The Lima Call for Climate Action adopted by 193 countries at the end of the UN Climate Change Conference in the Peruvian capital in December 2014 called on members to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Basically, these INDCs (that replace the earlier and firmer concepts of “commitments" or “pledges") are post-2020 targets and goals that each country takes for itself to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause global warming. The INDCs will be the building blocks of the new international climate change agreement expected to be finalized in Paris in December 2015.

Lima envisaged a first informal deadline of 31 March, 2015 for the INDCs to be communicated to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next informal deadline is end-June 2015 and the absolute cut-off date is end-October 2015.

The pace of submissions of INDCs so far has been hugely disappointing. Last week saw the US and Mexico formally announce their plans to curb emissions. The crux of the American INDC is a reduction of 26-28% in emissions of GHGs by 2025 on 2005 reference levels. Mexico’s INDC has made a splash since it says that the emissions of that country would peak by 2026 and decline thereafter. Mexico contributes just about 1.5% of global emissions, but its acceptance of a “peaking year" is significant nevertheless.

Earlier, the 28-member European Union (EU), which accounts for about 11% of global emissions, had submitted its INDC—the main feature of which is a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 on 1990 base year. Russia, which accounts for about 5% of global emissions, has also submitted its INDC stipulating a 25-30% reduction in its emissions by 2030 on 1990 base year, which does not amount to anything. Interestingly, neither the US nor the European INDCs are based on credits accruing from international market mechanisms, while that of Russia is dependent very heavily on forest management. Other countries that have submitted their INDCs are Norway, Switzerland and Gabon.

After the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of December 2009, India had pledged to reduce its emissions intensity (that is emissions per unit of gross domestic product, or GDP) by 20-25% by 2020 on 2005 reference levels. This was much like what China had done (a 40% reduction in emissions intensity over the same time period). One straightforward option for India is to extend this trajectory for 2025 and 2030 and submit an INDC anchored in a reduction in emissions intensity. Such a target does not mean that our absolute levels of emissions will fall. What it implies is that to generate one extra dollar of GDP, a lower level of emissions will be required—a cut in relative emissions, as it were.

The extension of the emissions intensity decline trajectory will be facilitated enormously by the steps already announced, such as:
(i) a solar energy generating capacity of 100,000 megawatts by 2022, up from the present level of around 3,000 megawatts, and another 75,000 megawatts of wind capacity, up from the present level of around 22,000 megawatts; (ii) an increase in energy efficiency through the perform, achieve and trade (PAT) mechanism for 494 energy-intensive companies that became fully operational from 1 April 2015; (iii) the coming into effect of mandatory fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles from 1 April 2016. There are other ongoing initiatives that will also have a salutary impact on the level of our emissions, such as improving both the quantity and quality of forest cover, commissioning of new nuclear and hydel power plants, apart from an increase in wind energy generating capacity.

Most probably, India will break up its INDCs into two: those that it will take responsibility for on its own and those whose implementation will depend on international finance and technology transfer. In point of fact, finance is unlikely to be forthcoming on a large scale and the notion that technology will be “transferred" in an altruistic manner without our having to pay for it, bypassing intellectual property rights, is unrealistic.

The truth is that India must do things on its own because of its own vulnerability to climate change and because in many areas it has the potential to exercise technological leadership. Our credibility and standing is immeasurably enhanced when we stand up on our own feet and tell the world that we are doing things on our own. If the world wants to help, well and good. But we should not be waiting for that to happen. This will call for a mindset change on our part. That change can only come from the political establishment since the negotiating bureaucracy is still wedded to positions that make for good argumentation, but do not promote enlightened national interest.

The key worry in the international community as far as India is concerned relates to coal. As the debate goes beyond the INDCs themselves, attention will get focused on long-term low-carbon pathways. This will become significant given that the aggregate impact of all the INDCs will definitely not be enough to restrict the increase in global average temperature in 2010 above pre-industrial levels to below 2°C, which is now the commonly accepted global goal. So while India’s INDC will be welcomed no doubt, in Paris its thinking on such post-2025/2030 pathways will be closely followed. China’s INDC will, to be sure, mentions that its emissions will peak well before 2030, a goal mentioned in the Sino-US accord of November 2014. It is not much of a commitment really because it would mean peaking at about 10 tonnes per capita. But the optics is transformative.

India needs such a bold move on mitigation to jolt the world and become its conscience. Its INDC cannot be incremental. Peaking year will be extremely problematic right now but why not put out the idea of “peaking plateau", especially for coal consumption? It is both desirable and doable.

The author is a former Union minister and Rajya Sabha MP.

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