By: Mridul Chadha
There has been a colossal change in India’s climate change strategy over the last few months. From being a staunch opponent of any emission reduction targets to a prospective climate leader, India has changed gears so rapidly that now its proposals to reduce its carbon footprint have come under questioning.
India opposed emission reductions in all its forms, voluntary or mandatory, from the very beginning. At all the meetings prior to the Copenhagen Climate meet the Indian climate negotiators, along with others from developing countries, virtually battled with their counterparts from United States and Europe. India always opposed emission cuts claiming that its per capita emissions are among the lowest in the world. India continued to negotiate with this fact as its central argument.
But all this changed when indicated that it had agreed to reduce its carbon emissions following almost year long talks with American officials. China signed agreements with the United States to enhance trade in areas like energy efficiency, renewable energy investments and green buildings. And recently, China announced its target of 15 percent energy from renewable sources by 2020 and reducing carbon intensity by 40-45 percent by 2020.
During the first half of the year India’s newly appointed Environment minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh said at numerous occasions that India will not accept emission targets at any cost. In a meeting with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton he refused to reconsider India’s stance regarding emission reductions saying that fight against poverty and climate change are interlinked issues and capping carbon emissions could hamper India’s efforts to uplift the poor.
“India cannot and will not take emission reduction targets because poverty eradication and social and economic development are first and over-riding priorities,” a statement on behalf of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.
After China announced its intent to reduce carbon intensity and all other developing countries announced their voluntary emission reduction targets, international pressure on India increased. Mr. Ramesh, sensing the changing patterns of negotiations, wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in which he expressed his personal views about India’s negotiating stance and the need to change it. He outlined the following points:
- India should distance itself from G77 stance of opposing emission reductions and should accept emission reduction targets.
- India should allow international monitoring of its mitigation plans.
- India should accept greater responsibility at climate negotiations in order to gain strategic and diplomatic leverage which could eventually lead to a place in the UN Security Council.
The opposition parties blasted Mr. Ramesh’s ‘personal’ ideas and he had to retract from the contents of the letter. Last week in the parliament some legislators asked questions regarding the lack of clarity of national policy towards Copenhagen Climate Summit. Mr. Ramesh assured the Parliament that India will not come under international pressure and will not accept emission reductions.
In an interview following an unscheduled meeting with the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr. Ramesh said that the proposals made by other developing countries cannot be ignored and that his government would announce its course of action as and when required.
Now the question is wouldn’t this carbon intensity target hamper the profits of the coal fired power plants which the government intends to set up to boost rural electrification? How did the government suddenly realized that the country is in a healthy economic state to set such a target? These questions raise serious doubts about India’s commitment to wards reducing its carbon footprint. These targets seem merely tokens to impress the world and dodge pressure to do more.
India intends to reduce carbon emission produced for every unit of GDP by 20-25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. But it has already achieved 17 percent reduction by 2005 so according to the proposed target it intends to reduce carbon intensity further by merely 3 to 8 percent and that too on the condition that the developed countries provide substantial financial and technical assistance.
India generates 55 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants which are responsible for 60 percent of India’s total carbon emission generation. While it is clear that indigenous coal reserves will be used as power sources to provide electricity to villages India must look to adopt cleaner and more efficient ways of power generation. A group comprising of climate scientists and heads of power companies will soon come up with a strategy to improve efficiency of the coal-fired power plants.
Mr. Ramesh has also made it clear that even if the developed countries provide India with technical and financial assistance it does not bind India to open its mitigation measures for monitoring. Thus accountability remains a key unanswerable question in the proposed target.
If 17 percent reduction can be achieved without any international assistance why cannot the target be higher with the international assistance. The proposed target only seems to be in response to the international pressure rather than an earnest effort to contribute in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions. Well, one cannot blame India alone though, developed and developing countries like have announced weak emission targets by tweaking numbers to suit themselves.
India must present some realistic goals and must become more accountable and proactive if its wants to fulfill its national interests of being a major strategic power. It would take a much more sincere effort by India to make a real reduction in its sharply rising carbon emissions.
Photo: freefotouk (Creative Commons)
The views presented in the above article are author's personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master's degree.
2. Shows that the “Fossil Party” can be deposed
In each democracy, the fossil industry is able to pick one party to prevent action on climate change, on its behalf. The party names differ in each nation, but in each country - one party represents hope for a future, and one represents continuation of behavior that will kill us all, over centuries.
