Saving Mother Earth, and GDP

By GovernanceToday
In Issue 6
March 5, 2015
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How India should plan for Paris Climate Change Conference, 2015

COP20During the recently concluded visit of the US President Barack Obama to India, there was expectation among international community that there would be some sort of deal on climate change on lines of the deal that the US had struck with China only a few months ago. While Indian Prime Minister and US President did not have a deal as such on climate change, there was agreement to work together on the issue when leaders meet in Paris later this year. For India, the stakes are quite high as it has to manage a fine balance between growth, energy supply and also livable environment to its citizens.

Earlier, Mr Prakash Javadekar, Indian Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, had said in a Press Briefing before his departure to Lima last December that India cannot sign any deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions at UN climate talks that threatens its growth or undermines its fight against poverty, the worst kind of environmental disaster which “needs to be eradicated immediately”, adding that no one should dispute the right of the poorest members of society to have access to energy. “Poor people have aspirations we must fulfill them, we must give them energy access”.

One of the major obstacles before energy-starved India is its high dependency on coalfired power plants. Millions in India suffer regular power cuts as India’s energy deficit is staggering. An estimated 300 million people — roughly equal to the population of the United States — still live without power. The national power grid was  completed just last year.

Negotiators from 195 countries in Lima last December (2014) agreed on a 38 pages draft agreement on negotiating text to address climate change that will be adopted in Paris this year (2015). Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have already set an outside target of limiting global warming to two degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels. China, the United States and Europe have also unveiled their emission reduction pledges.

However, in a meeting on February 11, 2015 in Geneva, almost 200 nations complicated this drive for a UN deal to combat climate change by more than doubling the length of Lima draft to about 100 pages of radically varying solutions. Geneva is the last session for adding texts to the blueprint for the global Paris agreement. Under UN rules, an official draft as the basis for talks has to be ready six months before the summit. The text lists a huge range of options that are unlikely to be resolved before Paris summit.

No China Like Deal with the US
In a historic climate change deal, in November 2014, the US and China announced that both countries will curb their greenhouse gas emissions over the next two decades. Under the agreement, the United States would cut its 2005 level of carbon emissions by 26% to 28% before 2025. China would peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and will also aim to get 20% of its energy from zero-carbon emission sources by the same year. However, US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not strike such deal due to India’s resistance to accept a peak year for its greenhouse gas emissions. Such a deal would have resulted in the world putting India in the same bracket as China on carbon emissions which is not rightly so as the country must depend on coal as its primary energy source for at least the next decade. On the other hand, China is the world’s biggest carbon emitter while India is fourth with per capita emissions one-third those of China’s.

Coal-fired plants accounted for 154,000 MW of India’s total power generation capacity of about 255,680 MW as of December 31, 2014. Thermal generation capacity is expected to keep growing even though Indian coal is high in ash content, making it more polluting. The government has announced plans to double annual coal production to 1 billion tonnes in five years. India’s stance on the energy mix is that while it will augment its renewable portfolio, it will not jeopardize its development goals and economic growth, in other words, coal could continue to be the mainstay of power generation. In early January 2015, US Secretary for State John Kerry had emphasized that a climate deal with India would be a top priority during Obama’s visit. But the two countries failed to hammer out a deal except for a US commitment to invest in India’s plan to generate 100,000 MW of solar power by 2019. To spur the solar sector, and meet its 100 GW solar goal, India looks for investments to the tune of a $100 billion within a period of 6–7 years — more than half of this is expected to come from abroad. This is where the United States could play an important role. India has also been seeking a US commitment to provide adequate funds for adapting to climate change for developing and least developed countries.

India is not willing to  make any bilateral commitment until it submits its intended domestically determined contribution  (INDCs) to fight climate change to the United Nations by June this year (depending upon what other countries will commit in their INDCs). India is likely to make its plan of generating 1,00,000 MW of solar power and 55,000 MW of wind power as part of its INDCs, apart from saving up to 20,000 MW of power from introducing energy efficient systems.

