India’s Commitment to Climate Change at UNFCCC


Ambitious, But More is Possible

On October 2, 2015, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, India submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for the period 2021 to 2030.

The intended contributions and targets envisaged are ambitious in the context of India’s current state of development. Further, the aim of adopting a ‘sustainable way of life’ perspective has hit the right note. Could there have been more, asks Shweta Srinivasan, a senior research analyst at the Bengaluru-based policy think tank CSTEP.

India’s per capita emissions are just one-eighth of the US and one-third of China’s – the world’s top emitters today. Even so, to enable quality standard of living for more people, the need for energy and consequent absolute emissions will grow. CSTEP estimates show that even by 2030, these would be much lower on per capita basis compared to the US and China. Nevertheless, the INDC has committed to reducing its emissions intensity of GDP by 30-35 % over 2005 levels by 2030 and increasing India’s fossil-free share of installed capacity to 40% by 2030.

The INDC also steered clear of announcing a year or timeframe for peaking emissions – all alluding to Prime Minister Modi’s recent statements at different international fora on climate justice, differentiation between developed and developing countries, the role of international financing and technology transfer and cooperation.

The emission intensity reduction target is reasonably aggressive. A scenario comparison in CSTEP’s recent report titled Quality of Life for All- A Sustainable Development Framework for India’s Climate Policy shows that a 16% emission intensity reduction over 2012 level (this corresponds to about 30% over 2005 levels) is possible if India undertakes serious efforts for enabling sustainable development across different sectors.


By 2030, India could require a total installed power generation capacity of about 800 GW. Considering that 70% of India’s current capacity (about 250 GW including captive) is fossil fuel-based, the target for fossil free capacity is ambitious.

However, the INDC’s (implicit) discussion on how the fossil-free share will be realised along with ongoing policy efforts in the power sector, indicates an emphasis on renewable energy. More importantly this was a missed opportunity to talk about coal from a sustainable development perspective.

Coal Still The Big Player

Coal will remain the dominant source for power in India (over 300 GW of additional capacity). The INDC envisages improved efficiency, advanced coal and international cooperation in technology transfer and R&D. However, there is limited discussion on how such clean coal fits with the sustainable way of life. India needs to think through pollution externalities of coal thermal power plants (TPPs). Over 80,000- 115,000 premature deaths and illness are attributable to pollution from coal TPPs annually. CSTEP estimates show that a shift to renewables and higher end-use efficiency can reduce the aggregate pollution from the power sector by about 50% over a business-as-usual scenario with more coal, and therein reduce health impacts; this is reflected in the fossil-free installed capacity target.

But, while coal can be seen as affording power to all, it cannot punch beyond its weight. The additional coal capacity will imply massive externalities – remember China in the last decade? Pollution control measures, monitoring and regulation with penalties can truly cleanup coal and enable a ‘sustainable way of life’. Conservative estimates suggest that this could imply an additional investment of about USD 30 billion by 2030 – a mere 3% of the USD 834 billion (2011 prices) mitigation investment identified in the INDC. While the INDC loosely mentions that the government is mulling stringent emission standards for TPPs, this was a missed chance of thinking through strategically. India could have been more aggressive in identifying this as a place where it sees deployment of domestic resources (budgetary, NCEF or private) and international collaboration to truly clean up coal to enable a sustainable way of life, even as mitigation strategies are supported via international financing.

The INDC document concludes with a disclaimer that India reserves the right to make additional INDCs as and when required. Hopefully, the above consideration will get reflected in future revisions and make INDC more about sustainable development.


Climate Change vs. Climate Justice

While addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about poverty, the ill-effects of climate change and sustainable development. Marking a crucial difference between climate change and climate justice, he pointed out that India was on a sustainable path towards prosperity by focusing on energy efficiency, carrying out afforestation on a large scale and cleaning up rivers.

“The bedrock of our collective enterprise is common but differentiated responsibilities. When we speak of climate change, there is a hint unspoken of safeguarding what we already have. But when we speak of climate justice, then the responsibility of saving the poor from the vagaries of climate is something that will help us evolve positive thoughts.”

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