The sixth report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes for especially grim reading: that global temperatures have already risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and there is a very slim chance indeed, but one that still exists, for restricting that rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The effects of rising temperature are increasingly being felt in every part of the world, including India. The IMD has pointed out that between 2013 and 2019, there were on average 114 heat wave days every year (heat wave being a day when the temperature is at least 4.5 degrees Celsius above normal). The days of climate scepticism are clearly over; the IPCC also contests the argument that climate change is a natural phenomenon. The question now is what the governments of the world should do at the next UN climate conference (CoP 26) to be held in Glasgow later this year.

India must proceed with purpose on both the domestic and global stage. It is in a piquant position: its per capita energy consumption is well below the world average, but it remains the third or fourth largest annual emitter of carbon dioxide emissions or their equivalent. Its historical share in the atmospheric emissions is negligible, compared to the OECD countries, but its share in current and future emissions is not so. The UN has rightly said that the voluntary emission reduction targets (called nationally determined contributions or NDCs) set by the developed world in the wake of the 2015 Paris accord need to be ramped up. India is on course to achieving its NDCs with respect to share of renewables in energy consumption (40 per cent of electricity capacity by 2030) and reduction in the emissions intensity of GDP (30-35 per cent over 2005 levels). But unless the developed world puts more money on the table, it cannot expect India and other developing countries (except China), to achieve more by way of emission cuts.

Climate finance must assume centre-stage in global climate talks, as the needs of mitigation (renewables transition and other emission reduction efforts) and adaptation (dealing with the catastrophic effects of climate change) need to be met. Climate justice demands that historical polluters pay for adaptation and mitigation costs. The US and EU have sought to skirt this issue. The Copenhagen conference in 2009 agreed on an annual contribution of $100 billion. This appears to be falling short by at least $50 billion a year, going by a 2019 paper on climate finance by the Department of Economic Affairs. However, India should stop equating climate policy with the renewables transition. It should take its other NDC goal — creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent — seriously. The reckless sanctioning of coal projects needs a relook. India can go the extra mile in domestic policy, while holding its ground on climate finance and justice.