Climate Congenial India
India is likely to have the fastest-growing electricity market among the largest economies in the world and that it faces a choice between going faster and harder towards renewable energy, with lower emissions, and a high emissions path with more coal. But, when it comes to climate, we have got to be optimistic because we have no other choice
If any single country embodies the challenge of reaching an agreement at the huge United Nations climate conference that began in Paris, it is India. India will have to comprehend the reality of the final agreement. India is a big and complex country. It is also the emerging leader for economic growth in the world. And because India’s energy policy is based on coal—the dirtiest fuel there is—the pace of economic growth sets the rate of emissions. As such, the path that India chooses for its development will also shape the global energy markets. India will also be a role model for other democratic and developing countries.
Amid apprehensions in certain quarters over the fate of India in the wake of Paris climate agreement, the government said the country has been able to secure its interests and the agreement met its broad expectations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly said that the country needs to address climate change, not because of pressure from Western countries but because of the potential damage warming could cause worldwide and in India especially. The country set an ambitious goal of receiving 40 per cent of its power from renewable resources by 2030 and in recent weeks launched a solar power alliance aimed at growing solar power production in the developing world. The country also recently set a target to develop 100 GW of solar power capacity by 2022, a huge ramp up from current capacity. Yet country’s leaders have publicly struck a hard line on many of the most divisive issues in climate policy. Modi defended a principle that developed countries should have more stringent responsibilities than their developing counterparts—a concept known as “differentiation”—and suggested that the principle should be a bedrock part of nearly every provision of the agreement. “Climate justice demands that, with the little carbon space we still have, developing countries should have enough room to grow,” he said at a speech at the beginning of the Paris summit.
“We feel vindicated that all our major requirements have been accepted and have become part of the agreement,” said environment minister Prakash Javadekar while making a suo-motu statement over the Paris accord in Parliament. He made the statement in both the Houses. Javadekar also informed the Cabinet about the outcome of the climate conference. “The outcome of this conference represents a forward march for the global community in the fight against climate change involving all countries. It brought out the success of multilateralism, which involves a spirit of accommodation by all parties (countries) to ensure the best possible outcome for the entire planet and the human civilisation,” the minister told Parliament. The agreement was approved during the climate conference in Paris, Javadekar, who led the inter-ministerial delegation at the conference, also emphasised that India engaged constructively and in good faith through the course of the negotiations.
India Unveils Global Solar Alliance Of 120 Countries
With 300 million people living without electricity and vast resources of coal, India’s development poses a moral question. But the Modi government’s pledge to go big on renewable energy has encouraged environmentalists.
Prime Minister Modi has launched an international solar alliance of over 120 countries with the French president, François Hollande, at the Paris COP21 climate summit. Narendra Modi told that as fossil fuels put the planet in peril, hopes for future prosperity in the developing world now rest on bold initiatives. “Solar technology is evolving, costs are coming down and grid connectivity is improving,” he said. “The dream of universal access to clean energy is becoming more real. This will be the foundation of the new economy of the new century.” Modi described the solar alliance as “the sunrise of new hope, not just for clean energy but for villages and homes still in darkness, for mornings and evening filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun”.
France’s climate change ambassador, Laurence Tubiana, had called the group “a true game-changer”. While signatory nations mostly hail from the tropics, several European countries are also on board with the initiative. They described the project as climate justice in action, mobilising public finance from richer states to help deliver universal energy access. Modi government is investing an initial $30m (£20m) in setting up the alliance’s headquarters in India. The eventual goal is to raise $400m from membership fees, and international agencies. Companies involved in the project include Areva, Engie, Enel, HSBC France and Tata Steel. “It is very, very exciting to see India nailing its colours to the mast and providing leadership on this issue,” said James Watson, the director of SolarPower Europe, which represents the continents’ solar photovoltaic industry. “It will mean more opportunities for solar across the world and that can only be positive for combating climate change.”
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, placed the initiative in the context of the body’s sustainable development goals, particularly a related target, set in 2011, of achieving universal access to sustainable energy by 2030. India has repeatedly said that it wants to use cheap solar to connect citizens who are currently without access to the electricity grid in remote and rural areas. India’s pledge to the Paris summit offered to draw 40 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. The country is projected to be the world’s most populous by then, with 1.45 billion people. (SK)
Part of what underlies India’s position on differentiation is the belief that the efforts taken by the country so far outweighs its contribution to climate change. (India’s per-capita carbon emissions add up to just 1.7 metric tonnes, 10 times less than America’s per-capita emissions.) India had done four times their fair share to address climate change, based on past carbon emissions, while the developed countries have done far less. “The developed world has done much less than their fair share,” said Javadekar. “Everyone must at least do what their fair share demands. Then it will be a collective action. Then it will be more robust. But as officially ‘developing’ nations like China grew rapidly—with accompanying carbon emissions—the U.S. and other developed countries have not asked to do away with the notion of different responsibilities entirely, but they have called for a less stringent system that takes into account economic growth and other factors that affect their capabilities. Such a system would take into account the evolving capabilities of developing countries.”
