Why has India stayed away from both the methane pledge and the forest conservation declaration at Glasgow?

At the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference (the 26th Conference of Parties-COP26) in Glasgow, the United States and the European Union have jointly Glasgow, the United States and the European Union have jointly by 2030. They plan to cut down emissions by 30% compared with the 2020 levels. At least 90 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge, with India and China abstaining so far. Separately, 133 countries have signed a Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use — a declaration initiated by the United Kingdom to “halt deforestation” and land degradation by 2030. China, too, is a signatory to this but India has stayed out.

Why is methane potent as a greenhouse gas?

Methane accounts for about a fifth of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is about 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. In the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, mainly due to human-related activities. Because methane is short-lived, compared with carbon dioxide, but at the same time potent, the logic is that removing it would have a significant positive impact. Methane is emitted from a variety of anthropogenic (human-influenced) and natural sources. The human sources include landfills, oil and natural gas systems, agricultural activities as well as livestock rearing, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, and certain industrial processes. Sources of methane can be harnessed for energy and in principle reduce dependence on energy sources that emit high carbon dioxide but the lack of incentives and efficient energy markets to realise this is an impediment to curtailing methane emissions.

Why hasn’t India signed the pledge?

India is the third largest emitter of methane, primarily because of the size of its rural economy and by virtue of having the largest cattle population. India has stated earlier that it plans to deploy technology and capture methane that can be used as a source of energy. In a communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India said approximately 20% of its anthropogenic methane emissions come from agriculture (manure management), coal mines, municipal solid waste, and natural gas and oil systems. To tap into this “potential,” the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) claims to have invested heavily in a national strategy to increase biogas production and reduce methane emissions. “The biogas strategy includes many policy initiatives, capacity-building, and public-private partnerships. In addition to promoting biogas development, the strategy supports goals for sustainable development, sanitation improvements, and increased generation of renewable energy,” the MNRE notes.

What does the Glasgow Declaration on forest and land use entail?

The Glasgow Declaration was signed by 133 countries, which represent 90% of the globe’s forested land. The declaration is also backed by a $19-billion commitment, though whether this translates into legally binding flows remains to be seen. The Glasgow Declaration is a successor to a failed 2014 New York Declaration for Forests — that for a while saw significant global traction — and promised to reduce emissions from deforestation by 15%-20% by 2020 and end it by 2030. However, deforestation has only increased, and is responsible for about 20% of the total carbon emissions. One of the goals of the pledge, to halt deforestation, is to ensure that natural forests aren’t cleared out for commercial plantations. It also aims to halt industrial logging, though several independent estimates say the demand for wood pellets, which stokes deforestation, is only expected to increase. Finally, the declaration seeks to strengthen the rights of indigenous tribes and communities to forestland.

Why hasn’t India signed up?

There is again no official reason accorded but reports suggest that Indian officials are unhappy with the wording that suggests meeting the obligations under the pledge could also mean restrictions in international trade. That is unacceptable, they say, as trade falls under the ambit of the World Trade Organization, of which India is a member. India is also mulling changes to its forest conservation laws that seek to encourage commercial tree plantation as well as infrastructure development in forestland. India’s long-term target is to have a third of its area under forest and tree cover, but it is so far 22%. It also proposes to create a carbon sink, via forests and plantations, to absorb 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

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