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Nayan Chanda

Nayan Chanda is the author of Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers and Warriors Shaped Globalization and is Consulting Editor of YaleGlobal Online, published by the MacMillan Center, Yale University.

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BW Businessworld

India's Role In Climate Change

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be closely watched as a global leader, and his vision of global emissions reductions will be judged

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When world leaders gathered in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget to discuss the fight against climate change in December, Prime Minister Modi was there wearing his hat of global leader, pledging India’s contribution to the cause. But to deliver on the carbon reduction pledges he will be making on the world stage, he must first wear a different hat: that of bold domestic reform champion. He will have to coordinate the policies and operations of different ministries and states to ramp up non-fossil fuel energy production. Though he is unlikely to be India’s Prime Minister in 2030 (when global emissions reduction targets need to be met), the world will almost certainly judge his legacy on his ability to deliver promised action. 

India’s role in the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be very different from the group’s previous meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. At that time, an isolated and obstreperous China desperately sought India’s help to resist western pressure to make a commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh then stood with Beijing to stymie a deal. This time, China comes to the summit as a champion of global climate mitigation, having recently joined hands with the US to offer drastic emissions reductions and promote clean energy alternatives. After initially resisting Western pressure, Modi government has announced a pledge — the so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) — to mitigate global warming. It will achieve this by reducing the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions by up to 35 per cent, and also ensuring that up to 40 per cent of electricity is produced from non-fossil fuel sources — all by 2030. Unlike China, India has not indicated a peaking year for its emissions and in reality it can let emissions grow as long as the rate remains under the GDP growth rate. 

In contrast, China surprised the world by pledging to take a peak in emissions “by around” 2030, and reduce carbon intensity — that is CO2 emitted per unit of GDP — by 60-65 per cent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. It also promised to increase the share of non-fossil fuel in primary energy consumption to 20 per cent by ramping up nuclear energy production. Obama administration has pledged a 26-28 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2025.
Such commitment by 160 nations makes the Paris summit different from the past when different emission targets were assigned to countries. Now for the first time the distinction between responsible west and victim developing countries has been eliminated. Paris meet will see bottom-up pledges by individual countries to make their respective voluntary contributions to keep global warming below two degree celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Scientists believe warming above this level will irreversibly change the planet as we know it.

The question over 2C will be answered by the performance of nations on their pledged targets. India, blessed with ample sunshine, can be “the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”, as one scientist put it. But there are many stages between identifying potential and implementing clear energy solution — from supporting infrastructure to expensive proprietary technology and skilled labor. India’s demand for IP-free technology has been rejected by the developed world which nonetheless wants India to switch to clean energy. Prime Minister Modi is right to focus on keeping the planet warming at bay, but doing so will cause pain and sacrifice — and require political courage.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)