India’s Deputy Permanent Representative Ambassador Bhag-want Bishnoi said at a briefing organised at the United Nations by the President of General Assembly on the climate summit in Paris that India participated in Paris in a spirit of openness, constructiveness and flexibility and India’s voice is a voice of developing countries. “Our call for climate justice was based on the centrality of equity, historical responsibilities and the right to development for the world’s poorest.” “We are happy that the Paris Agreement acknowledges and preserves the development imperatives of India and other developing countries, framing climate ambition in a lens of equity,” he further said. Noting that the agreement unequivocally acknowledges the imperative of climate justice, Bishnoi said the deal based itself on the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities. The Paris Agreement has given a new hope and direction to our collective effort to address climate change. The COP-21 in Paris has marked a high point in what has been a defining year in multilateralism.
‘Forest Credit’, India’s Answer To Climate Change
Many of us, if not all, are aware of the term ‘carbon credits’. Equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide or related greenhouse gases, a carbon credit comes under the realm of Kyoto Protocol, a global drive to reduce emission of harmful gases and thus mitigate the risk of temperature rise. While in early 2014 there were talks about probable losses to companies which had acquired carbon credits by investing in Clean Development Mechanism due to fall in prices below one euro, the other side of the coin came into being in mid this year when the government of Himachal Pradesh earned a handsome amount of money by selling carbon credits to the government of Spain under bio-carbon project. This raised hope for the farmers of the state, who used degraded public land for raising forest under a World Bank-funded watershed project, by making them entitled to a share in this sum.
PM Modi and his counterparts from across the globe deliberated the menace of rising greenhouse gases, their impact on climate, humans and non-humans in Paris with a conflict over contributing to the uphill task of reducing emissions. Developed nations have a different stand as compared to developing ones, more weight can be accorded to the latter since such unparalleled rise in global temperature and amount of GHGs in the atmosphere is a direct aftermath of the industrial era when the west pocketed high profits. Those leather tanneries, deforestations for setting up factories, dumping of waste in rivers and lakes and nil regard to sustainability while assessing projects were all a contributing factor. Having no option than to participate in this worldwide race of industrialisation, developing nations followed what they borrowed from the developed ones, thus India abandoned its ages-old culture of environment protection.
Different countries have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) but what seems an arduous job is their upright implementation. We have seen developed nations, in the past, defaulting on their commitments towards negotiations and agreements on climate. On the contrary, countries like France (which has generated more than 90 per cent of its electricity from non-fossil sources including nuclear and hydro) are performing their parts regardless of any INDCs or covenants. PM Modi’s proposal of forging an alliance of solar rich countries is indeed laudable, this, however, demands collaborated labors from over 100 countries, which may or may not bring the expected effects.
It can’t be an overstatement if we think of India leading the world in its fight against climate change. Won’t you agree that we are an offspring of those who were the best in terms of agricultural output, animal husbandry; we devised Ayurveda depicting use of medicinal plants and herbs; once the country was the finest spot on earth to live in, this is what that attracted colonial powers from around the world to India. Then what is holding us from being the protagonist? Let’s discuss a point. Though India is a country with high population density, idle land available with Indian Railways, local bodies and other entities is abundant. This vacant land is either used as dumping ground for waste or as a place for defecation by locals or is encroached illegally by land mafias. In this context, it is to be noted that the CAG Report of 2013 reflected the incapacity of state forest departments with respect to undertaking afforestation and conservation to compensate for loss of forest cover. This loss of cover in the process of industrial growth is obligatory; however is unsustainable.
We lack commitment, be it when compensatory afforestation programmes are talked about or when figures pertaining to decline or addition to country’s total forest cover are released. An RTI filed by a group of conservationists in 2013 revealed that the country loses around 135 hectares of land every day owing to diversion of forest land to projects for mining, power plants or other industrial exploitations. The irony is that all these are termed as ‘development projects’ by governments of states; we have almost deleted the word ‘sustainable’ from our dictionaries, and the authorities clearing these projects boast of job creation and addition to production of consumer goods . Sad but true, only the manufacturing and services sectors of India, or to say of the world, relish patronage from respective governments, agriculture, forestry and allied activities are looked upon as a burden. States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, which were gems when land under forest cover was talked of, are fast losing greenery as a result of land being diverted to industrial projects.
