While India has pledged ambitious targets in its climate action plan, many challenges and questions remain on the trajectory it will have to follow to fulfil its development agenda

Rooftop solar panel in India (Image by Reji)

Rooftop solar panel in India (Image by Reji)

“As far as India is concerned, INDC was a missed opportunity,” according to Navroz Dubash, senior fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research.

Speaking at an event on the sidelines of the ongoing climate summit in Paris, Dubash said the Indian government had not taken enough inputs from think tanks and state governments before submitting its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

With almost all countries having submitted their INDCs, they are expected to form the bedrock of the Paris climate agreement which will come into effect from 2020. Now the question is how INDCs will shape development. According to Harald Winkler of MAPS International, South Africa – who chaired the event – this is the more important and compelling issue facing most governments.

Dubash – who works closely with the Mitigation Action Plans and Scenarios (MAPS) system developed to help prepare INDCs – held that it was bypassed in India. The process of gathering inputs and information on what needs to be done was kept offline.

The MAPS process has been developed in collaboration among developing countries to establish economies that are both carbon efficient and climate resilient. It helps combine research and stakeholders’ interests in policy planning. It hosted an INDC lab to support Latin American countries as they prepared their INDCs.

Speaking at the event – which focused on the experiences of building INDCs in some developing countries – Dubash said the key question now was how these action plans would shape growth and development in the next decade.

In its submission to UNFCCC, India has pledged to cut 33-35% of its emissions intensity by 2030 and also has set a target of generating 40% of its electricity through renewable sources. Dubash cautioned that this 40% will include hydropower and nuclear.

India’s climate policies are driven by two long term contexts, according to him. One is to what extent India can avoid worst impacts of climate change such as the recent Chennai floods. The second is that climate change is still not a big issue on the political radar. The discourse centres on energy security and access and often raises concerns that climate actions will curtail development in a country where over 350 million people still have no access to commercial energy.

With India expected to draw 60% of its power from coal, and under criticism for its reliance on this fossil fuel, the big question is whether it can provide energy solely through renewable sources. But, as Dubash pointed out, low carbon development should also be considered because it helps curb air pollution, a growing concern in Indian cities.

INDC effect in Brazil

There are concerns in many other developing countries as well. Emilio La Rovere of IESBrazilpointed out that with Brazil in deep political and economic crisis, many are worried about implementation of its INDC. The country has pledged 37% emission reduction by 2030, compared to 2005.

The good news is reduction of deforestation in Brazil since 2004; the deforestation in 2010 was 40% below 2005. But Brazil is emitting more greenhouse gases by using coal, oil and gas, as well as through cattle ranching. La Rovere thought these will now become the major sources of concern, but he could only give estimates, since there has been no inventory since 2010.

The estimate is that Brazil’s emissions have gone up by 2.5% in 2014. Emissions due to deforestation dropped 18% in the last four years, but emissions from fossil fuel use were up 30%. And this year, the political crisis took its toll. Deforestation went up; so did emissions.

La Rovere thought 2016 would be difficult, with a recession looming. But it could also be an opportunity, with new investment in low carbon infrastructure.

The effect in South Africa

With South Africa facing a serious drought, it will be difficult to implement its INDC, said Hilton Trollip of MAPS International and University of Cape Town. Any move towards renewable energy has always faced serious opposition from coal mine owners in South Africa. But that should not deter the government, he held.

Trollip quoted studies that showed decarbonising South Africa’s economy can lead to more jobs, sustainable livelihoods and better income distribution. He was critical of some current plans, such as building more rail lines to carry coal. All this happened, he felt, when INDCs were prepared by environment ministries, with other government departments neither knowing nor caring.

It was clear that INDCs will shape the development path from 2020, and many countries may struggle to make the adjustment.

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