India’s INDC: Bold but packs a strong caveat

S. Gopikrishna Warrier *

doi:10.1038/nindia.2015.137 Published online 20 October 2015

India says the country will not be able to reduce emissions without support from developed countries.

© S. Priyadarshini

India committed to reduce its emission intensity by 33-35% of the 2005 value by 2030, in a delayed but bold announcement of the country’s ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ (INDC) to greenhouse gas emission reduction this month. 

The announcement, that came on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on 2 October 2015 (a couple of days after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change deadline of September 30), however, packs in a strong caveat –  that India will not be able to meet these commitments without support from developed countries on finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

India’s INDC has been premised on the concept of climate justice, which both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar attribute to Gandhi’s thinking. In the INDC, the emission intensity refers to the ratio of the country’s GHG emission to per rupee of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the Indian economy. 

There will be an increase in the component of non-fossil fuel use, according to the INDC. The aim is “to achieve about 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund (GCF).”

The increase in non-fossil fuel based energy sources will be through increases in the capacity of wind energy, solar power, biomass energy, hydropower, nuclear power, clean coal technologies, and through the use of smart grid for transmission and distribution. The INDC document states that between 2002 and 2015 the share of renewable energy increased from 2% (3.9 Giga Watts) to 13% (36 GW). The aim is to scale this to 175 GW in the next few years.

Also, the country would create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 through additional forest and tree cover.

On adaptation, the aim is to enhance investments in development programmes in sectors vulnerable to climate change, particulary agriculture, water resources, Himalayan region, coastal regions, health and disaster management.

The fine print

The tone and tenor of the INDC conveys to the world that India is already doing much to reduce GHG emissions. It lists initiatives taken on mitigation and adaptation, and also reminds the international community that India had declared a voluntary goal to reduce its emission intensity by 20 to 25% of the 2005 levels by 2020. As a result of a number of policy measures taken by the government, the emission intensity reduced by 12% between 2005 and 2010. The country will also do some more to help reduce the global emissions.

The INDC emphasises that it cannot be equated to a mitigation obligation. “It is clarified that India’s INDC do not bind it to any sector specific mitigation obligation or action, including in agriculture sector. India’s goal is to reduce overall emission intensity and improve energy efficiency of its economy over time and at the same time protecting the vulnerable sectors of economy and segments of our society.”

However, the caveat as clearly stated in the INDC is: “The successful implementation of INDC is contingent upon an ambitious global agreement including additional means of implementation to be provided by developed country parties, technology transfer and capacity building.”

India insists that the new instrument to be finalised at the Conference of Parties (CoP) at Paris in November-December to replace the Kyoto Protocol, should look at all the elements of the negotiation. “As we put together the new global compact for enhanced actions, it is critical to ensure that it is comprehensive, balanced, equitable, and pragmatic. It should address all the elements including adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building, and transparency of action and support.”

There is a point in India’s assertion. When countries across the world are asked to raise their emission reduction ambitions, the negotiations on climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building also have to keep pace. And this has not happened with the international climate change negotiations.

Structural gap

This has been a weakness in the manner in which climate change negotiations have been structured and how they have evolved since 1992. The climate change negotiations are different multilateral trade negotiations in the build-up to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement in the early 1990s. The WTO Agreement was structured as a package or an umbrella of agreements, which took into consideration the concerns of both the developed and developing countries.

The climate change negotiations, on the other hand, started with discussions on mitigation. Then the elements of emission trading, adaptation, climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building got added into the discussions later. The last element to be added was that of loss and damage. The Kyoto Protocol, which would be replaced by the new agreement that would be drawn up at the Paris CoP itself has a limited focus on mitigation and emissions trading. Due to this structural weakness of the climate change negotiations, it has become a virtual cornucopia of pulls and pressures, with new points being thrown in at almost every CoP.

However, despite this, India submitting its INDC with a caveat that the contributions can be achieved only if the developed countries can provide finance, technology and training is a self-defeating position. Irrespective of whether India gets support from developed countries or not, it is vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change India’s vulnerability to extreme weather events are only going to increase in the coming decades. For instance, droughts, like the current one gripping much of Maharashtra, are only likely to become more frequent with climate change. In Tamil Nadu, the state climate change action plan notes that the trend in the past decade has shown that the rainfall in the southwest monsoon has been decreasing from its share of 48% to 24%, and the northeast monsoon has increased from 34% to 63%. With its 7,500-km coastline, India is vulnerable to sea level rise, coastal inundation and salinisation. 

International climate change negotiations are all about feint and parry. Most countries have a stiffer projected negotiating position and a mellower realistic position. It is possible that India’s caveat on funding, technology transfer and capacity building relates more to its negotiating position. It would be a breakthrough if India, along with other like-minded countries, can persuade the international body to include these concerns into the future agreement on an equal footing.

*The author is an environment journalist and blogger.