India’s climate pledge looks a tall order
To achieve the planned scale-up in renewables, India needs to show both the will and the ability to raise funds
India submitted its climate change mitigation action plan called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs) on October 2, coinciding with Mahatma Gandhi’s 146th birth anniversary. Among its main features, itincludes (a) 33-35 per cent carbon emission reduction per unit of GDP from 2005 level by 2030 which is being termed as ‘ carbon emission intensity’; (b) installing capacity for producing 40 per cent clean and renewable energy, in the total energy mix, which mainly consists of solar and wind energy, hydro-power, bio-mass and nuclear energy; and (c) aggressive re-afforestation efforts to be able to absorb 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.
It is noteworthy here that India betters China’s renewable energy target of 20 per cent and that of the US of 30 per cent, which are the two world largest emitters of total carbon emissions. Further, although Beijing’s emission intensity reduction target is 60-65 per cent and India’s is 33-35 per cent, both nations would be at the same level of carbon emission intensity of 0.12 tonnes per billion dollars of GDP by 2030 because India’s carbon emission intensity is much lower than that of China at present. Also, India’s per capita carbon emissions would be a modest 3.5 tonnes in 2030 (presently 2.44 compared to China’s and the US’s at 12 tonnes — presently 8.13 and 19.86 respectively). Many other nations such as Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, the EU and Mexico, to name a few, would have much higher per capita emission even in 2030.
There appear to be some foreseen pitfalls in implementing our INDCs and they need to be taken care of by taking some suitable steps.
First, sun and wind energy generation can fluctuate considerably at times, and therefore the grid would require back-up sources and bulk power storage. We need smart grids and smart sub-stations that will evacuate power and also store it. Further, it is estimated that we need 5 lakh acres of land for installation of solar panels, the acquisition of which would pose problems in some States and, consequently, contribute to its high cost. Also, transmission would need to be augmented to evacuate all new solar power. To reduce pressure on land, the government should enjoin upon all new high-rise buildings and existing public and private offices to install solar power units. Some desirable incentives may be given to individuals for setting up roof-top solar panels.
Second, our pledge document talks about increasing nuclear power from 5GW to 63 GW by 2030. With the liability issue still bogging down nuclear power, our government should deal with this issue.
Third, India needs additional forest and tree cover in order to create a carbon sink to the tune of 680-817 million tonnes by 2030, thus creating a total carbon sink of 2.5-3.0 billion tonnes. While we should plant trees alongside existing and new highways, this is going to be a daunting task.
Fourth, a funds requirement of $2.5 trillion at 2014-15 prices is not going to be easy. The International Energy Agency agrees with India’s view that developing countries should not foot the entire bill to combat climate change as rich countries have been polluting the planet for more than 120 years now. But what shape these discussions take in Paris remains to be seen. Thus, India has to be prepared to arrange finances. Fifth, we need serious reforms to achieve our ambitious targets. We should make our State electricity boards ask consumers to pay market tariffs, ensure more freight moving via railways and carry out agricultural reforms.
Sixth, it is necessary to increase the energy efficiency of our appliances and buildings through innovative technology. We should adopt a sustainable lifestyle and stabilise our population.
Let India carry out ‘smart’ implementation and concurrent monitoring of its INDCs to strengthen its standing.
The writer was a UN consultant and director of CSO