The Fossil Party and the Future Party.
For example, the “Fossil Party” took over Canada in 2006 and was able to promptly renege on Kyoto, through its proxy, Conservative Party leader; Steven Harper. The oil sands are just about the worst thing to happen to Canada, with the resource curse of the lobbyist army that crawled out. Canada’s Conservatives control 99% of the seats in Alberta, where energy legislation is decided.
In the US, the fossil industry has metastasized within the Republican party with Senator Inhofe alone recieving $2,182,631. Previous climate legislation has been killed by Republican majority Senates.
Yet the Senate now has 60% Democrats. Seven more votes to ratify Copenhagen is a stretch, but it now has a chance.
The single biggest lobby on Capitol Hill is the US Chamber of Commerce. Recently it has been discovered that a tiny group of 18 members provides 30% of its funds. While the sources are not publicly available; it is possible that the most powerful industry is simply laundering money through the Chamber; given its position on climate change.
Yet businesses have been leaving the Chamber in protest.
3. Local legislation has national effects
One or two Republicans have consistently voted for renewable energy legislation over the past two decades: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe - - both from America’s equivalent of Sweden: 55% renewably powered Maine.
This indicates that it is possible to turn Fossil Party Senators into Future Party votes, once a tipping point is reached in their state. Legislation like the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that an increasing percent of utility energy must come from renewables, increases the chances.
Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa might be next. Iowa now gets 15% of its energy from wind, because of local renewable energy legislation. It doesn’t have to be a high trigger. Thirteen percent renewably powered California’s Republican Governor is another example.
This effect of local change is why funding the development of a world-class wind center in South Carolina was good strategery on the part of the Obama administration. Republican Lindsay Graham is a key climate vote and will only solidify once wind energy takes hold in his state.
4. Experience with carbon cutting quells fears
The nations that signed Kyoto are now more easily amenable to taking the next step. Experience with renewable energy development calms opposition. Despite initial fears, The EU economy grew while implementing Kyoto and reducing CO2 emissions up to 13%, even better than their goals. Initial goals were to get to 8% or so under 1990 by 2012.
The German Marshall Fund Study, Ten Insights From Europe on The European Trading System (original pdf) found that cutting carbon worked in trailblazer Europe, despite lots of mistakes, and offered ten insights for followers:
1. Don't worry too much. Even imperfect policy worked to get carbon emissions down.
2. But you could design Cap and Trade to be "fixable" as you go, anyway, and adjust as you go.
3. Get an accurate count of projected emissions or carbon prices will be lower than expected.
4. Be bold because switching from fossils will be much cheaper than everyone thought.
5. Most industries will profit from renewable energies with net benefit to the overall economy.
6. Tailor individual solutions for the few industries that are genuinely at risk.
7. Minimize incumbent sector impacts, even while boosting profitability of renewable energies.
8. Be tough on industries with the potential to clean up, go easy on those who can't.
9. Keep free allocations down, auction as much as possible.
10. Avoid a general carbon tax at the border, do a separate one for the few industries that really need one.
Like the EU, Russia and Japan are also suggesting 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, (but won’t go higher). Norway is offering the most: 30% - 40% below 1990 by 2020. Switzerland: 20-30% below 1990. Even Ukraine is offering 20% below 1990. Brazil: 36% (from BAU) by 2020. Mexico: 50% below 2000 by 2050. South Korea: 4% by 2020 from 2005 levels. Indonesia: 26% by 2020.
With the return of Conservative control, Canada is now having trouble getting to its Kyoto target of 6% below 1990 levels. Despite this, Canada is still offering a modified cut: 20% below 2006.
Likewise, in Australia and New Zealand; despite some power shifts from Future Party commitments to returns to Fossil Party control; both nations are still offering cuts, albeit weakened.
Kevin Rudd took over in 2008 and signed Kyoto on his first day, and is now under threat of being toppled by the issue. Yet, Australia is still offering 25% below 2000 levels with an international agreement or between 5 - 15% without one.
New Zealand’s former leader Helen Clarke had pushed for a 90% renewable powered nation by 2025. Now under conservative leadership; New Zealand is downgrading those more ambitious goals - but they are still offering 10-20% below 1990 by 2020.
Once a signer, always a signer. And now that the US can possibly sign this year, next time every nation will be a former signer.
These are the reasons I’m hopeful about Copenhagen. Overall, rich countries' pledges for 2020 average out to 16-23% below 1990 levels, according to UN figures.