Is India Really Serious About Its Carbon Intensity Target?

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There has been a colossal change in India’s climate change strategy over the last few months. From being a staunch opponent of any emission reduction targets to a prospective climate leader, India has changed gears so rapidly that now its proposals to reduce its carbon footprint have come under questioning.


India opposed emission reductions in all its forms, voluntary or mandatory, from the very beginning. At all the meetings prior to the Copenhagen Climate meet the Indian climate negotiators, along with others from developing countries, virtually battled with their counterparts from United States and Europe. India always opposed emission cuts claiming that its per capita emissions are among the lowest in the world. India continued to negotiate with this fact as its central argument.

But all this changed when indicated that it had agreed to reduce its carbon emissions following almost year long talks with American officials. China signed agreements with the United States to enhance trade in areas like energy efficiency, renewable energy investments and green buildings. And recently, China announced its target of 15 percent energy from renewable sources by 2020 and reducing carbon intensity by 40-45 percent by 2020.

During the first half of the year India’s newly appointed Environment minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh said at numerous occasions that India will not accept emission targets at any cost. In a meeting with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton he refused to reconsider India’s stance regarding emission reductions saying that fight against poverty and climate change are interlinked issues and capping carbon emissions could hamper India’s efforts to uplift the poor.

“India cannot and will not take emission reduction targets because poverty eradication and social and economic development are first and over-riding priorities,” a statement on behalf of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.

After China announced its intent to reduce carbon intensity and all other developing countries announced their voluntary emission reduction targets, international pressure on India increased. Mr. Ramesh, sensing the changing patterns of negotiations, wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in which he expressed his personal views about India’s negotiating stance and the need to change it. He outlined the following points:

  • India should distance itself from G77 stance of opposing emission reductions and should accept emission reduction targets.
  • India should allow international monitoring of its mitigation plans.
  • India should accept greater responsibility at climate negotiations in order to gain strategic and diplomatic leverage which could eventually lead to a place in the UN Security Council.

The opposition parties blasted Mr. Ramesh’s ‘personal’ ideas and he had to retract from the contents of the letter. Last week in the parliament some legislators asked questions regarding the lack of clarity of national policy towards Copenhagen Climate Summit. Mr. Ramesh assured the Parliament that India will not come under international pressure and will not accept emission reductions.

In an interview following an unscheduled meeting with the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr. Ramesh said that the proposals made by other developing countries cannot be ignored and that his government would announce its course of action as and when required.

Now the question is wouldn’t this carbon intensity target hamper the profits of the coal fired power plants which the government intends to set up to boost rural electrification? How did the government suddenly realized that the country is in a healthy economic state to set such a target? These questions raise serious doubts about India’s commitment to wards reducing its carbon footprint. These targets seem merely tokens to impress the world and dodge pressure to do more.

India intends to reduce carbon emission produced for every unit of GDP by 20-25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. But it has already achieved 17 percent reduction by 2005 so according to the proposed target it intends to reduce carbon intensity further by merely 3 to 8 percent and that too on the condition that the developed countries provide substantial financial and technical assistance.

India generates 55 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants which are responsible for 60 percent of India’s total carbon emission generation. While it is clear that indigenous coal reserves will be used as power sources to provide electricity to villages India must look to adopt cleaner and more efficient ways of power generation. A group comprising of climate scientists and heads of power companies will soon come up with a strategy to improve efficiency of the coal-fired power plants.

Mr. Ramesh has also made it clear that even if the developed countries provide India with technical and financial assistance it does not bind India to open its mitigation measures for monitoring. Thus accountability remains a key unanswerable question in the proposed target.

If 17 percent reduction can be achieved without any international assistance why cannot the target be higher with the international assistance. The proposed target only seems to be in response to the international pressure rather than an earnest effort to contribute in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions. Well, one cannot blame India alone though, developed and developing countries like have announced weak emission targets by tweaking numbers to suit themselves.

India must present some realistic goals and must become more accountable and proactive if its wants to fulfill its national interests of being a major strategic power. It would take a much more sincere effort by India to make a real reduction in its sharply rising carbon emissions.

Photo: freefotouk (Creative Commons)

The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.

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Mridul Chadha

Mridul currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

Mridul Chadha has 425 posts and counting. See all posts by Mridul Chadha