As the countdown to the Copenhagen UN Climate Summit begins, India’s role in building a framework for the new global climate change regime becomes pertinent for two reasons. First, India is the fourth largest carbon dioxide emitter after United States, China and Russia. Hence, with rising global temperatures, the pressure is mounting on India to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Any binding emission reduction measures will have a significant impact on India’s economy given the strong linkages between energy consumption, economic growth and environmental pollution. Second, the impact of climate change will be detrimental on the livelihoods of people and on food security. Given this conundrum, what are India’s options to effectively mitigate greenhouse gases and at what costs to the economy?
India has already adopted some mitigation strategies. For instance, one of the important missions of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is to harness solar energy on a large scale in the next 20-25 years. A change in energy strategy is pertinent for India as its energy sector is highly dependent on coal. More than 80 per cent of all generated power comes from coal and it accounts for one-third of India’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. Besides harnessing solar energy, India can also decrease its dependency on fossil fuels by developing its nuclear energy. With the Indo-US nuclear deal in place, India is looking to generate 60,000 megawatts by 2030 and 250,000 megawatts by 2050.
It will be beneficial for India to invest in energy efficient technologies now since its economic sectors are still developing. In the long run, cleaner technology will help the country to move to a low carbon economy. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report on Climate Change and Development, with a low carbon energy strategy, a cumulative carbon emissions reduction by 30 per cent without any annual reduction targets over a period of 30 years, will reduce India’s GDP by 1.4 per cent and the number of poor people in the country will increase by 6 per cent. Hence, in the absence of a global financial architecture and transfer of clean technology from industrialised countries the cost of change in energy strategy is going to be heavy for India.
It is clear that the climate change process cannot be halted and mitigation strategies will only reduce or postpone future vulnerabilities. Also, the incentive to adopt mitigation strategies is low in the absence of external financial assistance. For India, the effects of climate change on agriculture and livelihood is going to be significant. Sea level rise and increased occurrences of extreme weather events can cause displacement of millions of people. Given this, will adaptation to the adverse affects of climate change be a better development strategy for India in the short term?
Climate change studies have estimated that even with farm level adaptations, an increase in temperature by 2 degree Celsius and precipitation increase of 7 per cent, the total net farm level revenue would fall by 9 per cent. The socio-economic cost of climate change without adaptation strategies is likely to be even greater for a developing country like India. However, implementation of adaptation measures on a large scale will not be simple as it depends on the level of development of economic sectors. In addition to this, external funding would play a key role in implementing adaptation measures. According to the recent Annual Economic Survey, India is already spending over 2 per cent of its gross domestic product to adapt to climate change.
In summary, India has taken voluntary policy initiatives to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. However, it cannot implement its mitigation and adaptation strategies on a large scale since it will have an overbearing impact on its balance of payments. India’s stand on the climate change debate has always been guided by the principle of equity. The uncomfortable reality faced by India is that global climate change policies are moving towards effectiveness rather than equity. The climate change talks held at the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy, from 8 to 10 of July 2009, saw consensus among countries that the global temperatures should not increase above 2 degree Celsius or 3.6 degree Fahrenheit. Although there have been no emission binding cuts imposed on the developing countries like India and China, they will be expected to mitigate their greenhouse gases.
Therefore, at the domestic level, India must continue to implement policies that are economically feasible to reduce emissions growth. In addition to this, a concrete and transparent mechanism must be established to regulate, monitor and evaluate the climate-related projects. At the international level, India must work towards initiating and strengthening bilateral and multilateral partnerships to enable investment in research and technology transfer. For this an international framework must be developed, which is not just limited to transfer of technology and finance, but also disseminates information and provides training in specific areas to enable people to adapt to future climate changes.
India must participate in the Copenhagen UN Climate Summit in December with a clear and precise negotiating agenda as an environmentally responsible actor. In addition to this, it must excise its bargaining power as a country most vulnerable to climate change so that the new climate change agreement set to replace the existing Kyoto Protocol in 2012 reflects its social and economic concerns as a developing nation.
Ms. Sowmya Suryanarayanan is a research analyst at Strategic Foresight Group, a political think tank based in Mumbai – India.