Divergent Positions on Emission Norms
Indian position is that developed countries should compensate developing nations for the effects their greenhouse gas emissions have had on climate. That responsibility should come in the form of compensation and a fair 2015 Paris agreement. The European Union (EU) on the other hand is known to favor “legally binding cuts applying to all countries” which should be adopted by 2015 and entered into force by 2020. Americans support the ‘buffet option’ that would contain some legally binding
elements but allow countries to determine the scale and pace of their emissions reductions.

The EU appears to have toughened its stance faced with major nations which claim they could not impose economy wide targets. The EU’s post- 2020 targets for greenhouse  gas emissions and renewable energy are contingent on a legally binding global agreement at the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015. The chances of such an agreement, however, are still remote. China and India have made their support for such a deal conditional on a legally binding climate finance package of $100 billion per year by 2020. Australia is the main developed nation that has not contributed to the Green Climate Fund so far. In the meantime, China offered details on its commitment to rein in greenhouse gases at Lima and called on rich nations to speed up delivery of the $100 billion in annual climate-related aid they’ve promised by 2020. China’s commitment with a call to accelerate funding for climate aid has shifted the pressure on industrialized nations, led by the U.S. and European Union, to do their part toward reaching an agreement later this year.

On the positive side, discussions in Peru last December saw all participating countries commit to lowering greenhouse gas emissions for the first time ever. Environmentalists now hope the widely-anticipated Paris Climate Summit in December 2015 will bring a universal accord that enables the world to move to a low-carbon future, and would spell concrete measures to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

However, analysts say that the drastic fall in global crude oil prices over the past eightnine months (currently trading below $50 a barrel) could trigger a deflationary pattern, which may bring down the global economic growth to as low as 2.6 percent this year, well below the International Monetary Fund’s 3.8 percent forecast. This might reduce public sector funding for low-carbon energy. Major oil  exporting countries like Venezuela  and Canada are expected to see the biggest funding declines given their reliance on crude oil revenues. Further, tepid growth could also see poor deployment of energy efficient technologies which could potentially lower the ambition levels of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

climate-changeIndian Predicament Increasing energy access, clean energy development, and job creation are national priorities for Narendra Modi’s government. As India faces rising burden of fuel costs, threats to energy security, and the impacts of climate change, renewable energy offers a critical solution. India’s solar and wind programs have already catalyzed remarkable growth. In just four years, India’s solar market has grown more than a hundredfold, exceeding 3 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar energy. India recently increased its 2022 grid-connected solar energy target by five-fold to 100 GW from 20 GW. India is also the world’s  fifth-largest wind energy producer, targeting 60 GW of wind energy by 2022. With 250 GW of total installed energy currently and a need for much more power, scaling up solar and wind energy projects can power India’s economic growth and create jobs. The 100-GW solar target, the dedicated mission to increase wind energy generation and waste-to-energy, as well as increasing  the share of biomass, appear to have sent out the message that India has begun its transition to energy sources that produce less or no carbon.

India could push its ambition towards a target of 1,041 Billion Units (BU) of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. This would translate to cumulative emissions of 3.4 gigatons of CO2 equivalents and per capita emissions of 2.25 tonnes of CO2 eq. in 2030. The above target could, according to one estimate, require an incremental cost of approximately INR 39,320 billion
or $ 715 billion over the next 15 years at 2010 prices, and would make the consumption of a threshold level of electricity unaffordable for the bottom two deciles of Indian households.

A one-on-one comparison between India and China at different levels of development would indicate that India has shown climate leadership in the past and is expected to do so in the future. Specifically, the renewable energy contribution to the electricity mix for India was much higher than China (4.4 per cent for India against 1.7 per cent for China, excluding  hydropower)in 2010 and is estimated to be significantly larger in 2020 (13.8 per cent for India against 5.0 per cent for China, excluding hydropower). The proposed basis of negotiations at Paris for Indian delegation should therefore perhaps focus on long-term policy signals to underpin long-lived investments in renewable energy as the core of India’s contributions (INDC). India’s INDCs should target on two aspects, namely what India can do given its resources and what India would do if technology
and finance were available. This would also justify India’s urgent need of climate financing and access to advanced technology for its energy security and sustainable development.

Prof. MURARI LAL – The writer is an eminent atmospheric scientist