Indian INDC – Stepping Wisely Into the Future

By Sudhir Sharma and Rixa Schwarz

The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (#APEC) Summit of 10 -12November 2014 in China, held a surprise for the climate scene: The USA and China announcement on their intentions for their INDCs. President Obama announced a GHG emission reduction of 26 to 28% by 2025 below 2005 levels. President Xi announced a Chinese emission peak around 2030 and a renewable energy target of 20% by 2030. Soon after the EU announcement of its ‘at least 40%’ target for 2030, these announcements have provided further push to the momentum of achieving an outcome in Paris. They also brought the limelight from the USA on other players – India as an important one among them.

President Obama coming out of a fresh defeat in elections and staring at a lame duck existence for the last two years of his term, has tried to regain some ground by announcing the climate action and  attempted to build a legacy for himself. The announcement is politically important as the Republicans in the USA are gaining political ground and continue to be nay-sayers on climate change making it challenging for any regulations on GHG reductions being adopted in the near future. It is also politically a smart move as the process of really formalizing the #INDCs will only start in 2016, when a new President will have the onus to see the GHG reduction target through the Hill.. All we may get from USA is a set of actions by the President, which will presented as collective of actions that result in the announced level of reductions. So not only are these numbers (26 -28% below 2005 or 13 -15% below 1990; USA was supposed to reduce 7% below 1990 by 2010-12) very weak in context of the 2 deg C limit but also there is no certainty that a future President in the USA would be able to provide any kind of legal anchoring to these numbers, national or international. We may well see another Kyoto by US.

One may say that President Obama has leveraged a good commitment from China based on its announcements. Though the Chinese announcement states emissions will peak around 2030, the level at which emissions will peak is not clear. Some estimates suggest the GHG emissions will peak at around annual 10 GtCO2e annually. Only the actually INDCs submitted by the Chinese Government to the UNFCCC will clarify China’s INDCs fully – either a cap level of emissions or a reduction below BAU. The only concrete element in the Chinese announcement is the 20% goal for non-fossil sources by 2030.

These announcements by the EU and more importantly by the US and China have shifted the focus on India, as the fourth largest emitter. Let’s assume for a moment that the EU, US and China set the global ambition level with their recently announcements -in scientific terms a disastrous ambition level of almost 4°C. This would mean that a comparable target for India, based on capability and responsibility, would be to limit its emissions to BAU emissions.

Does that mean India should also take an equally irresponsible stand as the US and EU and e.g., take a weak target, such as limit emissions to BAU level? No, certainly not! It is in India’s own interest and in the world’s interest that India makes the maximum effort to address its GHG emissions that is feasible within its constraints irrespective of others’ actions. Energy efficiency measures are a profitable investment for the individuals and the nation as whole. The country can save huge investments in creating energy supply infrastructure by taking energy efficiency measures, be more competitive, and be able to use the saved investments for its inclusive sustainable development. Indian efforts have resulted in annual energy intensity reduction of 2.2% over 2000 – 2010. The continuation of this level of reduction may require higher efforts but this itself will result in 22% reduction in energy demand by 2030, compared to 2020.

Renewable energy, especially in the electricity sector, provides, a faster deployment option and addresses the energy security concerns and thus needs to be pursued with urgency. It presently might not be a cheaper option compared to conventional fossil fuels and thus its growth might be limited by support that the government can provide without affecting its fiscal deficit. But keeping the momentum going will help at a later date for a faster scale-up as the prices come down. Since it is difficult to predict the price trend in future, one can understand that the government might put in a more conservative estimate of what it can achieve in its INDC. However, the recent announcement of raising the solar target from 20 to 100 GW in 2022 is a hopeful step. This spirit should be reflected in the Indian INDC.

The Indian government needs to think strategically. Recent UNEP GAP Report for 2014 suggests the world should achieve carbon neutrality in the time frame of 2055 -2070 to limit the increase in temperature to below 2 deg C. Therefore, peaking early would be in India’s and the world’s interest. Further, the Prime Minister of India in 2007 at Heiligendamm, (Germany) stated that India’s per capita emissions will never exceed the per capita emissions of industrialized countries. This should continue to guide the management of GHG emissions. Though one can also understand that, given the limited government resources for addressing inclusive growth for all and climate change, limits to the country’s own actions clearly exist. It should thus invite international partners to enable its emissions to peak at the earliest, and therefore would be good to outline in its INDCs resources and technologies needed for India to peak its emissions and possible peaking year.

As the prices of renewable energy technologies continue to reduce, it is quite likely that Indian development in the future can be realised at a much lower GHG intensity. But the need of the hour is to ensure that the world stays within the carbon budget for limiting the increase in temperature to below 2 degrees. The Indian INDC should thus clearly outline its own efforts as well as the support it needs for a higher level of effort so that it can be on a path to carbon neutrality . This will also call the bluff of EU and USA on their sincerity to address climate change.

About the Authors:

Sudhir Sharma is a Senior Climate Change Specialist at the UNEP Risø Centre with over 15 years’ experience in Climate and Sustainable Development in developing countries, Sharma comes from an engineering background and a PhD in Development Economics. His work has focused on mitigation issues in developing countries in the context of sustainable development. He has over 10 years’ experience in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) working both in developing projects and developing methodologies. His present work at URC is focused on NAMAs, both, in terms of supporting capacity development in developing countries as well as analytical work on creating a better understanding of NAMAs. He is presently coordinating the country work on assisting seven countries in developing NAMAs.

Rixa Schwarz is Programme Coordinator of the Sustainable Business and Climate Change Group at Centre for Environment Education (CEE) India, a CANSA member organisation. She is one of the coordinators of the CAN Effort-Sharing Group and has been following the UNFCCC negotiations since pre-Copenhagen days. Rixa also holds a position as policy officer at the NGO Germanwatch. She has almost 10 years working experience in climate change policy and Education for Sustainable Development.