The planet is warming up, and over 20 warmest years have been recorded since the 1980s. Unsurprisingly July 2015 was the warmest globally in the last 136 years. It was a grim reminder of how climate change is becoming a reality. This trans-national threat looms large, and no is country weather-proof enough to tide over it. Over 200 countries are expected to gather at Paris to strike a deal on Climate Change in an attempt to control the temperature rise beyond 2 degree Celsius. This is inclusive of a legal obligation to scale down the green house gas (GHG) emissions, besides passing a firm resolution to outline the climate actions post 2020. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) will be the conduit for new international commitments to achieve a low-carbon, climate resilient future. Only with a concrete plan to enable the devolution of climate fund ($100 billion) to aid the developing world, will the Paris conclave be worthwhile.
As we are hell-bent on ensuring strategic security, booting economic linkages and countering terrorism, can the negligence towards climate change initiatives be pardoned? The effects of Permafrost (a layer of soil and stones that lies below the freezing point throughout the year; and a storehouse of carbon dioxide and methane-major green house gases) on the ice-clad Alps, Artics or Himalayas are just the same. A warming planet will cause permafrost to degrade in the long run releasing more of these gases to the environment, accentuating atmospheric warming. Landslides, ground subsidence, and erosion will naturally follow suit.
The Indian sub-continent is not in possession of that extra shield to brave the irreversible consequences of climate change. We are yet to recover from the trauma of floods, hailstorms, droughts and heat waves that in wrecked havoc in Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Maharashtra, Bihar; and Andhra, Telangana regions respectively. The much hyped Sustainable Development Goals to protect the planet and to end poverty and hunger can bear fruits only in a conducive environment, where the posterity will not be at the receiving end due to anthropogenic actions. The Modi government’s take on climate change is perplexing. The author of the “Convenient Action- Gujarat Response to Challenges of Climate Change” (e-book by Shri. Narendra Modi) has belittled climate change many a times, when compared to other problems faced by India. At the same time, they blame the West for its contributions, while continuing its aggressive rhetoric for renewable energy. Though our carbon emissions account only 3% of the global emissions, our strategy to deal with climate change should not take a minimalist path. A study by the BP (2014) showed that, India occupies the fourth position in and after U.S, China and the European Union in terms of carbon emissions. Our economic trajectory will necessitate an increased growth of coal.
The Indian Climate Actions
Official statements abound over how India will consider adaptation, mitigation, technology and finance in its INDCs. The procrastination by the decision-makers did leave scope for lots of speculations. Were we waiting for the right political climate to spill the beans? The decision to declare the INDCs on the birth anniversary of our Father of the Nation – Mahatma Gandhi is layered with moral dimensions on the Indian commitments for the same. The Sino-U.S synergy in climate cannot be expected to cool off faster either. Already the government was playing hide and seek with its minimalist statements such as, “ India will not pay for the cost of West” etc.
Any climate adaptation or mitigation initiative in India is orchestrated under the aegis of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. Plans to re-structure the programmes on wind energy, health, coastal areas, etc have been chalked out. The expansion in the National Water Mission and mission on sustainable agriculture is intended to adhere to its mitigation plan to cut the GHG emissions and to reduce the risk from climate change. Keeping 2030 as its target, many ambitious projects have been set forth. The conditions or the manufacturing capability for indigenous production of low carbon technologies poses a serious hurdle to many of our ambitious targets. We talk about solar lighting systems across 20 million rural households. Surely it is not the only way out. The Modi government clamour from the rooftops for “Make in India “& Digital India. Nevertheless, when can we have a Musk brandishing about battery technology? Emission-less transportation is still mystery to a lay man in India. All these, do not disprove the renewable sources in any way. Renewable sources are costlier, solar penetration is still less, and feasibility of huge hydro projects has its own ecological footprint. It is high time, India come up with a Powerwall (a home battery developed by Tesla Motors that charges electricity generated from solar panels) to earn the dividends of our natural blessings- solar energy.
The recently released official statement doubled the target to 350 GW from non fossil fuel based energy sources (the previous target was 175 GigaWatts). The wind, biomass and small hydro-projects are also in the pipeline, to ensure that the country achieves this goal. The emphasis on adaptation actions was clearly visible. The call for investments in sectors vulnerable to climate change such as water resources, agriculture, and the Himalayan region are all part of its mechanisms to deal with the impacts of climate change. The previous efforts in deploying offshore wind projects into the surrounding seas or efforts to save 100 million kilowatt-hour unit of power consumption by giving away with less efficient CFL bulbs could have had a better long term plan. They do send positive signals of our resolve towards climate action.
Energy efficient appliances and equipment is a welcome step. The Perform, Achieve, Trade ( PAT) mechanism to facilitate energy efficiency improvements in large industrial units and facilities must work in unison with an energy efficiency financing platform. Presently the scheme covers over one-third of the total energy consumption in the country and the proposed target to cover more than half of the energy consumed in the country can materialize only if the refineries, railways etc are also included in the same market based energy efficient trading mechanism. The decision to expand the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency is indeed a precise step. Concurrently, it can help in achieving the targets besides covering large industry sectors like railways. The Auto Fuel Vision Policy (2025) aimed towards improving auto fuel quality in terms of vehicular emissions, alongside probing alternate fuels is yet to kickstart in full swing. The new commitments have re-instated the need to increase the share of alternate fuels and to reduce the emissions from transportation sector as a long term goal in this regard. Effective manipulation of carbon sinks can go a long way in combining adaptation and mitigation requirements. Regardless of these shortcomings, the afforestation plans by 2030 can go a long way in the creation of a carbon sink of 2.5- 3 billion tonnes of Carbon.
Interoperability of knowledge networks in the country can improve and develop the research capabilities in climate science. This could be a gateway for promoting and financing clean energy technologies. A comprehensive INDC would be one that necessitates a fine balance of technological and financial transfers. Over $ 2.5 trillion would be required for achieving the new targets. Over 50 countries have come forward with their contributions. Since the INDCs are not binding commitments, it is unlikely for countries to have grand schemes of action. As on expected lines, India sought for an extension of its emission intensity reduction targets (or emissions per unit of GDP) which includes a 20-25% reduction by 2020 from the 2005 levels. The new target pledged is 33-35 % reduction by 2030 from 2005 levels. India is also pinning its hopes on the devolution of the Green Climate Fund to satiate its technology and finance requirements. In the recently concluded Like Minded Developing Countries meet, (a formal negotiating group including India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia) climate finance was the bone of contention. There were calls to revamp the eligibility criteria for climate finance initiatives, by simultaneously increasing and decreasing the donor base receiving finance. At the same time, the countries were against any obligatory review mechanism for the INDCs. Only with a clear cut roadmap on the fulfillment of ($ 100 billion per year by 2020 ) the GCF promise can this climate of negativism change at Paris. The Indian commitments are notable as to how it brought back the focus on to climate adaptation schemes.
Climate Justice is a term that augurs well for India too. The Indian PM during the United Nations General Assembly talks also highlighted the same issue and reiterated the Indian stand on how the West cannot impose India to cap its emissions. The CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibility) principle will be adhered by the South bloc with an emphasis on technological and financial access. India has reached that level of emissions intensity to blindly follow suit China, who renewed its commitment to peak the emissions by 2030. Obviously, the peak year for India will be decades later, as our emissions are much lower in comparison to China. The aggressive pitch for clean energy by India is noted globally, and Indian ambitions to generate over 40% of energy consumption from renewable sources will be a daunting task.
* Author is Managing Associate in Centre for Strategic Studies. Views are personal