Hosting the Climate COP in 2028: Prospects for India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

December 17, 2023

After hosting a successful G20 Summit, India is more than willing to host a climate summit meeting in 2028. On the second day (December 1) of the 28th Conference of Parties (COP 28) meeting to the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Prime Minister Modi, during his speech in the high-level segment, offered to host COP 33 in India. What has prompted the PM to offer to host such a significant environmental summit in 2028?

As one of the members/parties to the UNFCCC, India has all the rights to host a climate COP. Hosting a climate COP, or for that matter, any intergovernmental environmental COPs is not new to India. In 2002, India had the opportunity to host COP 8 to the UNFCCC from October 23 to November 1 in New Delhi when PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, led NDA government, was at the helm. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to participate in the proceedings of COP 8 as a research student of environmental diplomacy (JNU). From the outset, the COP, represented by all members, is the highest decision-making body of the modern multilateral environmental convention. In 1981, India hosted COP 3 to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Flora and Fauna (CITES), in which the present logo of the Convention, the Asian Elephant, was adopted. Similarly, the COP 11 to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was held in Hyderabad in early October 2012. Last, New Delhi hosted COP 14 to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in early September 2019.

Meanwhile, the PM's offer to host the COP in 2028 has consciously attracted reasonable discussions. Before detailing PM's offer, let us understand how the country is selected to host the UN climate conference. The regional group members from the five regions of the UN - the African Group, the Asia-Pacific Group, the Eastern Europe Group, the Latin American and Caribbean Group and the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) - hold consultations to select the country to make an offer to host a conference. Once agreed, the country selected to host sends its offer formally to the UNFCCC secretariat. Ultimately, the COP adopts a decision on the venue. COP usually takes place annually, biannually, or triennially. On December 9, COP 28 adopted Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, as the host of COP 29 after a fraught consultation and backing from other Eastern Europe Group members. Earlier, Russia blocked bids from European Union countries to host due to the ongoing clash with Kyiv.

Meanwhile, initial opposition to each other's bidding, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Caucasian countries that fought several times over Nagorno Karabakh enclaves, agreed that Azerbaijan would host the COP 29 from 11-22 November 2024. In addition, Brazil will host COP 30 from 10-21 November 2025. Thus, hosting a COP has a definitive political nuance.   

Has India followed such a process to host the COP 33, which is still five years away? In all probability, the decision on COP 33 will be declared during COP 32. In a special case, having such clout on the international stage, India can persuade to get the decision on COP 33 earlier than stipulated. However, it is argued that the PM's offer has personal, professional, and political contours and elements of economics in hosting a global summit, especially the mammoth climate conference.   

As a proficient organizer, the PM, as attested by his associates in the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), cultural and nationalist voluntary organizations and ideological fountainhead of the PM's political party, and within the Gujarat administration, is determined to demonstrate India's cultural and diplomatic prowess through the summit. Just as he demonstrated during India's recent G20 presidency, the PM is willing to go to great lengths to ensure the event's success. He personally oversees initiatives with both national and international significance, exemplified by his hands-on involvement in projects such as the Central Vista Project.

The PM may be trying to put himself as the climate crusader and global leader on the world stage. During his initial year of prime ministership, he was brutally criticised for his remarks on the causes and impacts of climate change. Since then, the PM has transformed himself as the champion of climate cause and steered India into various prospects of low carbon growth. From the Paris Agreement on Climate Change to the International Solar Alliance to LiFE (lifestyle for Environment), the PM has left undeniable personal involvement in shaping those initiatives to tackle climate change in India and internationally. The PM calls for mass movement on climate change. What else is needed to showcase such leadership ambitions than hosting COP 33, the next global stocktake (GST) round after this just-concluded COP? The GST process occurs every five years, as agreed during the 2015 Paris Agreement, to see if the member countries have collectively made progress towards meeting goals. If not, then chart a new course in climate action plans. If various government reports are to be believed, India is ahead of other countries to meet its climate goals under the 2015 Paris Agreement. So, the stage is set for India to get its due recognition as the lead nation on the world stage and the PM as the leader.

The climate COPs serve as major platforms for private enterprises seeking to invest in climate-smart innovations, akin to large trade expos. India must not overlook the economic benefits of hosting such an event. A successful G20 summit and its associated outreach initiatives have yielded political gains in various state elections. Consequently, hosting a large climate summit in 2028 could offer an electoral advantage in the same year's state elections and the 2029 General Elections in India. However, there are challenges associated with hosting, primarily concerning the choice of venue and timing. The issue of severe pollution in Delhi during November - December must be taken into account. Alternatively, COP 33 can be hosted in Ahmadabad, India's summit capital. Another crucial aspect to contemplate is whether the PM can allow international NGOs and CSOs accredited to the UN to stage protests within the UN-mandated process, targeting the most significant greenhouse gas emitting nations and inaction of their leaders in transitioning away from fossil fuel dependency, including India, that is part and parcel of the COP.

Author Note
Avilash Roul (PhD) is a Senior Fellow at the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi, and a Principal Scientist at Periurban Initiative.