Planning for emission cuts

Planning for emission cuts

India has always argued against the imposition of binding greenhouse gas emission cuts. This has resulted in the country being labelled “obstructionist" in attempts to evolve a global climate change control regime. Not any more.

Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh on Thursday said India has no problem in quantifying the level of emission cuts based on its unilateral domestic actions. The keyword here is unilateral. Depending on one’s situation one may view this as a mere stratagem to deflect criticism and do nothing (if one is in the West) or it may be seen as an attempt to deal with a situation that requires action.

In terms of India’s negotiating strategy at global fora (such as the forthcoming climate change talks in Copenhagen), this may not work. Developed countries are likely to see this as a delaying tactic and, at the same time, a weakening of India’s resolve in not quantifying any targets. After this, there may be more pressure to adhere to binding cuts.

It, however, has merit as a subnational strategy under which incentives and disincentives are dished out to states, companies and individuals to curb the use of climate change enhancing technologies. Given that India does not have a developed carbon market, the form of these incentives has to be designed carefully.

There are very different examples of how government designed and implemented incentives in very diverse areas— power sector reforms being one good example—have not worked. Incentives to control climate change, such as energy- use efficiency, increasing the use of renewable resources and a host of other measures can be subverted quite easily. The danger of “indicative" targets (as the minister would want emissions control to be) being rendered meaningless is very real.

It is easy to implement incentives when there is some uniformity among states in such a scheme. Because of the diversity of Indian states, in terms of their per capita energy use, intensity of resource use, capabilities to adapt and use new technologies and, in general, the level of economic development, any incentives programme is fraught with difficulties. Unless these issues are sorted out, Ramesh’s statement may be nothing more than an empty strategy.

Has India succumbed to Western pressure on adhering to emission targets? Tell us at