NSG Rejection Derails India’s Potential Commitment to Paris Agreement

NSG Rejection Derails India’s Potential Commitment to Paris Agreement

Smog in New Delhi, India (Source: Mark Danielson, Flickr)

Smog in New Delhi, India (Source: Mark Danielson, Flickr)

What does the trade of nuclear materials have to do with reducing greenhouse gas emissions? The connection between the two may be more complex than you might think. India’s recent failed candidacy to earn membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has discouraged New Delhi’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement was drawn up at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last year and sought, among other things, to reduce global greenhouse emissions around the world in an effort to protect the environment and stop global warming. On April 22, 2016, India and 177 other countries signed the treaty with an understanding that the accord would take effect once 55 countries that account for 55 percent of the world’s emissions ratified it. Prior to India’s rejection from the NSG, 18 countries had already ratified it and a ratification by India would have meant that countries accounting for 55.49 percent of the emissions would have been committed to the agreement. This would have meant that only the remaining countries accounting for a meager .51 percent would have needed to ratify the agreement to finally make it binding on all signatories.

Ramifications of India’s NSG Rejection

However, India’s commitment to ratifying the Paris Agreement largely rested on its acceptance in the NSG. Following the rejection on June 24 of India’s application to join the nuclear cartel, Indian External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup informed the media that India’s acceptance in the NSG would have allowed the nation to “move forward” on the Paris Agreement and that the rejection would now stymie progress.

Why are the two seemingly distinct issues so intertwined? India sought admittance into the NSG since it would allow the country to develop its nuclear energy capabilities by enabling the import of the latest nuclear technology from other nuclear powers. Currently, India can only use the nuclear technology it develops itself and much of it is far behind that used by other nuclear powers. Additionally, as part of the NSG, India would have license to sell nuclear components to other countries, creating a boost for its economy. The increased capacity for nuclear energy would in turn reduce India’s reliance on fossil fuels (especially coal), resulting in far less emissions and a fulfillment of the Paris Agreement. However, without the ability to develop its nuclear energy programs or to export nuclear products to other countries, India views that a commitment to the Paris Agreement would provide no benefits and only damages its economy.

In other words, India was practically offering the barter of a commitment to the Paris Agreement for NSG membership. The offer was received coldly by many NSG members. The NSG officially demands that every member must be part of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or the NPT. This treaty, however, only acknowledges the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China as legitimate nuclear powers. If India signed the NPT, it would be legally obligated to terminate its nuclear weapons program. India sought NSG membership to become a stronger nuclear power, not to cease being one. India was hoping that an exception would be made in its case. However, while that idea was entertained, several members of the NSG made loud objections to potential Indian membership. China was the loudest voice, and it appears China’s motivations were to retain regional military and economic paramountcy in Asia and contain the growth of a potential rival in India. Some of China’s major trade partners, like Brazil, also voted against India.

Even the United States, although voting in favor of NSG membership for India, did not match China’s passionate arguments against India with equally passionate arguments for India. The United States reportedly was quiet through most of the talks, giving moderate verbal support for India occasionally, but it hardly applied pressure to any of skittish NSG members. The result now is that India, the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will unlikely ratify the Paris Agreement any time soon. To make matters worse, the recent Brexit vote could result in the United Kingdom withdrawing from its pledge to the Paris Agreement as well.

Future Direction of Climate Change and Indian Environmental Policy

This regression in the Paris Agreement resonates in many ways with the setbacks experienced with the Kyoto Protocol. Although the United States under Bill Clinton lead the charge for the protocol, Congress eventually refused to sign it. Congress believed the protocol unfairly targeted wealthy nations like the United States with tough restrictions while giving underdeveloped ones like India fewer measures, thus giving the latter a competitive advantage in industry. The United States inability to find a compromise with developing countries like India greatly inhibited the success of the Kyoto Protocol, and one can’t help but notice that the United States’ recent failure to help get India into the NSG will also result in a similar setback to environmental protection.

Emission reform in India is greatly needed if the world wants to seriously combat the damage emissions are causing on the environment worldwide. India is the third largest producer of emissions; its emissions are only increasing. India is also home to some of the most polluted cities in the world. While Beijing is notorious for some of its residents wearing masks, the World Health Organization reported last year that India’s capital, New Delhi, is more polluted than any city in China. Considering the important role India must play in securing a better environmental future, environment activists can only hope that measures will be found to bring India back into serious discussions and commitments for environmental protection.

Elham Bakhtary is a PhD candidate in the History Department at George Washington University.  He is a recipient of a Sigur Center 2016 summer research grant and is currently researching the reign of Afghanistan’s Amir Sher Ali Khan.