Editorial Analysis for 18th September 2020

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Reject this inequitable climate proposal


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


The UN Secretary General’s call for India to give up coal immediately and reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 is a call to de-industrialise the country and abandon the population to a permanent low-development trap.

Piling on the pressure

  • In an extraordinary move in climate diplomacy, UN Secretary General, delivering the Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture on August 28, at the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), in New Delhi, called on India to make no new investment in coal after 2020.
  • It was a deliberate setting aside of the foundational principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that distinguish sharply between the responsibilities and commitments of developed countries vis-à-vis those of developing countries.
  • Subsequently, at a press conference at the UN Headquarters on September 9, he has upped the ante even further by asking China and India too to reduce their emissions by 45% by 2030, on a par with the developed countries.
  • The advice was delivered after it was evident that India, with the lowest per capita income among the G20, is undergoing the worst economic contraction among them currently, whose long-term impact is still very unclear.
  • The UN Secretary General is quite aware that India, by any yardstick of reckoning, is punching at least on a par, if not above, its weight in responsibility and economic capacity in climate action.

India’s track record – better than other developed nations

  • Its renewable energy programme is ambitious while its energy efficiency programme is delivering, especially in the domestic consumption sector.
  • India is one of the few countries with at least 2° Celsius warming compliant climate action, and one of a much smaller list of those currently on track to fulfilling their Paris Agreement commitments.
  • Despite the accelerated economic growth of recent decades India’s annual emissions, at 0.5 tonnes per capita, are well below the global average of 1.3 tonnes, and also those of China, the United States and the European Union (EU), the three leading emitters in absolute terms, whose per capita emissions are higher than this average.
  • In terms of cumulative emissions (which is what really counts in determining the extent of temperature increase), India’s contribution by 2017 was only 4% for a population of 1.3 billion, whereas the European Union, with a population of only 448 million, was responsible for 20%.
  • The UNFCCC itself has reported that between 1990 and 2017, the developed nations (excluding Russia and east Europe) have reduced their annual emissions by only 1.3%.
  • This amounts to practically nil, given the inevitable errors in such accounting.
  • While talking about their phasing out of coal, which is often a decade or more into the future, the global North has obscured the reality of its continued dependence on oil and natural gas, both equally fossil fuels, with no timeline for their phaseout.

A First World strategy

  • Alongside, large sections of First World environmentalist opinion, while unable to summon up the domestic political support required for climate action, have turned to pressure the developing countries to bear the brunt of climate mitigation.
  • Their strategies include the demonising of coal mining and coal-based power generation, promoting claims that immediate climate mitigation would miraculously lower domestic inequalities and ensure climate adaptation, promoting Third World natural resources as activesites of mitigation and not adaptation, and promoting theories of “de-growth” or the neglect of industrial and agricultural productivity for the pursuit of climate change mitigation.
  • All of these are accompanied by increasing appeals to multilateral or First World financial and development institutions to force this agenda on to developing countries.

UN Secretary General remarks

  • A section of concerned youth in the developing countries, fearful of their futures, but desensitised to global and international inequalities, have also helped promote the undifferentiated rhetoric of a climate emergency for which all are held equally responsible.
  • Tellingly, The current incumbent of the post of UN Secretary General has rarely, if indeed ever, called out the U.S. for its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, or called out the EU nations for their long-term reliance on gas and oil while hiding behind their overwhelming rhetorical focus on coal.
  • He has been promoting the agenda of carbon neutrality by 2050 as national level goals applicable to all, without any reference to global and international equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in climate action.
  • With this wilful neglect of the core principles of the climate convention, and extreme demands that the developing world cannot satisfy, the UN Secretary General risks unravelling even the Paris Accord, unsatisfactory as it is.

Ending coal investment

  • What will be the consequences if India indeed ceases all coal investment from this very year?
  • Currently, roughly 2 GW of coal-based generation is being decommissioned per year, which implies that by 2030, India will have only 184 GW of coal-based generation.
  • But meeting the 2030 electricity consumption target of 1,580 to 1,660 units per person per year, based on the continuation or a slight increase of the current decadal growth rate, will require anywhere between 650 GW to 750 GW of renewable energy.
  • Unlike the developed nations, India cannot substitute coal substantially by oil and gas and despite some wind potential, a huge part of this growth needs to come from solar.
  • None of this will really drive industry, particularly manufacturing, since renewables at best can meet residential consumption and some part of the demand from the service sector.
  • Currently, manufacturing growth powered by fossil fuel-based energy is itself a necessity, both technological and economic, for the transition to renewables.
  • Whether providing 70% to 80% of all generation capacity is possible through renewables depends critically on technology development, including improvements in the efficiency of conversion of energy from its source into electricity, in the management of the corresponding electricity grids, as well as advance in storage technologies.

Reduction in new technologies

  • Since the Copenhagen Accord signalled the end of legally binding commitments to emissions reduction by the developed countries, technology development in climate change mitigation technologies has registered a significant fall.
  • Annual filing of patents shows a marked decline, ranging between 30% to 50% or more from 2009-10 to 2017, across all subsectors and across all developed countries, without exception.
  • The exception is China which has a rising trend in select areas.
  • Regrettably, India’s presence in such patenting hovers between minimal to near-vanishing, a persistent trend over decades that is very difficult to reverse any time soon.

Issue faced by India

  • Lacking production capacity in renewable energy technologies and their large-scale operation, deployment on this scale will expose India to increasing and severe dependence on external sources and supply chains.
  • It is also a truism that renewables alongside coal will generate, directly and indirectly, far more employment than renewables alone.
  • Apart from the impossibility of India implementing a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, the advice by the UN Secretary General, taken all together, amounts to asking for the virtual de-industrialisation of India, and stagnation in a low-development trap for the vast majority of its population.
  • India must unanimously reject the UN Secretary General’s call and reiterate its long-standing commitment to an equitable response to the challenge of global warming.

