India Needs a Coherent Climate Change Strategy

Avilash Roul

For the Indian climate crusaders the year 2007 has become more important for three reasons. First the entry of climate change as an agenda item to United Nations Security Council on April 18. Now, the Nobel award for Peace to the scientific community - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former US Vice-President Al Gore for making people aware of climate change. It’s argued that after the prestigious award, the issue would become everybody’s business to know, manage and resolve it.

However, in the history of Indian Parliament, the climate change was argued, discussed and debated first time in May this year by the parliamentarians! Although there was confusion on which ministry would take the lead, at best, the administration agreed to look into the matter seriously. Even, few people know that an Indian Parliamentarian delegate was sent to discuss climate change in Nusa Dua, Bali, (Indonesia), 29 April-4 May 2007 at the 116th IPU Assembly (formerly known as Inter-Parliamentary Union). As the next UN Framework Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) is commencing in Bali (Indonesia) in December, this meeting can be seen as crucial as India wanted to brief the Indonesia administration about its plan for the forthcoming UNFCCC meeting.

While there is a post-Nobel effect on the climate campaigners, the Indian administration has not changed in its rhetoric to the recognition for the ‘inconvenient truth’. Despite adverse impacts on India as well as its contribution (though small compare to the US) to global emissions; India has no coherent strategy on climate change. India has never agreed to cut emissions to jeopardise its growing economy. It’s believed that approximately $ 2.3 trillion will be required for reducing emissions in India at 1990 base level till the beginning of Fifteenth Five Year Plan (FYP). But, there is no calculation of the loss of property and lives till that period due to impacts of climate change.

In India, the major rudiments of climate policy can be traced into the speeches of Prime Ministers in UN General Assembly, presentations of Prime Ministers in G-8 meetings and so on. Just a day after the Nobel announcement, India’s Minister of Agriculture and Food suggested framing an action plan to prepare the challenges of climate change during a national conference on Climate Change and Indian Agriculture. This shows the seriousness of the Indian government on the issue!

Between India’s 1970s most talked one liner ‘poverty is the worst polluter’ to present day ‘emerging India’; the successive administrations have been evading any responsibility of climate change by design. But, maintaining this status quo is not going to be easy further. The question of India’s obligatory reduction of emission may create an international diplomatic manoeuvring which has already shown in the official statements of various international actors. When the post-2012 talk will begin, India and China with other major developing countries will be forced to sit at the other end of the negotiating table with the European Union to strategise as well as lead the process of combating climate change.

In all probability, India won’t commit any measures for reducing emission in coming years as well. This is the well known official strategy of Indian negotiator at all climate conferences since 1992. India has been trying hard to minimise the international pressure by forging bilateral as well as multilateral agreements. One such initiative is Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development & Climate (APP). In 2005, under the US leadership six countries Australia, China, India, Japan and Republic of Korea formed APP. Representing half of world’s population and economy, using half of world’s energy, the six partner countries also produce about 65 percent of the world’s coal, 48 percent of the world’s steel, 37 percent of world’s aluminium, and 61 percent of the world’s cement. Thus any initiative under the APP banner is most welcome as the six partners are major clients of climate change.

Another effort is under the new found south-south cooperation, India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) have started discussing to curtail their dependence on fossil energy. In their last Summit meeting in Pretoria in this month, three countries joined hands in the promotion of nuclear energy, the use of clean energy technologies, such as clean coal and other renewables, and the endorsement of climate change mitigation. India has also bilateral agreement with the US on clean coal technology which seeks to reduce the amount of emissions from the coal found in India. Now, India-China is coming together to discuss the issue before Bali meeting in December. If they are forming a coalition of developing countries out of loosely grouping G-77, they may be able to chuck out a plan for the restriction of their emissions than reduction.

To begin with domestic policies, India must overhaul its future energy path as a first step to address climate change in spirit and action. The present energy plan is not only wrong but devoid of any thinking on emission issues. By end of August 2007, nearly 64.5 percent in total installed energy capacity went to thermal, which contributes a large number of emissions. This thermal dependence will go on till Fifteenth FYP. As the so-called civilian nuclear deal is in limbo, India’s ambition to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel by increasing production of nuclear energy has got a severe setback. A whole lot of diplomacy, wasting precious time and money for bidding foreign oil well, opting suitable laying ground for pipelines will continue to be India’s prime focus on obtaining energy sources. Although India has 1, 83,000 MW of power potential from non-conventional energy sources, the emphasis is still given to thermal energy sources. No body wants overnight shifting of the energy base from the conventional to renewable. But, the Indian planners should show the sign of accepting this change.

It's not that the demand of emission reduction is being pushed by the developed states, and India should succumb to that pressure. But, India has to prepare itself to all eventualities as a precautionary approach. For this India needs a comprehensive National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) which will envisage the clear path of mitigation, adaptation and preparedness of all climate catastrophes. The multi-layer approach must include a new low carbon energy policy, a sustainable transport policy, an industrial policy which encourages low carbon technology and so on. The state governments should follow their state specific climate change preparedness strategy on agriculture, disaster, and over all economy in their annual budget analysis. All the state action plans must substantiate the NCCP. More necessarily, the Indian foreign policy on climate change should reflect these domestic policies. If the monsoon is the back bone of India’s economy, any altercation of weather pattern should be taken as seriously as defending border.

Author Note
Avilash Roul is a Delhi based environment and development analyst