(Note: In this series of posts, we take a closer look at whether India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) ahead of the Paris climate talks. In this third installment, we present comments by three independent observers that critically analyse India’s climate commitment. Also read: Part 1 and Part 2 of the series)
“India has low per capita emission only thanks to its poor, whose carbon emissions are low.”
Dr. Bhamy Shenoy, Energy expert
There are a lot of claims about civilizational values, respect for nature, Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings, etc. in India’s INDC document. This is good, but some space could have been allocated to explain what would have been the per capita emission by 2030 if India followed a path of business-as-usual to demonstrate how effective our submission is. Such an analysis has been left out, I suspect, because it would have showed that what we are submitting as INDC has marginal value in reducing carbon emissions.
If we look at the well off sections of the Indian population, their per capita carbon emissions is far higher than the world average. In fact, India has low per capita emission only thanks to its poor, whose carbon emissions are low. We preach a simple lifestyle to the world, but how many of our own rich and upper middle class people follow such a lifestyle? In the case of the lower middle class and poor, are they deliberately following a simple lifestyle or are they forced to?
The INDC highlights so many strategies, missions and yojanas to show how India is serious about fighting climate change. But, all these are on paper. For example, if we had a world class public transport system, we could have controlled the growth of private vehicles. The government has no strategy to arrest or even reduce the growth of private vehicles. Yes, there are plans to improve vehicle efficiency, but it is not enough. We also a need a strategy to improve railway efficiency to compete with trucking. There are other serious issues. For instance, there is no mention of how the government is planning to reduce losses in power distribution, to reduce subsidy in power sector, and how it will improve general efficiency in power sector.
So, my view of India’s INDC is that most of the plans or goals announced are likely to remain on paper and may not happen. Even with high growth, and even if India follows a business-as-usual development and energy growth path, on a per capita basis we will be still below the world average. But, this itself is no big achievement. India has committed to reducing GDP energy intensity by 30 to 35% by 2030 with respect to 2005. This is nothing to crow about either, as we would have achieved this anyway, and without much effort. Energy intensity has been decreasing because our GDP is more dependent on services and agriculture which are not energy guzzlers as industry is. I also seriously question our ability to meet 40% of our power needs from renewables by 2030 as submitted.
“There should have been a clear statement about peak emissions and/or peak coal consumption”
Shankar Sharma, Power Policy Analyst
It is almost impossible to see any economic rationalisation in continuing with coal power plants anywhere in the world; especially since the last 15 years when the health and environmental impacts of coal power have become clear, and when solar power cost has plunged. Taking a rational look at the overall efficiency of coal power cycle, it was difficult to see any rationality with coal power even before. Few years ago some one had commented that it may be more efficient/economical to hand over lumps of coal free of cost to people to use at their homes rather than supplying them coal power through a grid network. So horrible has been coal power’s economic rationality all along.
Hence, even if India becomes successful in realising 40% of it’s power through non-fossil fuels by 2030, we may end up seeing a massive amounts of total GHG emissions because of the vast increase in the total installed power production capacity by then in a business-as-usual scenario. A lot of coal power capacity would have been added (a total of 800,000 MW power capacity is projected by 2032 in the Integrated Energy Policy of Niti Ayog). Assuming that all the future coal power plants in the country are located on the sites of old coal power plants, and are much more efficient with super critical or ultra critical boiler parameters, we will have much more total GHG emissions from the coal power sector than it is now in a business as usual scenario.
Under such a scenario, by 2030, even though the total GHG emissions in the country can be some percentage points less than what would have been otherwise, it will be much more than that of 2005 levels because of sheer numbers. The efficiency in various sectors of our economy also is unacceptably low. There is no indication that the number of automobiles will come down in the near future, and also the number of polluting industries is increasing.
Since this is not acceptable, even from global warming perspective alone, India’s INDC target of 40% electricity from non-fossil fuels will not be good enough. There should have been a clear statement about peak emissions and/or peak coal consumption. Given the necessary political will and effective participation from various sections of our society, it should be entirely feasible, techno-economically, to keep our total GHG emissions to a level even below that of 2005 by a suitable combination of measures such as energy efficiency, DSM, energy conservation, and wide spread usage of renewables in next 15 years. Hence India’s INDC can be termed as a disappointment.
In the global scenario, even the total commitments by 140 odd countries, including India, is estimated to be far below the needed levels of GHG reduction commitments as projected by IPCC. This is a matter of great concern. Let us hope things will only improve from the present level for the benefit of not only our own people, but for the sake of entire humanity.
“We’re being taken for a ride: India’s emissions are set to multiply”
Manu Sharma, Climate activist
The “commitment” to reduce emission intensity up to 35% is as much a joke as was the earlier promise of reduction made by Jairam Ramesh on the eve of Copenhagen (Ramesh had then misrepresented the reduction in emission intensity, which Indian industry was likely to achieve on their own, to make it seem like India had made a new commitment.)
Basically, any commitment you make has to be additional to status quo – it’s meaningless if it just mirrors what’s bound to happen on it’s own. But the Ministry of Environment’s own GHG modelling studies show India would achieve as much as 50% emission reductions from same baseline year (2005) till the same target year (2030), and not just 35% as “committed”.
Now comes the most important part – the modelling shows India would achieve this without any policy intervention! These modeling results were released by the Ministry in September 2009 (two months before the first so-called “commitment”) with much fanfare by Ramesh and others. If you see the presentation given by Prodipto Ghosh of TERI to select members of the press, it shows three out of four modelling scenarios showing CO2 intensity falling beyond 50%. Crucially, on page 13, it says “All models assume no new GHG mitigation policies till 2030/31.”
In short, we are being taken for a ride: India’s emissions are set to multiply and the only thing the government cares about is economic growth.