New Delhi: For the first time, a multilateral agency has endorsed India’s stance on climate change: that it cannot undertake deep emission cuts without sacrificing poverty alleviation plans and development needs.
Listen to Shyam Saran talk about the aspects of climate change negotiations
The United Nations conference on climate change, scheduled to take place in December in Copenhagen, Denmark, will negotiate a treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The report is part of a broader effort to assess carbon trajectories of large developing economies. Similar studies are being carried out for Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and China—the other supplemental members of the so-called G8+5 group—as well as for Indonesia. The G8 (Group of Eight) consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US.
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The study, a draft copy of which was obtained by Mint, says that India can cut 227 million tonnes (mt) of carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector by curbing transmission and distribution losses, rehabilitating or closing lowest efficiency coal plants, adopting mandatory energy efficiency standards for household appliances, improving fuel efficiency of new cars and light vehicles, and reducing reliance on private transport.
But it also acknowledges that coal-fired plants are likely “to remain the linchpin of the Indian power sector at least for the next few decades, given the large domestic coal resources and the absence of any other significant domestic energy sources in the country”.
Ominous signs: The Singrauli thermal power plant in Shaktinagar, Uttar Pradesh. A World Bank study acknowledges that coal-fired plants are likely ‘to remain the linchpin of the Indian power sector at least for the next few decades, given the large domestic coal resources and the absence of other domestic energy sources’. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Stressing that the study, requested by India, was still a work in progress, a World Bank spokesperson said: “Draft findings of the study show that given the existing technology and resource constraints and the absence of a global financial architecture for mitigation, India’s 11th Five-Year Plan, if implemented effectively, seems to be an efficient low-carbon growth plan.”
India’s long-standing position in the international debate has revolved around its growth trajectory to pull millions out of poverty into a basic standard of living, which cannot be compromised under any scenario, without financial and technological help from the developed world. The study backs this position: “This (current and future emissions trend) is not to support a lifestyle or consumption patterns displayed in developed countries, but to provide basic energy services and support a growing economy.”
“It is always good to have an independent technical body like the World Bank come to the same conclusions as us, even if the approaches are different, and this report will get a lot of currency,” said Prodipto Ghosh, a distinguished fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) and a former secretary at the ministry of environment and forests. “But when we had been saying similar things, we were not pulling it from the air; we were saying them after undertaking very detailed studies, done in a much more robust manner than the World Bank’s.”
An Indian government official, who didn’t want to be identified, said that this was the first time an external agency had backed the country’s stance with a thorough economic model. Discussions have begun in the government to house the World Bank’s economic model, which could be used to produce similar projections annually for India.
The study comes at a time when the World Bank is preparing its World Development Report (WDR) for 2010, focusing on climate change. The Indian official said the government had raised questions about inconsistencies between the two reports during initial discussions on the sections pertaining to India. Piquantly, the World Bank’s low carbon growth study may have to go head-to-head with WDR.
Ghosh denied that the Indian government was “lobbying” to dilute WDR. “The World Bank is independent, it can say what it likes,” Ghosh said. “But the concept note itself reveals that there is a political agenda. The question of burden-sharing is purely a political question. That is not the World Bank’s role, and we have simply pointed that out.”
In the low carbon growth study, the World Bank’s analysis of the power sector is particularly crucial: It accounts for one-third of India’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. In large part this is because of an overwhelming reliance on coal; roughly 81% of all generated power in 2005 was from coal.
The study models two scenarios for the power sector—the first assuming complete fulfilment of the low-carbon 11th Plan and the Integrated Energy Policy, and the second more realistically factoring in “some slippages…given the past implementation rates”. Both scenarios allow for generous growth in power from hydroelectric, renewable and nuclear sources.
The first model predicts that in 2031-32, even with an abbreviated growth rate caused by the global financial crisis, carbon dioxide emissions will stand at 3.4 times 2007 levels, and energy supply requirements at four times 2007 levels. (The increase in emissions works out to 36.7 thousand mt.) The second model, having accounted for inefficiencies in transmission and distribution and slower construction of power plants, projects an increase of 8.8% of the first model’s emissions level—in other words, 8.8% of 36.7 thousand mt, which works out to an extra 3.2 thousand mt of carbon dioxide.
In transport, though, the report says: “The active promotion of car ownership, coupled with their currently low variable operating cost, are likely to cause these growth forecasts to be exceeded unless policies are enacted to promote fast and efficient public transport over private alternatives, and corresponding infrastructure is developed.”
The report projects 86 privately owned cars per 1,000 people in 2031-32, which is currently eight per thousand people, increasing carbon dioxide emissions from transport to 5.6 times their 2007-8 figures.
It adds: “This level of car ownership is significantly less than other countries. In 1990, most IEA (International Energy Agency) countries had car ownership levels of between 300 and 450 cars per thousand. By 2004, no country within the IEA17 had an ownership level of less than 350 cars per thousand (recent data: the UK: 426; Japan: 543; the US: 765).”
IEA17 is a sub-group of countries within IEA.
“To home in on private vehicles as a major issue is exaggerating the problem,” said Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change. “Having said that, it is important for India to move ahead in public transportation. One of the most important elements of the National Action Plan is promotion of public transportation. It’s not that we aren’t moving in that direction, but we can’t exaggerate this issue. It is very difficult to say we should not allow our people to aspire to owning a car. If you are saying: ‘I will keep my cars, but you, India, I will not allow aspiring to new cars’… I can’t possibly sell this argument in my country.”
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint