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India must keep its own development imperatives in mind and at the Paris climate summit champion the cause of developing countries which are the most vulnerable to climate change, say experts; strongly opposed to any idea of India taking on more mitigation commitments without financing and technology transfer from developed countries, the experts also say the country should place more emphasis on adaptation to climate change effects

(Image by Hasnain Ali)

(Image by Hasnain Ali)

Despite the advice reportedly given by India’s Chief Economic Adviser, the overwhelming consensus at the recent annual climate conference at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, which acquired an urgency given the “concluding” UN summit in Paris this December, was that India shouldn’t commit to any mitigation targets but follow a low-carbon path for its own development imperatives.

There are only some three weeks left for countries to announce their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to combating climate change, though that is a deadline that has been stretched quite a few times already.

India hasn’t still done so, while China, the US, EU and a few other countries have.

US President Barack Obama’s recent proposal to cut emissions from power plants – not overall emissions – by 32% over 2005 levels by 2030 provides sufficient indication of how industrial countries have a very low ambition.

His previous commitment to lower total emissions by only 3% over 2005 levels by 2020 was far too meagre for a country which was the world’s biggest polluter till it was replaced by China.

The EU has committed to reducing its emissions by 40% over 1990 levels – a whole 15 years earlier – by 2030.

Measured by per capita levels, an American consumes around 40,000 units of electricity a year, whereas an Indian makes do with only around 800.

As a paper by the TISS climate group, headed by Prof T. Jayaraman, pointed out, there is a carbon “budget”, the available space in the atmosphere to keep world temperatures from rising above 2°C, which alone will avoid catastrophic climate change globally. Between 2012 and 2100, this amounts to 270 gigatonnes of carbon (GtCO2e).

If this is divided on a per capita basis, industrial countries have 50 GtCO2eq. to “spend” till the end of this century. However, going by pre-2020 pledges and INDCs of these countries till June 6 this year, these countries will be emitting 51 GtCO2e before 2030.

This leaves developing countries with a terrible dilemma: they will either “have to undertake huge mitigation actions which are inequitably large” or face global warming of over 2°C, which they will find far more difficult to adapt to than rich countries.

Chart by Sanjay Vashisht, Climate Action Network South Asia

Chart by Sanjay Vashisht, Climate Action Network South Asia

Meena Raman of the Third World Network in Malaysia pointed out that industrial countries were trying to paper over differences between themselves and some developing countries by referring to China, India, Brazil and a few others as “major emitters”.

This alters the current distinction enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as countries with “common but differentiated responsibilities”. “The real agenda,” Raman alleged, “was to get developing countries quantify what were earlier called the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions or NAMAs.”

“They want major underdeveloped countries to announce how they will cap their emissions, declare a year by which these will peak (like China has by 2030) and then start reducing emissions.”

However, she observed that a country like India has not undergone major industrialisation, unlike China, and is also yet to urbanise. It was not fair for India to undertake emission cuts unless rich countries provided funds and technology to help it mitigate climate change and adapt to it.

Ajaya Dixit, president of the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition in Kathmandu, which co-sponsored the conference, cited how industrial countries were only concentrating on mitigating carbon emissions, while adaptation was an “unrecognised cousin”.

India shouldn’t pin all hopes on Paris, like it did on Copenhagen in 2009, warned D. Raghunandan, president of the All-India People’s Science Network. It was demoralised after that summit and shouldn’t repeat its mistake.

The coalition known as BRIC – consisting of the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which played a pivotal role in the last-minute concord in the Danish capital – were in danger of “joining the race to the bottom” if they didn’t get their act together. The coalition is now known as BRICS after South Africa joined in 2010.

The voluntary “bottom-up” INDCs by rich countries and BRICS were likely to steer the globe into a 3-3.5°C rise by 2100, not 2°C. Neither were there any binding targets even between 2015 and 2020 such as under the Kyoto Protocol – which the US refused to sign – had earlier required.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said at an informal meeting of environment ministers in Paris last month that the summit was restricting countries to voluntary actions and should be limited to that.

“India should be part of the solution, even though not part of the problem…and make substantial contributions towards the global effort,” argued Raghunandan.

“There is a big internationalist role that India must play even while addressing grave impacts of climate change, which are already grave.”

It could raise its earlier commitment made at the UN summit in Durban in 2012 of reducing emissions intensity – the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP – by 20-25% from 2005 levels by 2030.

