(Delhi, 16 May 2011) During the run-up to the December 2009 UNFCCC summit in Copenhagen, China announced a 2020 target to reduce its emissions intensity (the amount of energy used per unit of GDP) by 40-45 per cent over its 2005 levels. This was part of a concerted effort to deflect criticism that, as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it was not doing enough on climate change. India (currently the 4th largest emitter) — quick on China’s cue — announced a week later that it would also reduce its emissions intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020 over its 2005 levels. That’s about half of China’s promise. Despite this, China and India faced flak at Copenhagen from developed countries and the international media for their supposedly obdurate stance on legally binding emission reductions.
In typical fashion, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) then set up an ‘Expert group on low carbon strategies to achieve inclusive growth (EGLCS)’ to provide a roadmap to meet its Copenhagen promise. From the outset, there were two reasons why this committee was on track to achieve little; first, its mandate was drawn from the pre- Copenhagen political statement of reducing ‘emissions intensity’ and second, its remit was to work within the so called ‘inclusive growth’ paradigm with projected annual GDP growth rates of 8-9 per cent till 2020, the latter being a ‘prerequisite’ to eradicate poverty and meet India’s human development goals.
This was, at best, business as usual. Emission intensity reductions, of course, skirt the real issue of the urgent need for absolute emissions cuts. In a pre-Copenhagen submission to the Indian government, over 200 (Indian) civil society organisations argued that such cuts need not be legally bound by the UNFCCC but by national legislation. Further, analyses of previous and current energy and technology trends by researchers have shown that India’s target, in addition to being much less ambitious than China’s, can be met with practically no dedicated carbon mitigation policies.
Last week, after considerable delay (14 months instead of 4) the 34-member EGLCS submitted its interim report. Predictably, the report doesn’t buck the general trend in India’s climate diplomacy — which is to be proactive and aggressive in international forums such as the UNFCCC, the Major Economies Forum (MEF) and the G20 in defending India’s right to development and policy space — but falls drastically short on domestic issues of equity and environmental justice.
Presenting a series of calculations, the EGLCS merely confirms that with some ‘determined’ effort India will meet its Copenhagen target of emission intensity reductions in 2020. Maybe realising that this was stating the obvious, the report adds a second set of possibilities that with ‘aggressive’ efforts it can do more and achieve both 8 per cent growth and up to 35 per cent reduction in emissions intensity.
Chairman of the EGLCS, economist Kirit Parikh, also adds the crucial caveat that to achieve both scenarios (“determined” and “aggressive”) India would need new technology and additional finance. There is no mention of the quantum of technology and finance in this interim report. But those calculations will no doubt arrive before this year’s UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) 17 at Durban as Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh limbers up with data and research to prove that India is doing its bit on climate, but that — with technology and liberal doses of finance from the international community — it can do more.
Basically the report looks at key economic sectors, such as power, transport, industry, buildings and forestry (pages 29-101) where sectoral strategies can be put in place for reducing emissions intensity. Here is a snapshot of three of those.
Energy: In chapter 3.1 on sectoral strategies for power, India’s obsessive preoccupation with generating more and more power is reiterated. On the supply side it states that coal will continue to be the main power generation source in 2020 (projected at nearly 200,000 MW at 9 per cent GDP growth) and therefore its annual supply needs to increase two and half times (implying that both domestic mining and imports of coal will have to increase considerably). Nuclear power capacity with a mix of Pressurised Heavy Water and Light Water Reactors is expected to more than triple from the present 4780MW to 17500 MW. Big hydro capacity is also slated to increase, although not substantially due to issues of emissions from land clearing and high costs of resettlement. In a nutshell, the EGLCS takes its cue from India’s Integrated Energy Policy (crafted by Kirit Parikh) which follows the convenient route of (i) assuming that energy demand will grow exponentially and (ii) meeting this demand through conventional energy with some lip service to renewables.
Transport: Section 3.2 on transport recognises the need to integrate policies on transportation, urban housing and habitat. But the fact that this would require a complete re-design of current urban planning and infrastructure that presently privileges private vehicles and actively discriminates against users of public transport, bicycles, rickshaws and pedestrians, finds no mention in the report. The section on improving fuel efficiencies recommends taxes on diesel vehicles such as SUVs and incentives to environment friendly private vehicles. A more prudent policy would have been to unequivocally push for public and non-motorised transport in cities (and provide the urban planning framework that minimises the need to travel).
Forestry: Under forestry, the EGLCS cedes right of way to the Green India Mission (GIM) — one of the eight missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change. The GIM is expected to issue its road map on how it will utilise an estimated ten billion dollars (Rupees 46,000 crores) over the next ten years for afforestation and sustainable forest management. Based on an assessment of documents available from the MoEF, forest community groups such as the Campaign for Survival and Dignity and National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) have expressed apprehensions that the GIM, by privileging of the Forest Department, will run counter to the progressive Forest Rights Act which enshrines legal rights to forest communities. Further, the GIM aims at augmenting funds to protect, manage and increase forest cover through the flawed carbon market. Forests in developing countries, so far left out of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), will get soon get carbon credits through the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) plus framework. The plus in REDD allows developing countries to get funds for (a) conservation (b) increasing carbon stocks and (c) sustainable forest management. Not surprisingly, all of these aspects find prominent mention in GIM documents. Forest groups fear that the GIM endorsement of REDD plus will lead to increased land grabbing, violation of people’s rights, environmental destruction, and loss of common lands and the livelihoods based on them, without in any way genuinely responding to the burning problem of climate change.
The formation of the EGLCS is definitely a welcome step, but its’ framing of reducing ‘emissions intensity’ as its core area of work is fundamentally flawed. Much of that reduction, as mentioned earlier, will happen in a business as usual scenario with efficiency and technology improvements. Also, the argument that India needs to drastically increase its GDP (and therefore emissions) to achieve ‘inclusive growth’ in the name of the poorest and most vulnerable has been comprehensively debunked by economists and several social movements. These so-called beneficiaries are in the vanguard of the resistance against mega mining projects, ports, power plants, hydro projects, highways and industrial parks. The EGLCS needs to take its cue from these grassroots movements which are not simply resisting the current development model but are proactively struggling for public housing, transport, access to forests, basic energy requirements and sustainable livelihoods.
* Benny Kuruvilla is a research associate with Focus on the Global South. Contact bennyk(at)focusweb.org.
India’s low carbon climate strategy: on track for no ambition