BRICs Series – 6 : India – Emissions, Energy Policies, and Impact

India’s Challenges of Global Climate Change:

India’s rise will have significant implications for global climate change. As a resource-poor developing country in South Asia, India will be directly impacted by the consequences of global warming. According to the World Bank, warming of 2°C could result in a 4-5% permanent reduction in annual income per capita in South Asia, far outpacing GDP losses in high-income countries. Absent serious adaptive capacity, these impacts will result in decreased agricultural production, depleted freshwater resources, and threatened biodiversity. In subsequent decades, India’s rapid industrialization and population growth will result in substantial increases in CO2 emissions. India’s economy is projected to grow at an annual rate of 8.7% between 2010-2015, and 5.9% between 2015-2035, with annual energy demand rising at 3.8%. Coal (the most carbon intense fossil fuel), the main source of electricity generation in India, accounts for about 70% of the total share. Despite representing 22% of the world’s population, India contributes only 4% of global emissions. Yet, with 300 million people expected to rise from the low-income to middle-income class, electricity demand and India’s corresponding share of global emissions, is projected to increase fourfold in the next 20 years. To meet global emissions reductions targets, India will have to undertake decisive policy actions and scale up investments in research and development.

India’s Commitments to the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention:

Although India signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol in August 2002, as an advanced developing country, India is without obligations to limit CO2 emissions until 2012. Nonetheless, India has taken a firm stance on the emissions reductions required of Annex I (industrialized) countries, requiring 40% reductions from 1990 levels and a 1% GDP contribution to finance climate change mitigation in non-Annex (developing) nations.

At the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit (2009), Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh softened India’s demand for industrialized countries to a 25% cut from 1990 levels and supported a yearly estimate of a $100 billion mitigation financing from Annex I countries. India still did not accept any legally binding cuts to its emissions, although Ramesh suggested that India might allow international auditing of domestic mitigation steps. In the final hours of the conference, India formulated the Copenhagen Accord in cooperation with the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries and brokered by the U.S. Although the Copenhagen Accord had no legal standing under the UNFCCC, the agreement provided voluntary guidelines for emissions reductions from non-Annex countries. India announced a voluntary curtailment of CO2 emissions by 20-25% up to 2020 compared to a 2005 baseline for emissions, excluding its agricultural sector.

In Cancun (2010), India emerged as a leader on climate change, but remained apprehensive about emissions reduction commitments. Ramesh was instrumental in breaking the deadlock over verification of nations’ emissions commitments and, for the first time, he said that India would consider a binding deal to reduce carbon emissions in the future. Nevertheless, India is not willing to put absolute caps on emissions until the industrialized countries have reduced emissions by 40-45% below the 1990 levels. Ramesh further proposed that countries responsible for at least 1% of carbon emissions report their actions internationally every 2 years, but not face repercussions for falling short of targets. While Ramesh’s initiative abetted non-Annex countries’ willingness to commit to emissions reductions, the Environmental Minister was criticized at home for having portrayed weakness to the international community. R.K. Pachauri, Chair of the UN Climate Change Panel commented that India cannot accept binding climate change commitments because it needs the freedom to increase carbon emissions to sustain growth and alleviate poverty.

India’s Coordination with the Rest of the World:

Despite India’s increasing willingness to discuss binding emissions commitments, the country’s insistence on Annex I countries’ shouldering the burden of responsibility for climate change has contributed to global stalemate. Following the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, India maintains that the major responsibility of curbing emission rests with industrialized countries, which have accumulated emissions over a longer period of time. Alternatively, industrialized countries claim that because of rapid industrialization and economic growth, India (and China) will account for the majority of emissions in future decades, and should therefore establish firm commitments. Furthermore, since India considers that developed economies are responsible for underdevelopment within the global system, it claims that industrialized countries should be responsible for mitigation and adaptation costs of climate change in developing countries. As a result, India believes that industrialized countries should be responsible for supporting sustainable development in developing countries through the transfer of economic resources and technology, without preconditions.

Indian Policies to Accomplish Commitments:

Recently, India has proactively engaged in implementing domestic policies to meet anticipated climate change objectives. In June 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). The NAPCC outlines a strategy by which India will adapt to climate change while maintaining a high growth rate, protecting poor and vulnerable sections of society and achieving national growth objectives.xiii In 2009, India launched a feed-in tariff system to support renewable energy technologies. In the absence of a national renewable energy incentive, 18 out of 29 Indian states have implemented renewable energy quotas and introduced preferential tariffs. India’s June 2010 initiative to eliminate gasoline price regulations and plans to abolish diesel subsidies has had the greatest impact on meeting the country’s climate change objectives. State-controlled oil producers can now function like private companies, charging market-based crude prices that transfer demand-pull to consumers. Nonetheless, prices for kerosene and LPG cylinders (utilized primarily by low income households) remain heavily subsidized. In recent years, the government has adopted sustainability policies to promote advanced biomass combustion, increase solar power investments, and improve biodiversity.xiv India’s progressive approach to framing and implementing climate change policies resulted in a 10th place ranking in the 2011 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI).

Recommendations for India:

For India to meet more stringent CO2 emissions reductions targets required in future years, India should implement the following policies:

  • Manage expected urbanization and demographic shifts in an energy-efficient and sustainable manner: create energy-efficient mass transit systems, design energy-efficient residences and workplaces, and adopt better urban planning.
  • Invest in R&D for alternative energy technologies to develop innovative solutions to climate change and improve energy efficiency of existing technologies.
  • Increase private-public partnerships to foster innovation and joint-responsibility in technological research.
  • Diversify India’s domestic energy generation portfolio to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons and increase utilization of renewable energy.
  • Extend the elimination of subsidies to diesel, kerosene, and LPG, and more effectively manage cash transfer payments to ensure the poor are reasonably compensated.
  • Allocate funding to climate change and adaptation investments irrespective of whether international financing commitments are upheld.
  • Adopt public education policies to manage population growth and reduce energy consumption by consumers and industrial users.
  • Improve groundwater management by controlling supply and recharging aquifers.
  • Encourage sustainable agricultural practices (such as zero tillage) and soil preservation techniques that maximize water infiltration, increase carbon storage, minimize nutrient runoff, and raise yields.

About pritamkabe

Originally from Bombay, India. Relocated to the United States in 1997 for attending graduate school at The University of Texas. Completed my Masters in Electrical Engineering in 1999 and then worked in the Hi-Tech industry for the next 11 years in Austin, Texas. I have a passion for travelling, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures...and i've been very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Sports and food are my other big passions in life. Some life-changing experiences in my life a years ago changed my perspective of life, after which, just have an engineering job was not meaningful to me anymore. Hence i quit my engineering career, and I'm now motivated to give back to society and make a positive impact in some way. To get started on that journey, i went back in graduate school, and recently graduated as a "Mid-Career Fellow in Foreign Service", from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, at Georgetown University, Washington DC. Currently in New Delhi, India, on a research fellowship, to learn about the educational issues in India, and brainstorm my ideas about technological interventions for resolving those issues.
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