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Cutting Through Hot Air In Paris

As one of the fastest growing economies, India’s most effective contribution to climate change is to steer clear of the high carbon growth path. This can be attained through a sustainable development-led approach that promotes development and climate gains simultaneously

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Crack teams have been dispatched to important capitals around the world on a clearly defined mission: locate key influencers and inform them about crucial economic developments. This is a roadshow with a difference, it’s about clearing the air about India’s position on climate change.

Lead by key industry figures like Jamshyd Godrej from Godrej Group and a veteran of track two climate negotiations, Mukund Rajan, Brand custodian of the Tata Group, and K Krishnan of CVC Infrastructure; these teams are supported by industry lobbies like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) with technical support from established think tanks/academics like C-Step and IIMs.

As these teams return home this weekend only to prepare their thoughts for Paris negotiations next week, two things are crystal clear – the Conference of Parties (COP21) starting on November 30 is about business and that there will be perceived winners and losers emerging from the agreement. The third crucial element of the agreement will be about resilience, ensuring that vulnerable communities have the wherewithal to withstand a changing climate and its consequences.

Without much fanfare, Reliance Industries has signed up to The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, an industry-driven initiative which too wants to be heard has petitioned the UN secretariat about their position which is “to catalyse practical action on climate change in focus areas such as the role of natural gas, carbon reduction instruments and tools, and long-term energy solutions”. Clearly there is much at stake and nobody wants to be left out. India’s big public sector emitters, ONGC, NTPC along with other majors will also be making their positions clear in Paris.

As a nation on a rapid growth curve and with huge infrastructure enhancements planned for the coming decades, India would need to watch Paris developments very closely, more so as it has been identified by IPCC as one of the most vulnerable countries to the ravages of climate change. Already with less than 1° C change in climate India is experiencing increased droughts and extreme weather events. UN and other international organisations have warned the plans (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) submitted by 179 countries and covering around 94% of global emissions in 2010 is still not enough and will raise the global temperature by 2.7° C by the end of the century.

Down from an original projected baseline, of 4.8°, the space between 4.8° C and 2.7° C has created space for what many call a clean economy. This is nowhere enough but the global signs are promising. There is now have grid parity in many of the world’s major economies - including the US, China, India, Germany, France and Australia and the IEA World Energy Outlook Special Briefing for COP21 states that last year, the global economy grew without increasing carbon emissions for the first time. Economic growth and carbon are decoupling globally and that needs to spread to emerging economies. Scientists estimate that a global objective of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target well before the end of the century is key to keep global warming below 2° C.

India’s INDC, submitted on Gandhi Jayanti, has signalled that India is open for business with clear call for climate justice. With its stress on energy efficiency and enhanced renewable energy, it provides direction that can help industry plan navigate. Much more needs to be done.

As one of the fastest growing economies, India’s most effective contribution to climate change is to steer clear of the high carbon growth path. This can be attained through a sustainable development-led approach that promotes development and climate gains simultaneously. Many experts have highlighted that while energy use and emissions will invariably grow, they will do so at a decreasing rate as we ‘bend the curve’ of emissions by focusing on actions in specific sectors.

The Key Elements of the INDC are:

1. Reduction emission intensity to GDP target of 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 levels
2. Achieve 40 per cent commutative electricity installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy sources by 2030
3. Create of carbon sinks of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030
4. Better adaptation with climate resilient agriculture and water conservation.

These are unexceptionable and another major initiative by India, the International Agency for Solar Policy and Application (InSPA) will be unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande jointly at the start of Paris climate summit. India has set a target of an ambitious 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022 with another 60 GW of wind.

The sticking point with the global community is the India’s plan to nearly triple the coal usage in the next 15 years. Labelled as “proponent of almost unlimited coal build,” Indian government’s rhetoric on the climate negotiations has been “probably the least helpful of the major participants in the run-up to Paris” said Michael Liebreich, founder of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance research group in the Financial Times.

India officials counter saying the country has very little responsibility for emissions that are causing the current warming which was caused by the industrialised world development. Now, when its India’s turn the West is raising objections.

The middle road, as has been suggested by many scholars including Shyam Saran, former climate negotiator and foreign secretary, as well as Rathin Roy, director of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) is to set up a global clean coal mission which reduces harmful emissions and increases the efficiency of coal combustion. This bridging mechanism could be the game changer along with InSPA at Paris.

It would also provide comfort to investors who are now scouting for projects to support GHG emissions cuts by engaging institutional investors committed to decarbonizing their portfolios. Set up under United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), the Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition (PDC) now oversees assets of $230 billion with UK, Dutch and French Investment Firms joining in.

In the words of UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, “The success of the PDC is a clear signal that more and more leading investors are recognizing the inherent risk that climate change poses to their portfolios. By aligning their portfolios with the low-carbon economy, they are playing a key role in the climate action the world wants to see. Exceeding the $100 billion target is a significant milestone, and I hope the leadership of the coalition members inspires other investors to join this great effort.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Damandeep Singh

Commentator and Director, CDP India

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