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India lacks strategy to reduce GHG emission by 2050: Power policy analyst tells FM

Counterview Desk

Shankar Sharma, a well-known power policy analyst based in Karnataka, in a letter to Dr S Jaishankar, Union Minister for External Affairs, referring to the article “Indian diplomacy’s climate test” by retired diplomat Syed Akbaruddin, has wondered whether India shouldn’t commit itself to become net-zero in total GHG emissions by 2050, regretting, “Sadly, there has been no official announcement" for this so far, not at least in public domain. 
Asserting that “there is not a single projection or policy of our country which may even remotely indicate that India’s total GHG emissions will be reduced even by 2040/50”, Sharma quotes from the draft national energy policy, 2017, which projected that the total GHG emissions of the country would reach 1.5-2.0 times more than what it was at 2012.
According to him, “The high GDP growth rate paradigm, which has been at the policy focus of the successive governments (such as the target of a $5 trillion economy by 2024), if continued, can only lead to massive increase in the total GHG emissions.”

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Few statements in this article caught my attention: "India is one of the few overachievers in terms of meeting the Nationally Determined Contributions announced under the Paris Agreement for 2030. At the same time, India, as yet, is not in a position to set an economy-wide net-zero target as it needs to sustain economic growth, pull millions out of poverty and provide power to them.”
While many observers may deem it as a misnomer to call India as an overachiever in its Climate Change obligations, it is certainly untrue that India is not in a position to set an economy-wide-net-zero-target as it needs economic growth.
A decent understanding of the ground realities within our country should reveal that there is a lot more India can do to minimise its total GHG emissions without compromising on its economic growth sustainability. In view of the fact that India is already among the top five polluters, there will be escalating focus on reducing the global GHG emissions asap.
Even though “our solar capacity has grown from 2.63 GigaWatts in 2014 to 36 GigaWatts in 2020”, it is also a fact that the installed power generating capacity of fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, natural gas), as well as methane causing hydel dam based power plants also have increased considerably in this period.
Hence, India will come under escalating global pressure to reduce its GHG emissions, as is happening to many other countries.
Recently China, UK, EU, Japan and South Korea have joined what the UN estimates is now a total of over 110 countries that have set net zero targets for mid-century. Together, they represent more than 65% of global emissions and more than 70% of the world economy, the UN says.
It is in this context that Syed Akbaruddin seems to have suggested:
“Numerous conventional diplomatic issues loom on India’s horizon. However, it is the unconventional that may upend all these important goals. When climate takes the centre stage of global policymaking, the economic, social and political implications of the solutions to address the transboundary concerns are likely to override all else on the diplomatic agenda. 
"The announcement of John Kerry’s appointment to the new post of special presidential envoy for climate is an indication that US President-elect Joe Biden’s climate agenda is global. Kerry’s assertion that, ‘America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat that it is” reflects the thinking that the impact of the climate crisis is becoming more complex’.”
It is not difficult to agree with these views, when we take into account the increasing concerns at the global level over the issue of Climate Change. The latest example has been the UN sponsored 5th Anniversary of Paris Agreement recently, wherein only those countries who have something substantial to offer to the international community were invited to speak.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that such direct/ indirect pressure on every country will increase in future. It will only be a matter of time before India too, being one of the largest polluters and being the third or fourth largest energy consumer, will come under enormous diplomatic pressure to do much more than it has done so far.
In the coming days, the pressure will be on all other governments, including India, to set its future GHG emission target. Should India not commit itself to become net-zero in total emissions by 2050? Without such a clear commitment, can India hope to “exceed the global expectations by 2047”? But sadly, there has been no official announcement to that extent so far.
Please permit me to elaborate a bit more in this regard:
Recently one observer has noted: “To stand a reasonable chance of hitting the 1.50 C target we need to halve total emissions by the end of 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
The UN says it wants to see coal phased out completely, an end to all fossil fuel subsidies and a global coalition to reach net zero by 2050. This scenario requires at the global level that on an average every country (certainly the larger polluters like USA, China, EU, Russia, Brazil, India) has to halve the country level emissions by 2030.
But there is not a single projection or policy of our country which may even remotely indicate that India’s total GHG emissions will be reduced even by 2040/50 (at least, such indications are not visible in the public domain). On the contrary, the draft national energy policy, 2017, had projected:
“Energy related Emissions per capita will increase from 1.2 tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent/capita in 2012 to 2.7-3.5 tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent/capita in 2040. For a population of about 1.35 billion, which is expected to reach about 1.5 billion by 2050, such a projection shall mean that the total GHG emissions of the country can be about 1.5 – 2.0 times more than what it was at 2012.”
High GDP growth rate paradigm, such as target of $5 trillion economy by 2024 can only lead to massive increase in total GHG emissions
