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Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Climate Action: An Analysis of India's and Germany's Commonalities

Article by: Noah J. Gordon with edits by Release Peace

This article is an adaptation of an article by Noah Gordon as part of a publication collaboration with the Foreign & Security Policy section of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Noah Gordon is acting co-director of the Sustainability, Climate, and Geopolitics program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC.

Billions in Greenhouse Gases and Billions in Money

Climate finance -from developed countries and for developing countries- was a priority at COP26 in Glasgow in 2022. A report co-written by Canada and Germany found that wealthy countries had failed to meet their 2009 promise to deliver $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 and would not hit that target until 2023. A number of countries had announced increases in their finance funding in the run-up to the conference: Germany said it would increase its finance from 4 billion to 6 billion, while the EU Commission promised an additional $4 billion from 2021-27, taking its total financing over the period up to $28 billion.

Nevertheless, the Alliance of Small Island States said in a statement that it needed more support more quickly. Indian PM Narendra Modi made clear that the missed $100 billion target was an order of magnitude too small: “India expects developed countries to make $1 trillion available as climate finance as soon as possible,” he told the plenary.

The Private Sector Side of the Equation

However, climate finance in the form of public grants, loans and directly mobilised private capital are just one piece of the puzzle. The 450 firms that make up the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero represent about $130 trillion in assets, so redirecting just a small share of that money towards climate protection projects would dwarf the impact of meeting the $100 billion pledge. The way to funnel funds towards climate protection, for both Germany and India, is with a combination of regulation, tax, trade, financial disclosure, and procurement policy. Finally, there is the climate money spent in the context of development partnerships: Germany announced a further $1.2 billion in development money for India at COP26. Indo-German development cooperation focuses on three areas: sustainable management of natural resources, urban development, and the transition to renewables. If it is to keep warming below 2 degrees, the world will need more and stronger climate-related partnerships like this one.

India and Germany: Surprising Similarities

As different as Germany and India are when it comes to, say, GDP per capita, they do face similar challenges. Both countries produce very little oil and gas and are therefore reliant on energy imports: this shapes their foreign economic policy and adds another reason to accelerate the rollout of domestic renewables. Both countries also depend on coal. Coal power plants still generate over 20% of German electricity, and Germany’s relatively slow coal phase-out, which should now be completed by 2030, has held back the German energy transition. India burns coal to generate about two-thirds of its electricity, and Indian negotiators made headlines at COP26 with their efforts to change the language in the Glasgow Climate Pact from “phase-out” coal to “phase-down” coal. In both places, coal’s importance derives not only from its role in electricity supply but also its place in the national political economy: the coal industry remains important for the local economy in German states such as Brandenburg and Saxony, while transporting coal is a vital source of revenue for state-owned Indian Railways. “

Environment, Climate, or Both?

The founding of the German Greens, in 1980, predated widespread concern about greenhouse gas emissions. At the time, it was not climate issues but environmental issues – clean air and water, nuclear waste – that were top of mind. Recent developments in Germany and India show that climate and environmental issues remain deeply intertwined. See for instance what’s been happening in Delhi. In November 2021, Indian regulators closed six coal power plants around the Indian capital – not to lower carbon emissions but rather to reduce toxic smog. Delhi is the most polluted capital city in the world, measured by the levels of dangerous fine particulates (PM 2.5). Dr. Sunita Narain and her colleagues at the Centre for Science and Environment have been working to address the problem for decades, for example by advocating for cleaner-burning compressed gas to be used in Delhi buses. Whereas the effects of greenhouse gas emissions are delayed and dispersed around the globe, the related problem of air pollution is an urgent, local issue, which means it can be easier to motivate people to take local action rather than free-ride. By cleaning up the global energy sector, humans will clean up the air they breathe as well. 

…And More Similarities With Germany

For its part, Germany has faced its own, different air pollution problems in recent years, in part due to diesel engines and the particulate emissions that were at the centre of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Cities such as Stuttgart and Hamburg have banned older diesel vehicles from parts of the city. Under the leadership of Dr. Dirk Messner, the German Environmental Agency has continued to call for measures that would benefit both the climate and environment, such as increased use of public transport and higher carbon pricing.

New Responsibilities

What is the German government’s approach to the climate-environment nexus? The current government has reassigned ministerial responsibilities for climate and environmental issues: The responsibility for international climate policy is expected to move from the Environment Ministry to the German Foreign Office under Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. Keeping Germany prosperous as it reorients its economy to operate within planetary boundaries is a task for all of government.

Admittedly, the thin, blurred line between climate and environmental issues can lead to disagreement when priorities diverge. The European Commission’s proposal to recognize certain investments in nuclear power as “sustainable” has kicked off an argument between those EU member states who support nuclear as a low-carbon power source (good for the climate) and those who point out that there is still no long-term solution for dealing with dangerous nuclear waste (bad for the environment). Both Germany and India have to navigate a world in which allies and partners have different approaches to reducing emissions. India, for instance, plans to build new nuclear power plants, adding 9 nuclear reactors to its existing fleet of 22 by 2024.

A Challenge for All of Government

Environment, finance, development, diplomacy – climate change affects each one of these issue areas. As the German Foreign Office wrote in 2020, “climate policy is no longer merely environmental policy but rather has long shifted to the centre of foreign policy.”

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