New Delhi: The government has started a pilot project to quantify climate benefits from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the anti-poverty scheme that could become one of the country’s main weapons to fight criticism it is not doing enough to tackle global warming.
The flagship anti-poverty plan, started three years ago, provides 100 days of employment every year to tens of millions of rural poor, a move that partly helped the Congress party-led coalition return to power in a general election this month.
About 70% of works under the NREGA are “green jobs” such as water harvesting, afforestation and land development.
“Here is a programme which is an anti-poverty project that also yields co-benefits of adaptation to climate change and reduction of vulnerabilities against climate change,” said Rita Sharma who heads the ministry overseeing the jobs scheme.
The pilot project is being carried out in four states in collaboration with experts from the premier Indian Institute of Science.
“Within the next two years we should begin to get some handle on what kind of quantification is happening as a result of the NREGA works,” Sharma said, adding some data could be available from smaller samples in about a month.
India’s current stand on climate change does not please Western countries, which want more commitment to curbing rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions from one of the world’s top polluters.
The top US energy forecast agency said on Wednesday that much of the growth in CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels over the next two decades will come from developing countries, which already produce more than half of mankind’s carbon pollution.
By 2030, carbon dioxide emissions from developing countries should hit 25.8 billion tonnes, while the pollution from rich countries should be 14.6 billion tonnes, said the Energy Information Administration in its annual International Energy Outlook.
New Delhi says priority must go to economic growth to lift millions out of poverty while gradually shifting to clean energy led by solar power as well as increased energy efficiency.
Despite rapid expansion of renewable energy, such as wind turbines, coal is likely to remain a growing source of energy to power India’s economy.
Indian officials say the West must recognise the huge amount of benefit, such as carbon sequestration and emission reductions, achieved through projects such as NREGA.
But some experts worry India could use such projects as a way to avoid additional investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
According to official figures, even if renewable energy was expanded 40-fold, carbon dioxide emissions could rise from one billion tonnes per year to 3.9 billion tonnes per year by 2031-2032. Under energy projections that assume an even higher rate of coal use, such emissions could rise to 5.5 billion tonnes per year by 2031-2032.
So, experts say, climate benefits accruing from development projects would fall way short in fighting any exponential rise in pollution in India.
“At best, climate benefits from development schemes should be be treated as a supplementary effort to the main climate change plan,” said K. Srinivas of Greenpeace’s India climate change programme.
But Sharma said such views only reflected a narrow Western outlook which did not have the required mechanism to recognise the climate contribution from social projects.
“The Clean Development Mechanism and other mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol are yet not fine-tuned enough so that programmes of this kind could be recognised,” she said.
Under the CDM, companies and governments can invest in emissions cuts made by projects in developing nations, and in return receive offset credits that can be used to meet Kyoto targets or sold for profit.
”There is both a need for us to do the quantification and on the other hand there is also need for the international community to be able to develop mechanisms that recognise and give credit for such programmes.”