Mumbai: "I am not very optimistic about limiting warming below 1.5 degrees celsius," says R.R. Rashmi, a distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), "because global emissions continue to rise".

In 2015, 196 parties had committed to reduce earth-warming emissions to maintain the average global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

R.R. Rashmi is a retired Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer who was in attendance at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27), the global climate conference. He has also been India's principal negotiator for climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2008-13 and 2016-17.

After the conference, which ended on November 20, Rashmi said he was disappointed that there was no movement on climate finance and that, even though a funding facility for climate-change-induced loss and damage has been announced, it is important that it receive substantial funding to be effective.

Further, as IndiaSpend reported on Sunday, COP27 failed to include a phase down of all fossil fuels along with coal, which countries had committed to phasing down at the 26th COP.

How will these developments impact India, especially when its long-term strategy for net-zero carbon emissions has emphasised the need for finance? We asked these questions to R R Rashmi, who was also part of climate change policy-making in India in the run-up to and after the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Not only was loss and damage adopted as part of COP27's agenda, the world now has agreed to create a funding facility for the same, which will benefit countries vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. What was your first reaction?

Politically, it is a good signal. All developing countries, particularly the small island developing states, have struggled with this issue for quite some time. Finally the developed countries have yielded, so it's a political win. But this is no different than what happened 10 years ago when the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was set up. [Countries had created a fund at the UN negotiations to help developing countries acquire finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation.] GCF was also set up for similar purposes, for financing mitigation and adaptation needs. GCF has since spluttered. It hasn't received substantial funding or replenishment.

India's push to include all fossil fuels, such as oil and gas used for heating by countries with extreme winters, in a global phase down, and not just coal, India's primary fuel source, found some resonance but that did not make it to the final decision. Your thoughts?

I think it was just a counter to those countries that were insisting on a phase out of coal and enhancement of mitigation efforts. If they are so keen on enhancing ambition and reducing emissions fast, they should phase out not just coal but other fossil fuel sources as well. However, at this stage, it is difficult for an issue like this to command traction because Europeans are going back to coal and gas, the Middle East is a major oil producer. So, there was no possibility to get a consensus. Fossil phaseout would anyway form part of the energy transition announced by countries that have a net-zero [carbon emissions, referring to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions either through reduction or carbon storage technologies] announcement.

Fingers were being pointed at developing countries like China and India asking them to do more. My reading is that this proposal was put forward in that context. As it is, emissions reduction just by these two countries won't help unless the advanced economies reduce their emissions from fossil fuels faster.

Did you see enough ambition to keep the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius alive? They have added low emissions energy solutions, which some have called a loophole, as the undefined term could be used to justify new fossil fuel development, including natural gas.

We are going to breach 1.5 [degrees Celsius] in any case due to the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations. I am not very optimistic about limiting warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius because global emissions continue to rise. Low emissions solutions would include green hydrogen, natural gas, nuclear energy (and such other cleaner sources). Even natural gas, although it is problematic in a conservative sense. [Natural gas, though less polluting than coal, is not as clean as renewable sources of energy] But for a growing country like India, we should not be wary of gas or green hydrogen or grey hydrogen. We need a mix of energy sources to bring down our emission levels from coal.

Did you see any positives on climate finance? There was no mention of doubling adaptation finance as was mentioned last year.

I was disappointed to see lack of progress on several (finance-related) items like doubling of adaptation funding, Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and the New and Collective Quantified Goal for Finance (NCQGF).

[At COP26, the GGA was established to build adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. However, countries have not agreed on what the goal should include, how it should be measured and reported. The NCQGF is the decision to set a new collective quantified climate finance goal starting from $100 billion (Rs 8.17 lakh crore) per year and taking into account needs and priorities of developing countries.]

On these issues, the decision text contains a lot of statements whose sum and substance is that there are no funds available within the UNFCCC processes. If one is to look outside the UNFCCC process for funds, then the UNFCCC has no control over the matter. The commitment to provide resources and finance has been diluted. Even in the case of $100 billion promised almost 12 years ago, funds have not fully flown in yet as per the principles of the Convention.

Irrespective of what happens to $100 billion, India must look for finance from all sources to meet her climate goals. Globally, the requirement to meet climate goals is $5-6 trillion ($6 trillion is Rs 490 lakh crore) as per COP27. In India's case, our additional requirement would not be less than $380 billion (Rs 31 lakh crore) till 2030 just for renewable energy, and over $17 trillion (Rs 1,389 lakh crore) for decarbonisation of the entire economy till 2070. This cannot come from the national budget of India or the global fund of $100 billion because India will only get a certain share of it. So, we will have to depend on mobilisation of resources at this scale from all sources, including the public budget, multilateral development institutions, bilateral aid and most importantly, the international capital markets.

Leading up to COP27, the G7 group of countries were negotiating with some developing countries including India to sign a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP). In the G20 summit held in Bali, during the second week of COP27, Indonesia signed a $20 billion deal (Rs 1.6 lakh crore) with the G7 countries to phase down coal. If something like that works out in India's G20 presidency year, what could that mean for our transition to renewable energy?

We don't rule out the significance of JETP. After all, it is a significant global initiative to help countries make the transition [from fossil fuels to renewable energy]. To that extent, it is welcome. The question for India would be on what terms would these flows take place; i.e. whether they would be different from what is available in the international capital markets or from bilateral aid.

The importance of JETP lies in it being able to bring the donors and contributors on one platform and give the financing of just transition a push. But we will have to look at it a little more deeply to understand the composition of the resources: how much of it is grant, concessional loans, or direct lending. How are risks covered here, which sectors would investment take place in, and what are the 'just' elements in this financing?

India also undertook climate diplomacy around COP27 through Mission LiFE or Lifestyle for Environment. LiFE was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat in October 2022 in the presence of UN Chief Antonio Gueterres. The philosophy behind LiFE, sustainable lifestyle, even made it to the Sharm el-Shaikh Implementation Plan. Please comment.

LiFE has been included in the Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan in the form of a short paragraph. This recognises India's contribution and attachment to this issue of sustainable lifestyle and consumption. Sustainable consumption has to be spelt out in actionable terms. The only way to achieve that is to bring down the levels of excessive or wasteful consumption. This may take time. But, at least it is recognised in the formal process.

All in all, what are your take-aways from COP27?

It was never meant to be a high visibility COP. It was rightly called the COP of Implementation. But, the COP has fulfilled the expectations only partially. Most issues related to implementation, such as adaptation financing, GGA, NCQG on finance and mitigation programmes to include faster emissions reduction by the developed world, have remained unattended. A tentative funding arrangement for loss and damage is the only positive outcome. A two-year work programme for a just transition has been launched, apparently with the aim of balancing the mitigation work programme [for scaling up ambition on emissions reduction] launched last year at Glasgow. In most other cases, the COP27 has only kept the processes alive till the next one in UAE.

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