The first few days of the United Nations Cop27 were filled with big speeches and announcements from global leaders from around the world. However, the voices of the heads of state of two of the world’s biggest polluters are missing, taking the shine out of this year’s climate summit.
Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, which is the third biggest polluter after China and the US, decided to skip the summit in favour of campaigning for elections in his home state Gujarat despite the country suffering some of the worst impacts of recent weather events.
Chinese president Xi Jinping also decided to skip this year’s summit. Russia, the fourth biggest polluter, is already an international pariah after the Ukraine war and Vladimir Putin was a no-show in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh.
US president Joe Biden didn’t make the leader segment because of an agenda clash with the US mid-term elections on 8 November. But he is expected to travel next week.
All these countries are represented by their environment ministers. But experts say the absence of big names from the developing world at a summit, which is discussing some of the biggest questions on bringing the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions down and providing crucial help to disaster victims is dampening the shine of Cop27.
“India’s absence is notable, especially in comparison to last year when Modi announced updated 2030 climate targets and committed to net zero. These were seen as highlights of COP26, but so far this year India has not brought as much to the table,” Tom Evans, of think tank E3G, told The Independent at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Last year India, for the first time, announced its net-zero target for 2070, two decades later than most countries, but denoting a major change in its position. Before this year’s summit, the country formalised its renewable and emission reduction targets as its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
The absence becomes even more striking as negotiators are set to lock horns on energy transition early next week at Sharm el-Sheikh. India and China are one of the biggest producers and consumers of coal, the most destructive of all fossils despite impressive strides in the field of renewables in the last few years.
However, India’s environment minister has already left the venue on Tuesday with negotiators taking the lead. Sources within the Indian government say the minister might come back to the summit next week.
But if big names remain absent, experts say it raises the question if the discussions will be able to achieve any considerable progress.
According to Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network (CAN) International, New Delhi should have been present to show its progress “especially when India is trying to do a lot in terms of moving towards renewable energy, the kind of ambitious targets it has set”.
The country has also been largely silent on the historic development of Loss and Damage finance being added to the agenda at Cop27, something India backs as part of the G77 group.
“Given the way loss of damage has been prioritised at the political level, it would have been good for India to also lend its support and more publicly,” Mr Singh says.
“This is the biggest issue at this Cop and for India to stand in solidarity with vulnerable countries to demand a loss and damage facility is absolutely critical,” he adds.
However, calls are also growing for making richer developing nations like India and China to pay for the new finance facility. China and India have always demanded historical emissions to be taken into account, of which developed western nations have the majority of share.
But small island nations are demanding all polluters be made liable to pay for climate compensations. The issue is set to become bigger in the coming days as negotiations heat up.
China has held out an olive branch, agreeing that it’s willing to make a contribution. But India is yet to address the issue officially.
“It (paying for loss and damage) is not the obligation of China but we are willing to make our contribution and make our effort,” China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said, according to a Reuters report.
The creation of finance facility is at least two years away but experts say leaders will not be able to duck these questions any longer.
“Modi might not have been in Egypt but he will not be able to duck the climate agenda at next week’s G20 leaders summit, not least because India will assume the presidency next year,” Mr Evans says.
“In Bali next week Modi will be under pressure from the likes of the US and EU to support ambitious climate outcomes, moving further than when climate ministers met in September, who were unable to agree a communiqué.”
Mr Evans adds that a strong position from India at Cop27 could have been a “demonstration of real leadership before hosting the G20 next year”.
This story waa published with the support of Climate Tracker's COP27 Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship
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