Opposition criticizes govt over change in climate commitment

Opposition criticizes govt over change in climate commitment

New Delhi: The political opposition and experts on Friday criticized the environment minister’s statement in Parliament on India accepting domestic commitments to cut its intensity of emissions that lead to global warming.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had said on Thursday that India will reduce its intensity of emissions per unit of production by 20-25% by 2020, which was a departure from the country’s earlier stand.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday criticized the pre-negotiation statement of the minister as “unilateral cuts aimed to weaken India’s negotiating position".

“The statement marks serious departure from its (government’s) earlier stated position that we would not accept any legally binding commitment to reduce overall emissions as also emission intensity," leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley told reporters on Friday. “By announcing unilateral cuts without a corresponding commitment from the developed countries, the government has sought to negate the equal per capita principle, which India has in the past been propagating."

Sunita Narain, director of non-profit Centre for Science and Environment and member of the Prime Minister’s council on climate change, and Surya Sethi, co-author of India’s integrated energy policy, former advisor to the Planning Commission on climate change and former climate negotiator, also expressed fears that such a local commitment could be used to India’s disadvantage in the global talks.

“Yes, we definitely need domestic action, but most important is what does this mean for the upcoming negotiations," Narain said. “It is very unfortunate that the minister did not support the per capita entitlement argument. It may be an accident that we have as many people as we have today, but they are not consuming at the level of what US’ population is."

The climate council, the nodal agency on domestic action, was not consulted regarding this change in stance. The council has so far cleared all missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change.

The argument that every individual on earth has an equal right to atmospheric space has not only been held by India since the beginning of climate talks in the early 1990s, but also by the Group of 77, a grouping of developing nations.

Mint had reported on Thursday that officials and negotiators were taken aback when the minister said that India’s low per capita emissions were an accident of history and a failure to control birth rate.

Both Sethi and Narain said the low per capita emissions were India’s failure on inclusive growth and not due to population growth. Sethi said that when it comes to intensity of emissions, India has been on a downward trajectory since 1990.

A study by consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, released on Friday, also said India has among the best performances in achieving carbon intensity reduction since 2000, required to achieve the global carbon emissions budget for 2000-50 among the Group of Twenty countries.

“But it will become more and more difficult to maintain the reduction. Five-hundred-and-fifty-million people in India don’t have access to power; we have to ensure that they do," Sethi said. “But now we are saying that we will reduce further, which means that we cannot address the needs of India’s poor."

Experts also called for more clarity on whether India’s reduction target is for carbon intensity or emissions intensity. In Parliament, Ramesh referred once to carbon intensity and once to emissions intensity. It is unclear which one he was referring to.

Though they sound similar, there is a key difference, which is critical to understanding just how much India needs to reduce.

Carbon intensity refers to the emission of only carbon dioxide per unit of production. Carbon dioxide is mainly released by burning fossil fuels. Emissions intensity, on the other hand, includes emissions per unit of production of all warming gases, including methane and carbon dioxide, from agriculture, land use change and forestry sectors.

India’s emissions intensity was at 759 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per $1 million, or around Rs4.6 crore today, (in purchasing power parity) in 2005, while carbon intensity was at 501 tonnes, according to World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

As a result, if Ramesh was referring to emissions intensity, then India will not only need to reduce more, it will also have to control emissions from agriculture and forestry.