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Think Pieces

The GKC Think Pieces section is an interactive platform that brings together experts and authorities on various subjects to provoke thinking as well as discussion with personal opinion and analysis on contemporary issues related to governance.

07 March 2013

India's pragmatic approach to climate change

Antony Gnanamuthu

In India, climate change can still seem an esoteric issue, confined to the bastions of elite research institutions and a handful of officials. The slow, insidious changes it will bring over the next century are not yet on the radar of the common man, or even policymakers. To confound issues, the implications of India’s stand at the international forum have not yet captured the attention of the media in the same way as major natural disasters, such as the December 2004 tsunami or the July 2005 floods in Mumbai.

Researchers don't seem to appreciate the socio-economic dimensions of the problem, nor for that matter, the need to bridge the gap between science and policy. Meanwhile, bureaucrats are busy, supporting India's defensive position in various international negotiating forums.

India has been criticized for its apparent lack of commitment to addressing global climate change. Many think the government is recalcitrant for its 'development first' approach, which prioritizes economic and social goals over initiatives to counteract greenhouse emissions. But these aims are not mutually exclusive. National measures can and are benefiting India's development while helping mitigate climate change.

The problem is that India hasn't marketed these initiatives in the right way.

A defensive stance

India's international negotiating position relies heavily on the principles of historical responsibility, as enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This acknowledges that developed countries are responsible for most historical and current greenhouse emissions, and emphasizes that "economic and social development are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country parties".

So the Indian government is wary of recent discussions within UNFCCC about introducing binding commitments on rapidly industrializing countries (such as Brazil, China and India) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. India feels this contravenes the very spirit of the UNFCCC. Neither does it seem fair to impose restrictions on India when the country's rise in per capita carbon emissions by 2030 will still represent less than half the world average of 3.8 tons in 2010 (Indian emissions are predicted to rise from 0.9 tons per capita in 2010 to 1.6 tons per capita in 2030).

But India will not be able to stand its ground for long if other rapidly industrializing countries, such as China, react to the discussions more moderately. India must be seen as proactive and concerned about global environmental issues.

India is taking real action

In fact, the Indian government is already participating in global efforts through a number of programmes. For example, India's National Auto-fuel Policy mandates cleaner fuels for vehicles. The Energy Conservation Act, passed in 2001, outlines initiatives to improve energy efficiency. Similarly, the Electricity Act of 2003 encourages the use of renewable energy. Recent trends in importing natural gas and encouraging the adoption of clean coal technologies show India is making real efforts.

The government is also keen to launch a National Mission on Biodiesel, using about 11 million hectares of land to produce biodiesel by 2012–2015. And India has one of the largest renewable energy programmes in the world, with about six per cent of its grid capacity based on renewable (excluding conventional hydroelectric), in comparison to China where the renewable share is lower than one per cent and the United States where it is about two per cent.

These measures will moderate India's energy and emissions-intensive growth in the 'business-as-usual' scenario (where the pattern of future development is not all that different from what it is at present). Whether driven by national priorities such as energy security and economics, or local environmental issues, these policies have the added benefit of mitigating climate change, and should arguably be recognised as such on the international stage. But these are not widely known because these are local, national or regional measures, rather than a direct response to international regulations.

14th BASIC Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change

At the recent 14th BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) Ministerial Meeting on climate change, held in Chennai in February 2013, India’s Minister of State for Environment and Forests, H.E. Mrs. Jayanthi Natarajan, welcomed the decision on operationalization of the 2nd commitment period and the consequent amendments to the Kyoto Protocol as a key element of the Doha Climate Gateway.

While underlining the importance of means of implementation to enable the mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries and stressed that the obligations of developed countries to provide financial, technology transfer and capacity building support to developing country, Minister Natarajan reaffirmed that Kyoto Protocol remains a key component of the international climate regime and an essential basis for ambition.

She also underscored that the early and meaningful operationalization of the mechanisms set up in recent years to support developing countries, including the Green Climate Fund, Technology Mechanism, Adaptation Committee etc needs to be prioritized. She emphasized the importance of adaptation and loss and damage for developing countries and underlined that particular focus should be given to enhance risk management, risk reduction, climate resilience and disaster response and to clarifying the institutional mechanism for addressing loss and damage.

A proactive approach is needed

Estimates made at “The Energy and Resources Institute”, India, back-up the country's contribution to mitigating climate change. An energy-economy model reveals that the policies and programmes introduced in the energy sector could reduce predicted emissions by about 20 per cent. India needs to advertise these on-going efforts and highlight its commitment to helping address the global challenge of climate change. Indian negotiators need to move from a defensive to a proactive position. They should showcase India's efforts to address a global problem while simultaneously tackling national concerns, such as poverty alleviation and development. India needs to send across the message that it is not oblivious to its global responsibility, but rather, is being pragmatic about how much can be done in view of the numerous other challenges at home.

(Dr. Antony Gnanamuthu is member, Expert Appraisal Committee (Industries), Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The committee is responsible for Environmental Impact Assessment .)