Thursday, January 22, 2015

Indo-US Cooperation and Perspectives on Climate Change

Dr Hishmi Jamil Husain

Climate change is an environmental problem that has various environmental, social and economic dimensions. Nations and citizens must determine how they can limit their own contributions to the negative impacts of climate change. India is one of the vulnerable countries when it comes to the effects of global warming due to its vast coastal line as the rising sea levels are attributed to the phenomenon of global warming.

There are several factors which are contributing to climate change apart from the Green House Gas (GHG) emission. Therefore, putting all restrictions on GHGs emission alone is not going to help in checking climate change. On the one hand, there is an increase in the average global temperature while on the other, there are severe cold and snow storms in US every year. Climate change is a cyclic process and a study of the earth’s geological history would enable one to easily understand it and plan for future changes.

In the last two centuries, developed countries contributed significantly in producing the GHGs and therefore more responsibility lies with them to combat its harmful impact. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) proposed significant cuts in emission on developed countries as their responsibility. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the countries which are called Annexure I industrialized countries (Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America) have been given specific targets to achieve.

India has been insisting on clean energy agreements with the developed nations on the same lines as they have done with China. India has already declared that even as it pursues its social and economic development objectives, it will not allow its per capita GHG emissions to exceed the average per capita emissions of the developed countries. This effectively puts a cap on our emission, which will be lower if our developed partners choose to be more ambitious in reducing their own emissions. India’s per capita CO2 emissions is 1.1 tonnes as against USA’s 20 tonnes per capita. The US and China account for over 16% each of the total global emissions whereas India trails far behind with just 4%.

India launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) on 30th June 2008. This shows India’s strong commitment to lead the campaign and initiatives to combat climate change. The NAPCC has been prepared under the guidance and direction of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change. Under this plan, the Government of India has set a target of reducing country’s carbon emissions intensity of GDP by 20% to 25% between 2005 and 2020. In addition, to achieve the internal target of GHG emission reduction, the Government of India is encouraging renewable energy at every possible level of the economy. NAPCC outlined eight national missions to achieve the targets set under the plan. These eight missions need appropriate institutional frameworks such as public private partnership and civil society participation for the effective delivery of the main objectives of each mission. These missions are intended to provide a concrete road map detailing how India plans to move forward in combating climate change.

The US could play a very important role in supporting India in the implementation of NAPCC. It will also generate opportunities for US based companies to help India in reducing carbon emission, providing clean technologies, clean energy finance forum, energy security, energy smart cities, greening the grid and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Having the second largest population in the world and a rapidly growing economy, India’s focus on climate change action cannot just be confined to current emissions. Equally important is the issue of adaptation to climate change that has already taken place and will continue to take place in the near future even in the most favorable easing scenarios. India is expected to spend over 2% of its GDP on adaptation and this figure is likely to go up significantly. The Copenhagen package must include global action on adaptation in addition to action to GHG reduction. Climate change will have an impact on all countries around the globe. Developing countries are much more vulnerable to climate change than the developed world. Climate change aggravates the effects of population growth, poverty, and rapid urbanization.

India should agree to cap its emissions at the 2035 level rather than insisting on 2050 as the cut off year because sooner is better and India has already planned and implemented various initiatives and steps in this regard. The strategic outcomes pursued by the NAPCC recognises the need for reductions in global GHG emissions, commits to working on reducing emissions intensity and proposes a substantial decarbonisation of activities. Early planning of projects will play an important role in achieving an early cap.

There is need to change the accounting of GHG as the present calculations are based on consumption and not production which is low for developed countries because they are able to use advanced technologies though their production is high. Developing countries are more dependent on developed countries for their supplies. Annexure I countries reduced their emission level to 40% in 2014 and hence there is limited possibility of their reducing the same further, which has led to the deadlock in the climate change negotiations. Developed countries want to list current and future contributors to GHG and fix responsibility for the same. Though in terms of volume, China is having more GHG emission than US, in so far as per capita volume is concerned, China is far ahead of the US.

The Government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attached great importance to action-oriented policies to bring development to the people while addressing climate change. The Government has also displayed strong political will for “Development without Destruction”. Numerous focused actions and initiatives have been taken up by the Government mainly to increase the share of renewables and enhanced energy efficiency in the next five years by doubling the installed wind energy capacity and installed solar capacity by more than 20,000 MW.

The Government has also taken policy initiatives such as doubling the clean energy cess on coal to raise more revenue for clean energy technologies and over 15 million US dollars have been allocated to the ‘National Adaptation Fund’; 100 million US dollars for an ultra-modern super critical coal based thermal power Technology, 80 million US dollars for setting-up of ultra-mega solar projects in different states; and 16 million US dollars for the development of 1 MW solar parks on the banks of canals, Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) for commercial buildings design, energy standards on high energy consuming appliances, an innovative perform, achieve, and trade (PAT) programme to decrease the energy consumption in industry, and corporate average fuel savings standards for new vehicles which are estimated to lead to a saving of over 20 million tonnes of fuel by the year 2025.

The first meeting of the reconstituted Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change was held in New Delhi on 19th January 2015 to review the national action plan on climate change. Chaired by Prime Minister Modi, the council reviewed all existing programmes and missions of the government and discussed the steps which could be taken up for tackling the challenges of climate change. The members also discussed the National Adaptation Fund which was created by the current government in its first budget. The government had allocated an initial amount of 100 crore rupees for this fund which will be expanded in due course. The committee suggested considering green credit in place of carbon credit for measuring efforts towards climate change.

It is suggested that the following steps may be taken to enhance Indo-US cooperation in this regard:
  1. Economic, social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities and align with climate change.
  2. Awareness and capacity building program to adopt new technologies to combat climate change.
  3. Research and development of new cost effective technologies in time frame for climate change.
  4. Modelling includes a contingency for the potential impacts of climate change in the region. If not determining the appropriate level of contingency and include as an input into modelling.
  5. Proposed design criteria for key infrastructure include an allowance for the impacts of climate change. In particular, the ability to withstand extreme flooding events. Assess the adequacy of the design criteria and if not adequate modify the design criteria.
  6. Adopt U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE).
The current per capita energy consumption in India is around 0.6 tons oil equivalent per year, which is very less in comparison to developed countries (2.5 tons oil equivalent per year). India is fully committed to achieving its voluntary goal to reduce emission intensity of its GDP by 20-25% by 2020 over the 2005 level. The key challenge therefore is to enable this higher energy consumption at a cost that people are willing and able to pay, and with lower carbon intensity. One sincerely hopes the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama would serve to enhance Indo-US cooperation in this direction.

(The author is an expert on Environment Management and Sustainable Development)

Published Date: 22nd January 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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