The announcement last week by the United States and China of a deal setting limits on greenhouse gases has set the ball rolling for the UN climate talks at Lima next week. But it has also done something long overdue – turned the spotlight on India. India has been under some pressure from the US and EU in the run up to the Peru talks to revise its INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions), which would push the country to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. However, India’s long-held position is that it will not sacrifice eradicating poverty to limit carbon emissions. In the words of Environment minister Prakash Javadekar, “Poverty is India’s greatest environmental challenge.”
But is this really an excuse? Not really, according to several climate campaigners and experts. “Energy poverty is no longer a justification for coal expansion,” said Ashish Fernandes of Greenpeace India. In the last five years alone, India increased its coal power capacity by 73 percent. To fuel the new plants, India plans to double domestic coal production to one billion tons a year by 2019, and boost imports, notably from Australia. Pollution from India’s coal plants — largely unregulated and unmonitored — kills up to 115,000 Indians a year, and costs India’s economy as much as $4.6 billion. India’s air is among the world’s dirtiest.
India, the world’s third highest emitter of greenhouse gases has long been hiding in the shadows of Chinese climate policies. Indian delegates have long been ardent defenders of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” – the concept that the burden of emissions reductions and financial assistance on climate change for poor countries belongs to developed countries, who have a historical responsibility.The concept has often hampered global climate negotiations, especially as some developing countries became emerging economies.Jairam Ramesh, India’s former environment minister and chief negotiator, believes it is time to rethink that approach.”Differentiation is essential but is this distinction made in a completely different era over two decades back still meaningful? Simply put, it is not,” he said.
Maybe that is why, sensing the change in global sentiment on climate change strategies, Prime Minister Modi recast the almost defunct Prime Minister’s council on climate change, seeking to reinvigorate the body ahead of a pivotal year for global talks. The council, which was set up in 2006 under the erstwhile UPA government, had not met in the past three years due to differences in the government ranks over climate policy. Aware of the global expectations, the Modi-government has also commissioned a study to assess India’s current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, the results of which will be out by December. These results, along with the internal assessments of the government, will be used to prepare India’s new voluntary targets to the international community under the new pact to be signed in 2015. Furthermore, this has been followed up by an announcement on renewable energy – India has indicated it aimed to increase the share of renewables to at least 15 per cent of its total energy usage, up from 6 per cent currently. India also hopes to bring in nearly USD$100 billion investment in renewable energy projects and install 100GW of solar capacity.
It remains to be seen whether this announcement will be followed through with concrete action – the long standing issue with a majority of climate committments. In the run up to Paris, pressure is now building on india to take a clear stance at the UN Climate talks. The negotiations next week will be intently watched to see what India comes up with!
*Riddhima Yadav is a member of Indian Youth Climate Network