A hope, however, in this vicious darkness still exists. And a sense of contentment comes from the fact that this does not demand a radical change in policy-making. Here is the suggestion. An appeal to Gram Sabhas, Panchayats at block and district level, Indian Railways and other government bodies to use idle land owned by them for the purpose of planting tree seedlings, resulting into afforestation, which will not only create work prospects in the area besides saving it from mafia or becoming a landfill, it will also make available ‘Forested land’ for purchase by corporates in lieu of land purchased for setting up of factories. A sensible approach, coordinated and planned one, will see a real shift in circumstances. An online database of these available forest lands, post-afforestation, for procurement as ‘Forest Credits’ will deliver on the needs of country’s greenery as well as of project owners. Such green use of idle land will boost carbon sinks of India and will complement the state forest departments in their afforestation program.
A rough projection reveals that villages of India, which are more than 6 lakh in number, if opt for average minimum 10 acres each for developing forests over degraded land with community help, along with partaking of cities and towns with minimum 100 acres each, plus the idle land owned by Indian Railways (along with space at both sides of rail tracks) will give afforestation figure of more than 2 crore acres, a lush green cover that India and its citizens crave for sooner than later. Besides, such a program will provide a huge opportunity for rural employment owing to its commercial viability as the growers of forests will be able to sell the same to companies for their afforestation obligations. A ‘win-win’ situation, indeed.
It is sure that India’s drive for clean energy from renewable sources and cutting on emissions will bring pluses, this when complemented with pledge towards afforestation of degraded land across the country, especially in the north-east where forest cover has been decreasing, will make India a significant player in the mission of mitigating the dangers of GHGs and climate change. For sure, apt assessment of soils, climate variations and availability of seedlings is a pre-requisite to ensure that this project turns out viable. While carbon credits, formalised under the Kyoto Protocol, have not found the success they were expected to, India’s initiative of ‘Forest Credits’, if perceived and undertaken with due diligence, will fortify India’s vow in response to environmental catastrophe.
By Sunil Gupta
(The author is a Political Commentator & Chartered Accountant.)
But India has some powerful arguments to justify its position. It talks in terms of “climate justice”. It says it isn’t responsible for the emissions that are causing the current warming. That’s down to the developed world which used fossil fuels to power its path to wealth. If you look at emissions since 1850—what is sometimes called the “carbon space”—then US is responsible for a third of the total, Europe and the other developed countries for 45 per cent. India, according to figures from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, accounts for just 3 per cent of emissions to date. And that tiny total explains why India is still so poor. Remember, India is the second most populous country in the world with one and a quarter of a billion people. Hundreds of millions of those still live in terrible poverty. India’s enduring poverty explains the second arm of India’s argument: the fact that Indians use way less carbon than most other people. Once again the figures are stark. The average Indian is responsible for just 1.6 tonnes of CO2 a year. Meanwhile, the average American accounts for a whopping 16.4 tonnes, the average Japanese for 10.4 tonnes and the average European for 7.4 tonnes. The world average is 4.9 tonnes. So India’s position is that it is only fair that it should be allowed to use some of the remaining “carbon space” to fuel growth and help lift its people out of poverty. But the science is clear. All new carbon emissions add to global warming. India managed to put back the important principle of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities” in text, which India has been pushing for. The US and developed nations wanted to dilute this plank. Though developed countries use fossil fuel—coal and gas—they wanted developing countries to cut emissions. It is still not clear if the developed nations will be forthcoming with funds and technology for clean energy or the modalities if they do. The big challenge met was ensuring the agreement established the idea of climate justice—acknowledging that industrialised nations have been the major emitters. India also wanted a mention of sustainable lifestyle and consumption, which is there in the text.
On the loss side, India’s long-standing objective in climate talks is to avoid undue limits on energy options. This is important, as India will require a great deal of more energy in the coming decades: for commercial cooking fuels, access to electricity, and power for industries and commerce to provide livelihoods. Although huge, these needs are also uncertain; much depends on how India grows, and on how technology changes. This uncertainty also makes negotiation difficult, as it is hard to know how much to bargain away without causing harm. The original UN convention had a stronger language on developed world providing climate finance. Experts say current text is weaker. It also leaves room for confusion on what can be counted as climate funding—for example, developmental aid or loans can be counted as climate finance. Mr Javadekar, too, said the agreement could have been more ambitious as the actions of developed nations are “far below” than their historical responsibilities and fair shares. Most civil society experts say the dilution was made following tremendous pressure from US—which is facing issues with domestic politics—and an umbrella group of developed nations. Paris agreement says all parties—including developing nations—must take action to cut emissions. This means developing nations must take on additional obligations. For developing countries, intellectual property rights barriers to transfer technology from rich countries were important. But the Paris text is more about cooperation in technology. In terms of loss and damage, the text says these will not be seen in terms for liability and compensation, so developed countries will have no real obligation.
By Sanjay K Bissoyi