With the United States and China unveiling a potentially game-changing bilateral deal to whittle down their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and project a united front on the global fight against climate change, India is feeling the pressure to recalibrate its domestic climate strategy in the run up to Lima climate conference next month.
According to the Sino-US bilateral agreement, signed during US President Barack Obama’s visit to China last week, the US will slash emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025 while China would peak its carbon emissions by 2030 along with generating 20% of its energy from zero-emission sources.
Before this, China — the world’s largest emitter — had insisted on being clubbed with `developing countries’ to sidestep reduction targets, while the US had wiggled out of minimizing its own emissions citing exclusion of developing countries from international emission norms.
But now, with the world’s top two polluters voluntarily embracing emission cuts, expectations are also high from India, Asia’s third largest economy — which is emphasising manufacturing as the economic growth driver under the new Narendra Modi administration — to scale up its renewable energy capacity and minimize coal usage.
Simultaneously, there is also a strong view emerging in New Delhi that India should decouple itself from China as aligning with the latter slots it in a higher per-capita emissions bracket than it needs to be in.
This undermines its position at global summits to leverage for a better bargain.
On the contrary, the asymmetry skews the situation in Beijing’s favour as the latter has continued to pursue a robust manufacturing agenda (while reaping benefits of a `developing country’) even as no benefits have accrued to India.
“Although China argues that its emission is mainly due to production activities for exports, everybody knows this is simply an excuse for inaction,” a senior ecologist, part of the Narendra Modi government’s climate negotiating team told this correspondent.
“By expressing solidarity with Beijing on climate issues so far, India has lost out on pursuing its own interests in negotiations at big ticket eco summits without being a big polluter.
“A strategic shift in thinking will empower India to pursue its economic interests more vigorously without being apologetic about its already under control carbon emissions.”
Arguing that India’s climate negotiation strategy is hurting its interests, railway minister Suresh Prabhu recently called for the “common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR)” concept to be applied among developing countries.
According to this concept, India should push for the CBDR principle within the emerging economy block as well as between developed and developing countries.
Many experts have endorsed Prabhu’s suggestion though some have pointed out that one big pitfall of de-linking with China is that without the latter’s clout, India runs the risk of being undermined while negotiating in future multilateral meetings despite significant efforts at home to promote renewable energy.
Deepak Gupta, Senior Program Manager, Shakti Sustainable Foundation, a New Delhi-based organisation working in the area of energy efficiency, offered RTCC an interesting perspective on the issue.
According to him, India is already pretty active on the energy security and renewable energy front due to its national development priorities.
“This imperative links up rather well with the country’s international responsibilities on the climate change front,” he said.
“So whether China is with us on this or not and without anybody browbeating India, we’re already pursuing worthy goals which limit our carbon emissions.”
Also, adds Gupta, it’s unfair to compare India with China as the latter far outstrips India in emissions per head and emissions intensity.
“There’s an inherent asymmetry in this comparison. China is the world’s second largest economy and qualifies more as a developed country. India, on the other hand, is still trying to get its act together on the poverty reduction front and has to place development imperatives before environmental ones.”
India has also justified its limited domestic measures to reduce emissions, rightly pointing to the need for equity in global negotiations and prioritisation of economic development and poverty alleviation.
A senior official at the Ministry of Environment told RTCC that India should accept the challenge while also decoupling itself from China.
“Given that India’s share of global carbon emissions last year was only 7% compared to China’s 28% and the US’s 14%, and that India is the lowest per capita emitter among major economies, New Delhi has a strong case for following different standards,” they said.
“We should adopt a stance that helps us balance industrialization and poverty reduction with our environment responsibilities,” he said.
Also, India is well on target to achieve its self-imposed goal of reducing its carbon intensity — the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP — by 20 to 25 per cent by the year set in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009.
Sunita Narain, Deputy Director General Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based think tank, is of the view that the US-China pact shouldn’t be a worry for India.
The deal was, she said: “neither historic nor ambitious, but just a self-serving agreement between the world’s two biggest polluters.”
Dr. Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General CSE, told RTCC that the US and Chinese per-capita emissions would converge at around 12 tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent in 2030.
This is a level of emissions which, he said, is hardly “in line with meeting the 2C temperature target mandated by the IPCC. So in a way the deal will reduce rather than increase pressure on India to pursue loftier goals on climate mitigation.”
The upcoming talks in Peru are thus critical, added Bhushan, as during the next Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015 in Paris, all the signatories, including India, are expected to arrive at a binding and mutually acceptable agreement on climate change efforts.
The overwhelming view in India is that at Lima, the country should insist on adaptation than on mitigation (emission cuts) and further push for tighter limits in any future climate deal.
This will enable it to balance its development priorities with global expectations on climate change mitigation efforts while helping it leverage the situation in its favour.
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