India has been a driving force and the de facto spokesperson for the developing world in international climate change negotiations. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the national action plan on climate change (NAPCC) last year, it was a strong indication that India is willing to voluntarily and unilaterally adopt nationally appropriate mitigation actions. The solar and energy efficiency missions are ambitious mitigation plans which, if executed properly, can propel India into the forefront of the clean and renewable technology revolution.
By embracing NAPCC, India has already considered reducing emissions voluntarily from a carbon-intensive reference scenario; there is no question of that.
The question that we need to face head-on, and presumably the one that minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh is grappling with, is the degree of international involvement in India’s voluntary mitigation actions. To convince ourselves why the international community needs to be involved, let us imagine a scenario in which it is not.
According to the solar mission, India aims to have an installed capacity of 20 gigawatts by 2020. Let’s assume that this happens and that we have reduced emissions considerably relative to a reference scenario by our internal estimates. Come 2020, if the world evolves as hoped, India will unequivocally be a world leader, economically and geopolitically. At this juncture, it will be tough for us to use the same justification for not accepting any sort of emission targets as we do currently and rightly so.
However, if the international community is not allowed to participate in some amount of review of our voluntary mitigation actions such as the solar mission, then we will be subjected to a baseline scenario in which our unilateral actions could be considered business-as-usual. This is certainly not acceptable and would be a worst-case scenario, especially if the government of India invests public funds into adhering to its voluntary targets. In order to avoid future pain and disappointment, it is essential that India allows a certain degree of review of voluntary mitigation actions by the international community if nothing else but then for the sake of posterity.
India has, so far, argued that efforts to curb emissions should be in proportion to a country’s historical record; however, if India’s voluntary reductions are not a part of any record, much less an international accord, then it will be a major loss of negotiating strength in future. It is possible certain quarters might be skittish that a review means another version of measuring, reporting and verifying (or MRV, in climate change parlance) emission reductions. This is a valid concern and Ramesh has tried to address it by stating: “The domestic mitigation actions will only be open for a review and not an MRV.”
Another advantage of reporting data in adherence to a multilateral agency is that it keeps the Indian government accountable to its policy pronouncements. The emphasis will shift from announcing policy for the sake of international posturing to accountability through execution. By opening up our books, we can negotiate forcefully for greater financial and technology flows, which so far have eluded us. A successful multilateral partnership will also go a long way in eliminating the centuries-old mistrust due to the so-called North-South divide.
To sum up, the only downside of allowing the world to look into the execution of voluntary mitigation actions is the inability to escape with inaction. That is something no responsible citizen or politician of India should be afraid of.
Anmol Vanamali is a climate policy analyst based in Washington, DC. Views expressed are personal. Comments are welcome at email@example.com