It is safe to state that there is no single economic/ policy indication on the horizon that in a BAU scenario, the total GHG emissions of the country will be anything less than that in 2012. In view of the fact that since this draft national energy policy has not been finalised yet with modified projections, or since there are no policy statements to show that the consumption of fossil fuels will be considerably reduced by 2040/50, it is but natural to state that India’s total GHG emissions will not be consistent with the global requirement. India can be said to have failed to seriously consider an economy-wide-net-zero target, which will be a major concern very soon in the international arena.
In this context, one can clearly imagine the enormous pressure India will face from the international community between now and 2030. Few other relevant policies such as National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) or the draft 'National Resource Efficiency Policy' (NREP), 2019 also have nothing to indicate that India’s total GHG emissions will be less by 2030, or even by 2050, as compared to that in 2012.
The high GDP growth rate paradigm, which has been at the policy focus of the successive governments (such as the target of a $5 trillion economy by 2024), if continued, can only lead to massive increase in the total GHG emissions.
Whereas, India might not have come under great international pressure to minimise its GHG emissions so far because of its large population, geographical size and its large size of economy, the same scenario will not continue indefinitely, certainly nearer to 2030.
I am interacting with many NGOs at the global arena, and most of them do not seem to be convinced about the tall claims by India on the Climate Change front. Sooner than later the international community will come to know that India’s tall claims are not supported by the ground realities within the country, and hence the global pressure can be expected to escalate sooner than later.
The COP26 at Glasgow, UK scheduled for Nov. 2021 will most likely be one such early international event where many such ground realities of India's domestic performance may come into focus.
It is also certain that India’s official stand on its so called right to continue to emit more GHG emissions on the basis of a very low per capita GHG emissions cannot be sustained any longer because there are credible evidences to indicate that India’s total GHG emissions can come down by considerable margins by as early as 2030, if suitable policy interventions are carried out to increase the overall efficiency of usage of natural resources in critical sectors such as energy, forestry, agriculture, transport, industry, water etc.
What is much more worrisome in this gloomy environmental scenario is the fact that high levels of GHG emissions with a continuously increasing projection, as can be observed in India’s case, undoubtedly indicates the unsustainable exploitation of the already stretched natural resources, which if continued, will lead to multiple calamities such as health issues and pandemics, erratic rains fall, unacceptable levels of pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil, reduced agricultural production, droughts, floods, forest fires etc.
As Syed Akbaruddin has correctly opined: “It may be time for the ministry of external affairs to foster greater integration and coherence in the evolving external dimensions of India’s approach to the multi-faceted nature of climate crisis challenges in various forums.” The statement that “The world cannot solve the climate crisis without India’s active participation" is very true and hence vastly relevant to my present communication to you.
In this context, it can be safely stated that even if our political leaders refuse to objectively consider safeguarding the true welfare of our communities from the looming threats of Climate Change, India cannot afford to continue to ignore the consequences of enormous pressure from the international community w.r.t our GHG emissions.
Since our Prime Minister is reported to be attaching a lot more importance to the international image of the country as compared to the legitimate concerns of his own people, the external affairs ministry can play a critical role in persuading the union government to take all possible actions not only to credibly assure the international community that India will be a responsible global player in its performance w.r.t Climate Change, but also to implement effective action plans domestically to minimise the total GHG emissions by 2030/2040 so that the legitimate concerns of its own people are adequately addressed.
In this larger context, may I also submit that there have been a large number of studies/ commentaries/ scholarly articles/ anecdotal evidences to conclude that there is a tremendous scope for India to minimise its dependence on fossil fuels, and also to minimise its total GHG emissions even as early as 2030, thereby minimising the impacts of Climate Change on its communities, while not compromising the overall development of the entire society in any way.
In order to set India on such a sustainable developmental pathway, the Union government needs to take an urgent, objective and holistic review of the developmental pathway for the country by effectively involving various stakeholders including the civil society groups and domain experts.
Two of my recent communication to NITI Aayog and PMO on the issue of India's climate performance may provide you the correct context of my concerns.
May I request you to arrange to seriously consider all the associated issues in a holistic manner at the highest level of your ministry, and make concrete recommendations to the Union Cabinet accordingly? I am convinced that the Union Cabinet will consider such valid recommendations from your ministry in view of the criticality of the same to India's external image.
If considered necessary, some of the concerned civil society representatives, who have been working on many of the associated issues, will be happy to meet you and provide any clarifications needed.

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