Modi Steers Clear of Making Time-Bound Commitments at UN Climate Summit

UN secretary general António Guterres had urged world leaders to ‘bring a plan’ and not a speech.

New Delhi: Leading up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, UN secretary general António Guterres had urged world leaders to ‘bring a plan’ and not a speech in a bid to underscore the importance of nations improving upon the commitments made by them under the Paris agreement of 2015.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, did not make any time-bound commitments when he spoke at the summit on Monday. He began his four-and-a-half minute address in Hindi by reminding those gathered that last year the UN had chosen him for the ‘Champions of the Earth’ award.   

Modi then spoke about the need for a behavioural change to address the climate crisis. “We have to accept that not enough is being done to deal with the climate crisis. Today, we need a comprehensive approach including education, values, lifestyle and development philosophy. We need a worldwide people’s movement for behavioural change. Need not greed, should be our guiding principle,” he said.

Also read: At UN Climate Summit, Green Funds, Collective Commitment in Focus

The prime minister stressed that “India is here not only to talk but has come with a practical approach and a roadmap”. He went on to list some of the commitments that his government has made in the recent past.

“We are encouraging e-mobility in our transport sector. We have given clean gas connection to 115 million families. We have also started Jal Jeevan mission for water resource development, water conservation and rain water harvesting,” he said.

On renewable energy, Modi said that India would increase its capacity to beyond 175 gigawatt to 400 GW without specifying a time frame for this increase. Currently, India has 81 GW of installed renewable energy capacity and has set a target of reaching 175 GW by 2022.

Under nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which form the bed rock of climate actions to be taken by each country, India has committed to reducing its green house gas emissions by between 33 and 35% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. 

Modi did not talk about India’s intent to improve upon this target, as the UN chief had urged. In contrast, speaking after him, German chancellor Angela Merkel committed to reducing green house gas emissions by 45% by 2030, an improvement over Germany’s target of 40% under the Paris agreement. She also promised a 54 billion euro investment to the global climate change fund which was set up to provide aid to developing countries for climate change adaptation and mitigation under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Also read: World Sees ‘Largest Environmental Protest in History’ for Climate Action

Before world leaders spoke, the teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered an impassioned speech. “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said. 

As world leaders listened, Thunberg said, “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”