CSE Director General Sunita Narain

CSE Director General Sunita Narain. Photo courtesy: Instagram/cseindia

India could play an “even bigger” role in climate talks by emerging as the voice of the global south and presenting the challenges faced by these nations, said leading environmentalist Sunita Narain, in the context of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposing to host the 33rd Conference of Parties (COP33; aka UN Climate Conference) in 2028.

Narain, who is Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), recently had an interaction with senior editors of the Press Trust of India in New Delhi. She said that the Conference of Parties, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was the only forum where multi-lateral decisions could be taken to deal with the challenges posed by climate change.

We can play an even bigger role as a country which stands for countries of the [global] south. We have challenges. We can talk about our challenges, not paper over them. And, we can help the world to find a better way ahead. We can play a leadership role.

Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment

PM Modi, in his address at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai in December 2023, had offered to host the UN Climate Conference in India in 2028.

The COP presidency rotates between different world regions; India’s next opportunity will be in 2028, when Asia gets its turn. All countries in that group must unanimously agree to India’s bid before it is confirmed.

“Absolutely, we should host the COP, and absolutely, we must talk. See, climate change is a very unique problem in the world [that] cannot be sorted on a bilateral level at all. It is a multi-lateral issue,” she said.

The CSE director general said that climate change was one way to relearn socialism, because it was about a common atmospheric space where countries had to learn to live together, whether they liked it or not.

“The UN talks are the only forum where you do multi-lateral decisions and decision-making — however broken the system is, it is important,” she said.

Narain was a member of COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber’s advisory panel. Al Jaber also heads the oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which fuelled activists’ worries that Big Oil was hijacking the global response to the climate crisis.

“A lot of the flak that was also given to me was, ‘But he is an oil producer, and why are you advising an oil producer?’ But that is important. And, I think it is important for us to come to a common ground to say, ‘What are we going to do with fossil fuels? How are they going to reduce?’” Narain said.

Ukraine crisis has set back climate goals

She said that the Russia-Ukraine war had pushed the talk about renewable energy to the background. “Germany was going back to building LNG stations. The US is talking about fracking more and more, [and] talking about more and more lands to be opened out. This is the reality,” said Narain.

The increasing influence of rightwing parties in Europe had also led to protests against the EU Green Deal, in her opinion. “We need a forum where we can come together as nations to discuss and for the [global] south to play a bigger and bigger role in demanding that,” she said.

Narain said that India should also raise the issue of climate finance and the high cost of capital for renewable energy projects.

“These are issues that we need to have on the table. And, the only way to discuss that is in multi-lateral forums. Yes, India should hold the [COP33] talks. I think India is a very important part of the global leadership. We play an important role,” she said.