climate future

Climate change: India begins work on meeting its obligations under the Paris Agreement

Environment ministry commissions studies on decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth.

The central government has commissioned three research institutions to project a long-term low carbon growth trajectory for India. This is the first step India has taken domestically to achieve its commitments under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The Energy Research Institute, Observer Research Foundation and Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy are tasked with recommending three different future low carbon growth scenarios for the country. The three institutions are expected to come up with their findings in about a year, well before the implementation of the Paris Agreement begins in 2020. Their studies will project economic growth and concomitant greenhouse gas emissions for the period 2030-45.

A long-term low carbon growth strategy essentially requires a developing country to plan the set of actions that ensure future economic growth lowers the rate of growth in greenhouse gas emissions than achieved in the past. In the climate jargon, this is described as “decoupling growth from emissions”.

Under the Paris Agreement, developed nations have committed to reduce their emissions in absolute terms. But developing nations such as India, keeping the need for poverty eradication in mind, have committed to reducing the emissions intensity of their economies over time. Emissions intensity of the economy means the amount of greenhouse gases a country emits per unit of national income. The hope is that as large developing economies inch closer to their economic and poverty reduction targets, they will also seek to cap their annual gross emission levels.

India has promised to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 30-35% below the 2005 level by 2030. As part of this overarching commitment, the country plans to increase the share of renewable energy in its total power generation capacity to 40% by 2030.

China, leaps ahead of India on the economic front as well as in annual emissions, has committed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by around 2030 and reduce its emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product by 60%-65% from the 2005 level.

A sound basis

To ensure that each of the three appointed institutions work on the same basic assumptions for the low carbon growth models, the Union environment, forests and climate change ministry has also set up an expert group on climate change, economy, development economics and greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have some previous studies and models on India’s emissions growth but their results were not comparable as each institution worked on its own assumptions of the nature and pattern of economy we wish to see in future and for the base scenarios,” said a senior government official who asked not to be identified. “This time we want to ensure that while we have different perspectives from the three institutions, they are all based on the same basic assumptions and parameters.”

The expert group will provide the set of parameters to the three institutions, based on which the latter will build their respective low carbon growth projections. The projections would be then reviewed by the government to decide what set of actions across the economy will be required to ensure the emission intensity of India’s economy reduces over time in tune with its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

India plans to increase the share of renewable energy in its total power generation capacity to 40% by 2030. Photo credit: AFP
India plans to increase the share of renewable energy in its total power generation capacity to 40% by 2030. Photo credit: AFP

Trump walkout doesn’t matter

The work on commissioning the three studies began even as the government grappled with international concern over the United States walking out of the Paris Agreement under President Donald Trump. “We have been clear that India shall abide by its commitments regardless of what other member states [countries that are party to the Paris Agreement] decide to do in their best interest,” said the official. “Towards that we have begun work on the domestic policies.”

But India did have to play a balancing role at the recent G20 talks in Hamburg when the US asserted its exception from the group. While all other 19 countries, including India, agreed to stand by the Paris Agreement, US negotiators bargained to state upfront their exception in the G20 joint statement.

Ever since Trump took over as the US president, India has had to reassess its position at the international climate change forums. On issues of economic competitiveness within the climate change negotiations – rich countries providing public finance to developing countries and easing intellectual property rights on green technologies – India has found both the US and the European Union on the same side. Both are averse to the idea. But on the nature of the global regime, India found greater affinity with the US and China than with the EU when the Paris Agreement was negotiated with Barack Obama as the US president.

Indian climate negotiators also saw a googly being bowled at them as the global community raised concerns about the US walkout. At several international forums over the past six months, they found that India and China were being asked to shoulder additional burden of reducing emissions and providing global finance to replace the recalcitrant US.

“India and China have both taken on more than their fair share of the burden of reducing emissions growth under the Paris Agreement,” said the official. “There is no logic or equity in asking these two developing countries to fill in the gap for a rich nation that has decided to not meet its obligations.”

Not so black and white

India remains wary of aligning too closely with the EU against the US on this front. “We are not in favour of singling out nations,” said an Indian climate change negotiator. “Each country has the right to decide what is best for it. Finger-pointing does not help in international diplomacy.”

He noted that during negotiations for the Paris Agreement, both the EU and the US had tried to force large developing economies such as India to also compulsorily contribute to the global finance for climate change. Both had also worked to keep language on their financial commitments and subsequent scrutiny of those commitments as fuzzy as possible.

“There are areas where one has over time found all developed countries taking similar, if not exactly the same position, particularly in their aversion to providing climate finance and technology transfer to poor countries,” the negotiator said. “India cannot see this in black and white. You cannot point to one as the bad guy in the room and call the rest good souls. Each country works towards their specific national interests at these negotiations. India has to assess its interest in the changing scenario.”

He added, “But we have our work cut out on the domestic front regardless of what happens in the international arena.”

Towards this end, in parallel with developing the long-term low carbon growth models, the government has begun discussing new regulations that would be required to get industries and others to regularly share their emissions data. The Paris Agreement requires India and other nations to regularly update their greenhouse emissions inventory. So far, India has been required to do it only once every two years and that too largely through statistical projections. Starting 2020, it will be required to adhere to an international regime of transparency and scrutiny of its numbers. The government plans to set up a mechanism for a large part of the formal economic sector to provide primary data on annual greenhouse gas emissions while it builds a more robust model to estimate emissions from the informal economy and small and medium scale industries.

The low carbon growth trajectories and the preliminary drafts on new emissions inventory regulations are expected to be ready by 2018.

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