Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the 2nd India-Nordic Summit along with Prime Ministers Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland, Jonas Gahr Støre of Norway, Magdalena Andersson of Sweden, and Sanna Marin of Finland. Interestingly, four of the five heads of states were women who apart from their progressive politics and gender oriented policies have worked tirelessly on mobilising actions on climate change.
What seems to have emerged since 2018, when the first India-Nordic Summit took place in Stockholm, is an emergence of committed climate leaders with solution-driven and problem-solving approaches, whether it is the priority of achieving SDGs by 2030 or renewable energy and clean technology. These leaders acknowledge the universal nature of climate change and global efforts and responsibilities in keeping temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The principal aim of such leadership is not only to advance political cooperation but to expand economic relations and green growth.
India is only the second country after the US to have a summit-level meeting with the five Nordic countries. It proves the growing salience of India and its expanding footprint in global affairs. In more practical terms, India’s IT-services companies like Tech Mahindra, Wipro, HCL Technologies and Infosys have made sizeable presence in the Nordic region. An increasingly ‘skilled and trained’ India with high quality workforce finds in the Nordic countries a destination of aspiration and acceptance. Moreover, the Nordic countries rank among the most business-friendly nations in the world. The World Happiness Report consistently puts the five Nordic countries in the top ten annual ranking. Clearly, the Nordics are getting it right when it comes to the level of average life evaluations.
Over the years there has been an upward swing in the relations between India and the Nordic countries or what can be described as a principle and pragmatic convergence. With Denmark at a bilateral level there is the ‘green strategic partnership’. A ‘joint action plan’ exists with Sweden. Norway has a ‘2030 strategic vision’ with India, while with Finland there is cooperation on post-pandemic recovery and with Iceland emphasis has been put on geothermal energy. The total bilateral trade and services between India and the Nordic Countries is currently USD 13 billion.
The summit while taking stock of the progress since 2018 significantly focused on multilateral cooperation in post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change, sustainable development, innovation, digitalization, and green and clean growth. Not limiting the scope, the leaders also drew attention to the global security and discussed cooperation in maritime sector with an emphasis on sustainable ocean management and cooperation in the Arctic region. Seizing the opportunity and outlining the value of cooperation, Prime Minister Modi invited Nordic companies for investing in the Blue Economy sector, especially in India’s Sagarmala project which aims to promote industrial port-led development. A total of 14 coastal economic zones are planned.
Modi soon after the meeting tweeted, “The India-Nordic Summit will go a long way in boosting India’s ties with the region. Together, there is much that our nations can achieve and contribute to global prosperity and sustainable development.” The following day, a Denmark leading newspaper Politiken ran a headline, Hele verden vil vaere venner med Indien (Everyone wants to be friend with India).
Nordics exceptionalism and India’s activism
The Nordic region has been a zone of peace and stability with a rich tradition in conflict resolution. Peace trademark distinctly outlines the Nordic countries. Collectively the Nordics have established a vision to make the region the world’s most sustainable and integrated by 2030. In terms of economic development, innovation and green solutions, the Nordics performance have been well above the EU average. Intra-regional trade and economic integration has been high. While the GDP of the Nordics declined due to pandemic situation in 2020, it is expected to grow again in 2021-2022 between three to four percent. South Asian countries need to learn from the Nordics experience on economic integration. Only 5 percent of South Asia trade is within the region and consequently remains the least integrated region in the world. It has, however, the potential to increase by an estimated USD 44 billion, which would mean, according to some calculation, national income can increase by as much as 7.6 percent for India and 16.6 percent for Bangladesh.
Like the Nordics, India too solidly believes in peace and negotiations. Modi’s leadership in framing new climate mitigation and adaptation mechanisms has a global appreciation, for example, setting up the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Such leadership is not only an expression of India’s standing to fight climate change through cost-effective renewable energy but equally a positioning of its global power status that is benign, rule-based and creates opportunities for wider diplomatic engagement on crucial development issues. Similarly, India has taken a strong lead in reaffirming its commitment to the cause of Disaster Risk Reduction.
The Nordic countries have a long tradition in setting ambitious climate actions and consider energy and climate policy together when deciding socio-economic objectives. Looking ahead, Norway has set 2030 to be carbon neutral or net-zero emission; Finland 2035; Iceland 2040; Sweden 2045; and Denmark 2050. India would achieve carbon neutrality by 2070. Again India’s renewable energy path catches attention. It aims to attain 175 GW by 2022 – 100 GW from solar, 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from biomass and 5 GW from hydro. By 2030 India hopes to achieve 500 MW. The principal objective is to advance economic development by using sustainable energy and at the same time ensuring access to affordable and reliable energy for its people.
As part of its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement (2015), India plans to reduce its carbon emission intensity (emission per unit of GDP) by 33-35 per cent from 2005 levels over the next 15 years. Simultaneously it has set a target of producing 40 per cent of its installed electricity capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. The renewable energy targets will play a significant role in the energy transition from coal-based power generation. Resultantly, India has positioned itself as the foremost country offering favourable renewable and clean energy markets.
Arctic: A new front of cooperation
The Arctic region will add a new thrust to the strategic partnership with Nordic countries. All the Nordic countries are members of the Arctic Council along with Russia, Canada and the US. In March 2022, India released its Arctic Policy with the tagline ‘Building a Partnership for Sustainable Development’. The policy has six pillars:
– Strengthening India’s scientific research and cooperation;
– Climate and environmental protection;
– Economic and human development, transportation and connectivity;
– Governance and international cooperation;
– National capacity building in the Arctic region
Overall the policy will help formulate implications of climate change and ice melting (Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the world) on India’s economic, military, and strategic interests related to global shipping routes, energy security, and exploitation of mineral wealth. But more specifically mitigating the impact of climate change on the agro-climatic conditions of India, whose food security depends significantly on ecosystem stability.
A new Arctic partnership with the Nordic countries will need to have both a scientific-climate emphasis and an economic and commercial approach. For example, India is the third-largest energy-consuming country in the world, the third-largest oil importer (83 per cent) and the fourth-largest importer of gas. India’s gas mix in the energy basket amounts to only 6 percent, which is among the lowest in the world. This is expected to increase to 15 per cent by 2030. The Arctic region can, therefore, potentially address India’s energy security needs.
What hitherto remained an unchartered territory; the Nordic-India cooperation is poised to chart a new political and economic path. The Nordic states together have an economy of USD 1.6 trillion. India is now the third largest global economy and the fastest growing major economy. It makes eminent sense to build on what has been achieved and determine solidly the future outcomes.
(The author works at the Manhohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)