However, it should make this conditional on rich countries cutting their emissions to keep temperatures within 2°C.

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Charts by Sanjay Vashisht, Climate Action Network South Asia

Charts by Sanjay Vashisht, Climate Action Network South Asia

It should also demonstrate leadership in championing the cause of least developed countries, Africa and island countries, which are the most vulnerable to climate change and not align itself exclusively to BRICS.

Raghunandan recommended a more ambitious 40% reduction in India’s emissions intensity over 2005 levels by 2030, conditional on rich countries bearing a “fair share “of the burden.

India could declare that it would peak at 2040-2045 – what TISS participants dubbed “China+ 10 years and + or – 10% of China’s emissions intensity”.

It would then be emitting 4.5 GtCO2e or less than 3 tonnes per capita annually. This would mean that India would be reducing its carbon emissions by 39% less than business-as-usual.

Raghunandan listed seven “pillars” for mitigation. While energy as a whole accounted for 76% of India’s emissions in 2007, the electricity sector was the biggest culprit due to its dependence on dirty coal.

There could be substantial cuts through raising the efficiency of power plants and improving the quality of coal.  Smart grids would also be a help.

However, demand management – for example in homes and offices – would prove “crucial” by saving 96 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent by 2020, he added.

India could navigate the path to shift from coal to renewables and also promote equity by enabling the poor to access electricity.

Transport is another sector where by encouraging the use of public transport and disincentivising the use of cars, substantial cuts in emissions will be effected.

On the contrary, the Golden Quadrilateral, initiated by the previous Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government in 1999 and planned as highways between the four metros, promotes private over public transport for hauling goods.

In Mumbai, the municipal corporation is at an advanced phase of building a Rs.13,000-crore (approx. $2 billion) 35 kilometre west coast road only for cars.

The shift to rail from road can, with all other measures, reduce emissions by 30% by 2030, according to Raghunandan.

Buildings are a sector where enormous savings of energy are possible. There should be building codes for all homes over 100 sq. metres which prescribe standards for construction materials and use of energy for cooling.

Such codes should be incorporated in smart cities and the current Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) programme, thereby reducing emissions by some 40%. Since most of India’s urbanisation is yet to happen, the scope is obviously great.

According to Raghunandan, there could  be energy efficiency measures in “all industries, BPOs, commercial buildings, apartment blocks with super-efficient appliances (including fans, other household appliances and white goods), as well as motors, pumps, diesel generator sets”. He believes household savings could be higher than 30%.

Another sector is municipal and household waste, which generates the far more polluting methane. Proper treatment can halve these emissions by 2030.

Forests and land use – which figure in the UN negotiations as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) – can lead to substantial reductions, if one-third of the county’s surface is forested.

Finally, agriculture, which is responsible for 17% of the emissions, can be improved to reduce emissions. More efficient paddy cultivation with less flooding and use of less urea can not only halve emissions but lead to both mitigation and adaptation to climate change, with “co-benefits” in better soil health and lower farm costs.

Navroz Dubash of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in Delhi also harps on a co-benefits approach, which the National Action Plan on Climate Change defines as: “Actions that promote our development efforts while yielding climate benefits.”

He has summarized six different modelling scenarios regarding energy and climate, including by The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi, the former Planning Commission and World Bank to serve as the “reference case”.

The reference case and policy prescriptions overlap if India lowers its emissions intensity by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030.

A report this year by CPR and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) shows that between 2012 and 2030, carbon dioxide emissions could rise two or three times, based on an assumption that GDP rises by 7-8.75% per year.

“While this may appear alarming at first sight, these projections do not account for possible limits on emissions due to rising energy imports or domestic environmental pollution,” Dubash told

Moreover, even at these levels, the per capita emissions will range between 2.8 and 3.6 tonnes per year, which is less than the 2011 global average of 4.6 tonnes.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said India would never cross the average of industrialised country emissions, which is an even higher number.

According to Varad Pande, a member of the official Low-Carbon Experts Committee, it will cost India $800 billion between 2010 and 2030 to reach a low-carbon growth path. The cumulative loss of GDP will be $1.3 trillion.

However, many of the newly-instituted UN Sustainable Development Goals will have elements of mitigation and adaptation, including finance, reducing exposure to calamities and energy security.

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