threats from climate change even worse in the Gaza Strip.
“In Gaza, over 1.7 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes. Tens of thousands have been injured or killed in a region already on the front lines of climate change,” he said.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic asked how we can find solutions to climate change if we cannot find solutions to geopolitical issues that threaten territories now. According to one estimate, more than 11,100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, as per Gaza’s Health Ministry.
“While expressing here our views on the climate crisis, it is impossible to not talk about the humanitarian crisis taking place in Palestinian territories close to us,” said Turkish president Recep Erdogan. More than 16,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israeli aggression, he said.
“This cannot be justified under any circumstances. The incidents taking place in Gaza are a humanitarian crime, a war crime and the perpetrators must be held accountable before international law,” he said.
Hadeel Ikhmais, a climate change expert with the Palestinian Authority, told AP about the deaths seen by Palestinians, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank where she lives. What are we negotiating for “in the middle of a genocide”, she asked. It will take billions of dollars to repair the Gaza Strip and this will take away from any climate mitigation that is possible, she told AP.