16 October 2015 16:27:19 IST

India, the good boy

The country’s emission control commitments, driven by enlightened self-interest, have received global approval

It is always nice to get a pat on the back. India managed it recently.

On October 2, the birthday of the Father of the Nation, India kept its word to the international community by submitting its voluntary contributions to emission reductions beating the October 1 deadline for that barely by hours – you see, it was still October 1 in Bonn, the headquarters of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

India was a bit late. China, the US, the European Union and Japan, — the other big emitters of climate-harming greenhouse gases — had submitted their ‘intended nationally determined contributions’, or INDCs, months ago. Telling the UNFCCC secretariat what each country would bring to the negotiating table at the forthcoming climate conference in Paris this December was something that was expected of every responsible country in the world. Fifty countries have chosen to be not so responsible — they didn’t give in their INDCs. The ‘blacklist’ includes Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Malaysia and Venezuela.

Three key commitments

India gave in its list in the nick of time, but it had told the world loud and clear that it would wait until other major emitters have given in theirs, and would submit its own only by the deadline. And it abided by its word.

Is that why the world is patting India on the back? Of course not. The global approbation is not for beating the deadline by a whisker, but for the content of the voluntary contributions.

Essentially, India has said three things. First, it will reduce its ‘emission intensity’ — amount of emissions per unit of GDP — by 33-35 per cent below 2005 levels, by the year 2030. Second, by 2030, non fossil fuel based electricity generation capacity would be 40 per cent of the total power capacity. Third, it would soak up 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide from the air by planting trees and afforestation activity. (Trees are basically made of carbon. They take carbon from carbon-dioxide in the air to build themselves and hence are great ‘carbon sinks’.)

International funding

Forty per cent of power capacity from non fossil fuels by 2030 would mean creating over 300,000 MW of capacity based on wind, solar, large and small hydro and nuclear sources. That’s a very big commitment – India’s total power capacity today is around 230,000 MW. So, meeting this target, India has said, will depend upon international funding and technology support.

Now, the surprise is, the world said ‘Wow!’. Yes, there were a few murmurs wondering whether India couldn’t have done even more, but everybody, including the die-hardest hawks, said India has been responsible. For example, a multi-country, scientific body called Climate Action Tracker said that India, given its several green initiatives, has been “unnecessarily cautious” in giving commitment numbers and would actually “overachieve” them by 2030. An expert (Prof Kornelis Blok) pulled out his calculator and found that India will achieve 41 (as opposed to a commitment of 35) per cent emission reductions by 2030, adding “even without new policies”.

Come November 30, the Paris Conference of Parties-21 will begin. It is called Conference of Parties, or CoP, because it is a meeting of the parties to the UNFCCC, and this will be the 21{+s}{+t} meeting of the group. This time around, it is a major event. There have been only two other CoPs of comparable significance – the one that took place in Kyoto in 1997, which gave birth to what is known as the ‘Kyoto Protocol’ (an emission reduction agreement), and the one that took place in Copenhagen in 2009, a spectacular failure.

But everybody expects CoP 21 not to fail, because, apart from the fact that the stakes are high, the preparation for it has been better. The stakes are high because everyone is directly feeling the effects of climate change. Even the US is — there has been a drought in California for five years, and unprecedented forest fires in Alaska. And the preparation has been better – this time around, all countries (196 of them) have been asked to bring to the table their voluntary commitments, which the agreement will make binding.

Better negotiating position

You must have read that India, being the leader of the developing world and what not, is rather regarded as the filibuster in international conferences, digging its heels in and not yielding a quarter (in fact, it did that in Copenhagen). But here, India has seized the moral high ground. It would therefore be in a much better negotiating position, such as for seeking funds.

This assuming of the moral high ground has been possible because, as Prof Blok observed, India has been doing a number of things on its own. For instance, the 175 GW renewable energy capacity creation. Incidentally, this year, India will double its solar capacity to close to 8,500 MW and add another 10,800 MW next year — a growth matched only by China.

Another example is the ‘carbon tax’ in the form of a ₹200 cess on every tonne of coal mined in the country or imported. Then there is the massive ‘Green India’ programme, which is a National Mission, and you must have noticed that Minister Nitin Gadkari recently said that all National Highways would be lined with trees on either side. And last, the big inter-linking of rivers programme that would, if it comes to fruition, add 35,000 MW of clean, hydro energy. All these initiatives will add thousands of jobs.

Among most vulnerable

Makes you feel proud, right? Yes, but one should understand that India is doing all this in its enlightened self-interest. It is doing these, not under international pressure, but of its own volition and driven by its specific compulsions.

India is highly vulnerable to climate change effects. In the North, the Himalayan glaciers will melt and there will be floods in some places and drought in others. In peninsular India, monsoons will go awry and agricultural production will be seriously affected.

When climate change begins to bite, India will be among those bitten the most. Hence, the ‘good boy’ initiatives.