What makes the Bonn meet on climate critical

India played a leading role at the Paris climate negotiations, and emerged as a prominent, constructive and responsible country in global discussions and actions to address climate change. We were able to work with the rest of the world in defining a regime that aligned our national goals of enabling adequate and affordable energy for all with the global goal of mitigating global carbon emissions. Our innovative and ambitious steps to accelerate the adoption of renewables and energy efficiency, but at a pace and in a manner that matched the willingness and ability of Indians to adopt these higher-cost options, played a big role in convincing ourselves, and the rest of the world, that this alignment is possible and achievable.

Now, at Bonn for the Conference of Parties (COP23), the second since Paris, we face a very different world. The Obama administration is gone, together with its aspirations of forging a legacy of climate action, and a willingness to understand the concerns of others, including India. Consequently, as the modalities, procedures, and guidelines (MPGs) for the enhanced transparency framework are negotiated at COP23, India will need to ensure that they are pragmatic. If they are too onerous, requiring large additional efforts with high transactions costs beyond those required for national energy goals, then this alignment would be lost,

There is little hope that international financial support will be available, the assumption being that countries will meet their own costs associated with the MPG requirements. Consequently, as at Paris, India will need to be in the vanguard to cajole the world into agreeing to a regime, this time of the MPGs, that is robust enough to sustain the trust of countries in the actions of other countries, and flexible enough to be complied with in all countries, especially developing countries. An onerous MPG regime may not necessarily constrain our ability to meet our goals and pledges, but may certainly mean that our verified achievements may fall short of our actual achievements. This would strain the trust that was created at Paris, especially when it will come to the adoption of more ambitious goals.

Enhanced commitments is the second area in which India will need to build a global consensus at COP23. At stake is the process for the facilitative dialogue, and on the actions that will flow from it. The facilitative dialogue, planned for 2018, would serve as a precursor to the global stocktaking that is envisaged in the Paris agreement as a periodic review of the global impact of the climate-related actions of all countries. These reviews would help countries in determining the enhanced commitments required to ensure that global temperature rise remains well below 2ºC. These will help countries decide how much more ambitious the actions that they adopt and pledge should be. The first global stocktake is scheduled for 2023, with new pledges to be submitted by 2025. The facilitative dialogue is seen as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the global stocktake.

This means that we will need to coax an agreement on benchmarks to assess the progress on adaptation, which is of greater importance to India (and other developing countries) than to most developed countries. We will also need to build an agreement on the "whos" and the "hows" in the development of more ambitious pledges. Will, for example, developed countries enhance the ambition of their 2020 pledges as a result of the facilitative dialogue? Will the principle of nationally determined pledges continue to apply as countries adopt more ambitious pledges? Or will the bulk of enhanced ambition fall on India which is now the only major country in the world where the bulk of energy (and consequently greenhouse gas emissions) related infrastructure is yet to be built?

Our domestic action on renewables, energy efficiency and afforestation will determine whether we meet our Paris pledges on the reduction in our carbon intensity, increase in the share of non-fossil sources in our electricity-generation mix, and enhanced carbon capture by our forests and trees. However, the speed and extent of these actions will crucially depend on the agreements at COP23 as they will influence the depth to which the accelerator pedal for action is pressed.