What India’s climate promise means
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On 2 October, India promised to reduce the emission intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by about a third from 2005 levels by the year 2030. That doesn’t mean overall emissions will come down, but that the rise will be at a slower pace, as the charts below show.
The rise in emissions is not only a function of how much the emission intensity (as a ratio of GDP) is cut, but also how fast the economy grows. If India sticks to the current pledge and the economy grows at a constant 7.5% from now to 2030, total emissions can rise to 8.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).
How likely is India to achieve its 35% cut target?
India has already reduced emission intensity by 13.5% between 2005 and 2012, Mint calculations show. According to the 2014 Emissions Gap report released by the United Nations Environment Programme, India is on track to cut emission intensity by 20-25% by 2020.
Thus, experts such as Vivek Adhia from the World Resources Institute believe that this is a conservative target.
“The government seems to be aiming for an ‘underpromise and overdeliver’ strategy. It has also left room to make additional submissions and changes to its plan. Over the last decade, the gap between energy-efficient firms and the rest has remained consistent, which means that there has been continuous improvement in working towards low carbon economic growth,” he says.
Apart from reducing the emission intensity of GDP, India has set out two other goals in its pledge document. One is to ensure that 40% of electricity-generation capacity is fuelled by non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030. Funding will be crucial for this. The pledge document mentions that tax-free infrastructure bonds worth Rs.5,000 crore will be introduced in 2015-16 for funding renewable energy projects. A coal cess of Rs.50 per tonne is financing the National Clean Environment Fund: the collection amounted to Rs.17,084 crore in 2014-15. But they will only partially cover the costs of the $2.5 trillion (at current prices) India will need to fund its climate change promises.
As Arjuna Srinidhi from the Centre for Science and Environment points out, the Green Climate Fund, a UN mechanism that helps nations with adaptation and mitigation activities, has become operational only this year with a corpus of $10 billion. It’s unlikely to achieve the targeted amount of $100 billion a year worth of funds by 2020. It’s no wonder that Narendra Modi pointedly asked US President Barack Obama to help with financing India’s move to renewables when the latter visited in January.
The other pledge is to increase tree and forest cover and create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tCO2e by 2030. (A carbon sink is a natural or artificially created source that absorbs more carbon than it releases. For example, a forest.)
Adhia, however, notes that this is the most neglected component of India’s commitment. While official data shows that India’s forest cover has increased from 19.44% of total geographical area in 1991 to 21.23% in 2013, development and industrial activities such as mining and construction, and population pressure have seen this increasingly come under threat.
How does India fare when compared to other nations?
India’s target to increase the share of renewables to 40% by 2030 of installed electric power capacity compares favourably with China’s target of 20% and US’s target of 25-30%. (Srinidhi, however, points out that actual capacity utilization from renewables could be lower than that.) China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has committed to reducing its carbon dioxide intensity per unit of GDP by 60-65% below 2005 levels. The US has said it will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions (including land use, land use change and forestry) by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
These commitments by the world’s three biggest emitters of greenhouse gases mark a significant step forward in combating climate change. However, Climate Action Tracker estimates that their impact (not counting India’s pledge), if fully implemented, will bring global warming down to 2.7°C (above pre-industrial levels)—an improvement of 0.4°C since the last assessment of pledges at the Lima talks in December. But that is still well above the 2°C target set by scientists for capping global warming to avoid the worst effects of climate change.