When India’s ambassador to the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin, delivered his country’s signed agreement to the Paris climate change plan last Sunday, the world moved one big step closer to a monumental deal on climate.

That India chose to hold the ceremony on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, Oct. 2, made the occasion all the more poignant, with its nod to the importance of action on climate change in the context of the human impacts caused by a changing climate —from food security to how people earn a living.

India ratified the Paris Agreement on October 2, bringing the number of countries that have signed to 62. (PHOTO: Indian Express)

The journey to this point started in Paris last year, when 188 countries committed to being part of the solution in the urgent effort to mitigate against climate change.

Nine months after Paris and with COP22 in Morocco fast approaching, India’s signature helped to put the Paris agreement on the cusp of being a global and legally binding agreement on climate action.

So why did it matter so much that India signed on the dotted line?

Along with China and the United States – who ratified the treaty last month - India is among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions levels. The country’s growing energy demand and emissions levels therefore have important consequences for international efforts to combat climate change.

After Paris the race to secure the signatures of the 55 countries that account for 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions was on. Every single country that signed the agreement in Paris matters, but for the agreement to be meaningful and effective, its ratification by countries like India, on a fast development trajectory and big contributors to emissions levels, was critical.

“India is committed to the shared global vision for combating climate change and protecting the most vulnerable citizens from its adverse impacts.

“India is committed to the shared global vision for combating climate change and protecting the most vulnerable citizens from its adverse impacts. Our commitment to a low-carbon path assumes the unhindered availability of cleaner sources of energy and technologies and financial resources from around the world,” said Saurabh Vijay, and Adviser to India’s Executive Director at the World Bank and chair of the Climate Investment Fund's Clean Technology Fund committee.

India has the world’s second largest population and fourth largest economy. To meet the growing energy needs of its commercial and industrial activity, urbanization and rising standards of living, the south Asian nation needs to increase primary energy supply by 300–400% increase its electricity generation capacity by 500–600% over the next two decades.

Coal-based power plants supply over 50% of India’s electricity, but with domestic supply constrained and imports likely to increase, diversifying its energy supply is critical.

As part of the effort to diversify energy sources and address the unmet energy needs of over 200 million people that are unconnected to the electricity grid, India secured a $625 million loan to support the widespread installation of rooftop solar photo-voltaic (PV), in May this year. The loan is complemented by a co-financing loan of $120 million on concessional terms and a $5 million grant from the CIF’s Clean Technology Fund.

In India, nearly 1 in 4 people still don’t have access to electricity. To increase energy access for the poor, India has set unprecedented, ambitious plans to boost solar energy nationwide.

The loan was made possible by the alignment of government policy and declining costs that make rooftop solar an opportunity to transform India’s energy sector and make access to sustainable, affordable and reliable energy a reality for more people. The overall potential demand for rooftop solar in India is estimated at about 124,000 MW.

To date, 72 countries representing about 56.75 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the Paris Agreement.

Once in effect, the Agreement will enable concrete global action on climate change, including:

  • The reduction of emission levels and ensuring that the global average temperature stays below 2°C above pre-industrial levels;
  • Countries holding each other accountable through a meeting every five years to set progressively more ambitious targets that are informed by the best science; and
  • The strengthening of the world’s capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change, including through support to developing countries with their national adaptation efforts.

Over the past year, the momentum for ratifying the Agreement grew as the promise of Paris became the new normal in terms of building low-carbon economies. After India, all eyes were on the European Union, which, with its 28-country bloc, grabbed the baton to seal the deal that moved the world over the line by getting the highest greenhouse gas emissions contributors to ratify. 

The deal will officially go into effect on Nov. 4, 2016.