Criticism, the judiciary and a word of advice


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


  • The fires created and stoked by Justice Arun Mishra using the power of contempt to convict Prashant Bhushan for free speech still rage.
  • While so, here comes another contempt action, by a Madras High Court Judge.
  • The Tamil actor, Suriya, who supports public causes, had issued a statement highlighting what he felt was differential treatment, viz. that when due to fear of the novel coronavirus, the court is delivering justice through video conferencing, it is asking students to go and write the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (for admission to medical courses) without fear.
  • The judge, Justice S.M. Subramaniam, in a letter, has requested the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court to initiate proceedings for contempt.

Possible solutions

  • The judge is well-esteemed, and was in the news recently for a generous donation to support young lawyers in these difficult times.
  • So for court watchers, this was a bit of a surprise.
  • One other matter for surprise was that this letter was given by an undisclosed source to the media.
  • It is a letter of importance addressed to the head of the judiciary in the State, and if the confidential nature had been maintained, the Chief Justice could have dealt with it in a variety of ways – discussed it quietly with the judge, perhaps bring about a softening of view, involving other senior members of the Court for a considered decision, etc.
  • A simple solution would have been for the court’s Registry to issue a statement explaining how the factual position is obviously different, and that while online court hearings are a viable alternative, none such exists for NEET.
  • Now, the harsh glare of publicity, with strong voices weighing in advocating actions of extreme ends (throw the letter out/throw the actor in) only makes things more difficult for the Chief Justice.

Freedom v/s contempt

  • Freedom of speech is not just Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution; it is an article of faith for courts and judges, because they, above all, know that it is essential for the functioning and survival of a democracy, and for making government accountable to the people.
  • The courts are constitutionally cast as Defenders and Protectors of the public right to free speech and expression.
  • It is a tragic inversion to see judges being cast as the ones who want to limit and abridge it.
  • This is not for the well-being of the institution and those who man it and depend on it, and that means a great many of us.

Avoiding controversy

  • Judges know that much depends on the factual setting of the case.
  • To go in for contempt on this issue will invite and exacerbate this. And the actor seems to have a favourable public image, especially among the youth.
  • Why do we want to go looking for trouble, could have been the question very easily asked; not so easy to answer, and that would have ended the matter.
  • Somewhere here one also gets the feeling that the place of criticism and critiquing in a democracy is not being properly understood.
  • As George Orwell said, freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
  • Judges are holders of high public office and are not immune from being criticised.
  • They must bear it and carry on, safe in the knowledge that their rightful actions and their garnered reputations are their ultimate shield, and that ill-mannered and ill-meant speech will be recognised for what it is and shunned by people.
  • We want our judges to have broad shoulders with the ability to shrug off such comments, and focus on the matters that matter.

A platform and guidelines

  • There are multiple voices in the current narrative on this subject; lawyers objecting to their criticism of judges’ acts of commission and omission being proscribed, journalists’ fear of chilling effect on free speech, and public bewilderment at what is going on.
  • But there is another set of voices we need to pay close attention to – and these are of judges who have passed strong judgments in seminal cases in favour of free speech and expression, who now can be heard saying that some things have gone too far.

Way forward

  • There is need for introspection, communication and understanding on all sides.
  • We also need a forum for moderating dialogue between leaders of these three communities, where concerns and apprehensions can be discussed between them, all of whom want the best for the country and its institutions and people.
  • What could then emerge is a clear set of guidelines, of what is acceptable and what is not.
  • And one can then be sure that the latter category are acts so undefendable that no supporter of free speech will support them, for rights are indeed subject to restrictions; the latter must be reasonable and minimal, but must be obeyed for the former to have full play.

A push for reform


  • As the United Nations commences the 75th session of the General Assembly, the need for internal reforms to suit the 21st century could not be starker.
  • The Turkish diplomat and politician who is the incoming president of the UNGA has voiced concern that the structure of the 15-member Security Council ought to be more democratic and representative.
  • But action has been long overdue on the demand, especially from the so-called Group of 4 (G4) countries – Brazil, Germany, India and Japan – which advocate a permanent seat for all of them.
  • Meanwhile, the veto powers that the UNSC’s five permanent members enjoy is an anachronism in this age.
  • This instrument is often wielded as a blunt weapon to shore up their geopolitical interests, regardless of the disastrous consequences for the victims of armed conflict.


  • The push for reform gathered momentum following the unilateral declaration of war by the United States and the United Kingdom, against Iraq, in 2003.
  • The General Assembly’s 122nd plenary meeting in 2008 decided to facilitate the reform process through the Inter-Governmental Negotiations framework (IGN) on equitable representation as well as expansion of the UNSC.
  • Though the General Assembly’s adoption of a 2015 resolution to allow the IGN on the basis of a framework document generated some enthusiasm, it was dampened by the U.S., Russia and China being opposed to serious reform of the Council.
    The G4 bemoaned earlier this year that the IGN process might have outlived its purpose given the absence of a negotiating document which alone could provide a structure to the deliberations.
  • In any case, the exercise has been deferred in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remains unreflective of the current trajectory

  • The political and economic architecture of the emerging global order that the allied powers shaped at the end of World War II has been altered since then.
  • The UN remains unreflective of the current trajectory, especially in the strategic and economic arenas.
  • The multilateral framework now faces an unprecedented challenge – to fashion a collective response to humanity’s biggest problems, which include global warming and the pandemic.
  • Paradoxically though, the post-war order faces an existential threat to its stability from the revival of nationalism across the globe, with some of the powers that enshrined common principles and rules willing to discard them.
  • All countries must have the voice to influence policy.

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