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‘Showed tremendous leadership in Paris’

Asha Ramchandran | New Delhi |

On 9 December 2016, the US-based John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation announced more than $8 million in grants to support India's growing national, regional and global leadership on climate change. This funding marks MacArthur's initial investment to support climate solutions in India since announcing its broader commitment in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage international leadership and cooperation.
MacArthur, which has maintained an office in India since 1994, has recognised India's leadership in addressing climate change with the commitments it made in the Paris Agreement at the Conference of Parties (COP-21) in December 2015.  “Ultimately, India's climate leadership will be determined by its ability to follow through on the pledges it made in Paris,” said Moutushi Sengupta, Director of MacArth ur's India office. “So we want to work with Indian institutions in an open, inclusive way to help lay the groundwork and build the capacities necessary to accelerate the country's transition to a low-carbon future.”
In an e-mail interview with ASHA RAMACHANDRAN, Ms Sengupta elaborated upon the various sectors that McArthur is working with, including Indian research institutions, NGOs, and the government, to address climate change issues in the future. Excerpts:

Q: The MacArthur Foundation has been working extensively with the Indian government on the issue of climate change. What, in your opinion, are the areas that India needs to strengthen if it needs to meet its INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) targets presented at the CoP-21 summit at Paris?
A: India faces a unique set of challenges in its fight against climate change. While it is the third largest emitter of global greenhouse gases, contributing to about seven per cent of total global emissions in 2014, the per capita carbon emission rate is one of the lowest in the world. The country has achieved middle-income status, but still houses the largest number of poor people for any one single country and over 300 million people still live without access to any reliable source of electricity. While fully aware of these challenges, India demonstrated tremendous leadership in Paris, committing to a set of ambitious goals that hold huge potential in positively influencing the emerging climate story not only for the country but for the global landscape as a whole. To achieve its NDC targets, it will be critical to strengthen and build capabilities in several areas: At a primary level, India needs to strengthen its capacities at generating robust and transparent datasets, invest in developing and executing contextually relevant technologies and build new skillsets that can support such technology adoption. For these gains to be sustained over the long term, building and strengthening institutions of high scientific repute is the immediate imperative. Last but not the least, enabling factors that nurture and promote stronger community participation in the country's fight against climate change will need support and encouragement.

Q:. Do you see a mismatch between India's climate change adaptation and mitigation programme and the country's development needs and poverty alleviation programmes? How will the Foundation ensure, as part of its work in India, that the balance is maintained?
A: Following internal reflections and external exploration over the last couple of years, there have been substantial changes in the Foundation's programme priorities. Many programmes are changing or being phased out. Several have played a role in India in the past, such as Conservation and Sustainable Development, Populations and Reproductive Health, and Secondary Education. In future, the Foundation's focus in India will be in supporting action that either mitigates the adverse impacts of climate change or defines and implements growth pathways that are environmentally sound. We recognise that adaptation measures will continue to play a critical role in coming years, but also think that other development institutions have stronger comparative advantages in supporting future action on adaptation in India.

Q: While a Green Climate Fund has been established, little has been done to take it further. What expectations do you hold from the Annexe-I countries (developed nations) to help provide finance?
A: There have been several recent decisions at the global level which makes me optimistic about the deep commitment of world leaders in addressing climate change. The Paris declaration, the Indo-US joint declaration on clean energy, the Indo-China declaration and the Kigali agreement demonstrate commitment by global leaders to find multilateral solutions to challenges associated with the global commons. The level of additional financing required to enable developing countries achieve the goals outlined in these agreements and other recent treaties being negotiated is humungous and it will be necessary to pull in support from both public and private sector actors to make this happen. It is encouraging to note that in the last few months, a number of development institutions have come forward to lessen this financing gap, including setting up dedicated financing facilities, such as the US-India Clean Energy Fund.

Q: Transfer of technology remains another crucial issue before the developing countries. Do you see this getting resolved in the near future, given the urgency of the issue?
A: It is indeed urgent to address the technology gap and it is important that this is met through solutions that are contextually relevant for India. Technological solutions from developed countries will at best provide only partial answers to the challenges and it will be critical to set up institutions and processes that nurture and develop locally appropriate technologies. Such solutions are likely to be far more sustainable in the long run.

Q: MacArthur has been working with Indian research institutions and NGOs as well. How equipped are these two sectors in addressing India's climate change adaptation and mitigation goals?
 A: The entirety of the Foundation's support is made available to civil society organisations of repute, which work closely with both public and private actors to define and implement solutions that proactively contribute to the achievement of national climate goals. The number of civil society organisations working on issues related to climate change adaptation and mitigation are still very few in comparison to the large spectrum of issues that need immediate attention. Capacity to successfully engage with these diverse issues is also limited to only a few institutions. To ensure that the goals on adaptation and mitigation are achieved, it will be vital to nurture the small pool of existing institutions as also support the development of new ones, which can take on the challenges posed by climate change.