India’s INDC & Its Expectations From Paris (In Depth)

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About a week back, India submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The date of the announcement was chosen to coincide with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi — an ardent environmentalist himself.

The 38-page document goes on to quote Gandhi on several occasions, most famously when he said,

“Earth has enough resources to meet people’s needs, but will never have enough to satisfy people’s greed.”

The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) released by India unveils its climate action plan for 2030, with some ambitious goals. The plans have been received favorably by several green bodies, though some say that they expected more from India.Can India Transition to a Low Carbon Energy System? Tobias Engelmeier

India is the world’s third-largest polluter (after the US and China). As a bloc, the 28-nation European Union’s emissions are however higher. For the sake of comparison, per capita emissions in India are of the US and  of China’s. However, with rising income levels and improvements in energy access, this is bound to increase.

Calling the country’s INDC as “balanced and comprehensive,” the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, said that India will work towards a low-carbon-emission pathway while simultaneously endeavoring to meet all the developmental challenges that it faces today.

The document notes that no country in the world has been able to achieve a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.9 or more without an annual energy availability of at least 4 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) per capita. The average annual energy consumption in India in 2011 was only 0.6 toe per capita as compared to a global average of 1.88 toe per capita. India currently has an HDI of 0.586.

Major Targets Announced By India

The INDC centres around India’s policies and programmes to catalyse sustainable development and also captures citizens and private sector contribution to combating climate change. The INDC proposals cut across several thematic areas, including mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building.

While the document talks about a number of programmes, three main quantifiable targets emerge distinctly for the target year 2030.

  1. Reducing emission intensity of GDP by 33-35% from 2005 levels
  2. Increasing non-fossil electricity generating systems to reach 40% of the commutative installed capacity
  3. Creating additional carbon sinks of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover

In addition to these, the document also talks about the focus on adaptation efforts in sectors (geographic and socio-economic) which are more vulnerable to climate change, especially agriculture and water.

The key idea behind the proposal is to dispel any notions of India being a reluctant participant. Doing so would both help India to contribute realistically to the Conference Of Parties (COP) in Paris later this year, and would also provide it a better bargaining position for access to low-cost finance and cleantech.

Reducing Emission Intensity Of GDP

In the run-up to Copenhagen (2009), India had voluntarily committed to a 20–25% reduction in emissions intensity of GDP by 2020 based on 2005 levels. As per the United Nations Environment Programme’s Emission Gaps Report 2014, India is on course to meet its target.

Achieving 33–35% reduction may require more focused sector-specific efforts than what has been attempted. However, in the course of meeting its renewable energy and non-fossil targets (generation side), and by continuing with mechanisms created under the National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency (demand side), this should be doable.

It would be important to note that, while the country has relied on domestically financing energy efficiency initiatives (e.g., LED lighting) until now, it would be looking to get access to better technologies at low cost during the negotiations.

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Increasing Non-Fossils In The Energy Mix

India currently has an installed electricity generation capacity of around 275 GW, with over 36 GW of renewable energy capacity, contributing around 13% to the installed base. A report from TERI expects the nation’s installed capacity to increase to 795 GW by 2031 in a business-as-usual scenario.

As per the announced INDC, India would be chasing a non-fossil target of about 320 GW by 2030. On a side note, scale-up of such a magnitude will drive technology, innovation, and cost reduction not just in India, but worldwide.

The current installed capacity targets for 2022 are 100 GW solar power and 60 GW wind energy capacity. If this wasn’t ambitious enough, the Modi government is looking to boost solar power to reach 250 GW and wind power to 100 GW by 2030.

Even though many may optimistically agree on 2022 targets, the ones for 2030 look difficult. Unless, of course, India gets “help of transfer of technology and low-cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund” as the INDC document says. (More numbers on the cost estimates in the next section.)

In a bid to reduce fossil fuel use, the proposal lumps nuclear and hydroelectric energy with renewable energy. The mentioned goals state that nuclear power would be increased from the current 5.7 GW to 63 GW by 2032, and hydropower could rise from 46 GW (mostly large hydro) to 100 GW.

Both of these targets, however, seem difficult to achieve in the current scenario. Proposals for nuclear plants have faced very stiff resistance, and so have plans for large-scale hydro-power. Also, if renewables capacity additions goes as planned, these may not really be needed to meet the INDC targets.

Coal, on the other hand, is expected to form the major part of the remaining 60% of the generation capacity in 2030. This seems to suggest that an additional 200 GW of capacity will come from coal. This projection seems surprising in the wake of falling solar power costs. Coal power may soon become uneconomical, even after discounting its environmental costs. Especially considering developments in battery storage.

Unlike China, though, India has not announced any peaking year for its emissions. India says that its per capita emissions are much lower than compared to US and China, and also that “more than half of India of 2030 is yet to be built.

Creation Of Additional Carbon Sinks

As per the India State of Forest Report 2013, total forest and tree cover amounts to 24% of the geographical area of the country. The carbon sink available from the forests grew annually at 138.15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent during 1995-2005. During 2004–2011, this rate increased to 145.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (estimated from here).

If this rate is sustained, the forests and tree cover in India would provide for an additional carbon sink of about 2.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030. The government, by the way, is targeting a higher goal by creating and funding a number of programs as outlined in the INDC document.

In order to induce state-led growth of green cover, the central government has disclosed that transfer of funds to the states will now be “based on a formula that attaches 7.5 % weight to the area under forest.” This initiative will give afforestation a massive boost by conditioning about $6.9 billion of transfers to the states based on their forest cover. This pool is projected to increase up to $12 billion by 2019–2020.

The INDC expands on several other programs and targets — you can read them here.

Cost Of Going Green & Business Opportunities

It is an open secret that the massive needs of India for sustainable development presents a profitable opportunity for several businesses and investors.

India’s INDC submission estimates that implementing adaptation actions in agriculture, forestry, fisheries infrastructure, water resources, and ecosystems alone would require funds to the tune of $206 billion between 2015 and 2030. Mitigation requirements are even more enormous for the country, and NITI Aayog (the body that replaced the erstwhile Planning Commission) calculates that moderate low-carbon development would cost another $834 billion by 2030, at 2011 prices.

However, the preliminary estimate for meeting India’s climate change actions between now and 2030 is a staggering $2.5 trillion, at 2014–2015 prices.

India has largely financed its efforts using domestic resources until now. There is no way goals will be achieved if this continues. The document does not hide this fact and talks about access to low-cost capital and technology on several occasions.

India’s Expectations From Paris

Not only is India one of the largest polluters on an aggregate basis, but it also stands to be the most vulnerable if adaptation and mitigation actions are delayed.

Over a number of years, the country has warmed up to a more proactive role than sitting on the fence. India wants to be in a position where it can get access to resources to power green development. To quote Gandhi:

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

What India has not moved away from, however, is its position that developed nations have the historical responsibility to pay for the fight against climate change. Even the sub-title of India’s INDC document talks about “climate justice.” In an interview to the Associated Press, Javadekar asked developed countries to vacate “carbon space.”

“We are asking the developed world to vacate the carbon space to accommodate us. That carbon space demand is climate justice. It’s our right as a nation. It’s our right as people of India, and we want that carbon space.”

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Anand Upadhyay

is a Fellow with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, New Delhi). He tweets at @indiasolarpost. Views and opinion if any, are his own.

Anand Upadhyay has 95 posts and counting. See all posts by Anand Upadhyay