by Jack Rosebro
India has published its first “National Action Plan On Climate Change” (NAPCC), which outlines the government’s strategy and goals with respect to energy, climate change adaption, climate change mitigation, and resource management.
The plan comprises eight key areas, or National Missions: solar energy, energy efficiency, sustainable habitats, water conservation, sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, a large-scale tree-planting program, sustainable agriculture, and creating a “knowledge platform” on climate change. Each National Mission will be administered by the appropriate ministry.
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s words “earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed at this week’s unveiling of the NAPCC that “every citizen of this planet must have an equal share of the planetary atmospheric space.”
However, India’s leaders have made it clear in the past that they are not open to any global climate change policy which puts a cap on the country’s future emissions, and the report does not propose a specific cut or cap on future emissions, asserting instead that the country’s emissions per capita “will at no point exceed that of developed countries even as we pursue our development objectives.” At present, India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita are estimated to be around one-twentieth of US GHG emissions.
The G8 summit meets next week to discuss—among other issues—global emissions reductions targets, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has embarked on a two-year negotiation path, which began last December in Bali, to develop a climate change reduction plan to be agreed on by the end of next year in Copenhagen.
“The success of our national efforts would be significantly enhanced provided the developed countries affirm their responsibility for accumulated greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill their commitments under the UNFCCC to transfer additional financial resources and climate friendly technologies to support both adaptation and mitigation in developing countries,” the NAPCC argues.
|Land-use change and fossil-fuel consumption in developed (North) and developing/emerging (South) countries, 1850-present. Click to enlarge. Source: Wheeler and Ummel (2007).|
However, a working paper released last year by the Center for Global Development maintains that greenhouse gas emissions of emerging economies are already large enough, and accelerating quickly enough, to endanger climate stability regardless of the amount of reductions undertaken by developed countries. “The question is not if the South will commit to emissions reductions—under any scenario it eventually must for its own sake,” the authors of the working paper affirm, “but whether it will do so in time, and how the costs of the transition are to be shared.”
India’s emissions challenge is largely a function of population growth as much as of its emerging economy: unlike China’s population, which expected to peak around 2030 and then decline, resulting in about 150 million more Chinese in 2050 than today, India’s population—currently 1.13 billion—is projected to increase by around half a billion between now and 2050, making it the world’s most populous country.
Although India’s GDP growth is robust, averaging 8% per year since 2004, more than a quarter of its citizens remain below the poverty line, and almost half live without electricity. Despite the country’s unprecedented economic growth since 2003-2004, India remains home to about half of the world’s hungry.
The Indian government’s Approach Paper to the Eleventh Plan—a reference to India’s eleventh five-year development plan—notes that India, and especially its poor, are particularly endangered by the potential effects of climate change, and emphasizes that “rapid economic growth is an essential prerequisite to reduce poverty.” It concludes that “development and poverty eradication are the best form of adaptation” to the effects of climate change. According to the NAPCC, the Indian government already spends the equivalent of 2.6% of the country’s GDP on climate adaptation, primarily on agriculture, water resources, health and sanitation, forests, coastal-zone infrastructure, and extreme weather events.
Eight National Missions
Solar Energy. Drawing upon India’s abundant sunshine, a National Mission on Solar Energy will be launched to encourage a “decentralized distribution of energy, thereby empowering people at the grassroots level” as well as megawatt-class solar reflector power plants. In addition, the report finds that a major R & D program to reduce costs and enable storage of solar energy would be helpful, albeit with “international cooperation.” Recommended technologies include:
Solar thermal power systems hybridized with biomass combustion as well as thermal storage via molten salts.
At least 1000 MW of domestically produced photovoltaic cells per year.
At least 1000 MW of new Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) facilities built per year.
The ultimate goal of the National Mission on Solar Energy would be a solar industry that is cost-competitive with fossil fuels within the next 20 to 25 years: at the kilowatt range for solar thermal and solar voltaic installations, and the gigawatt range for CSP facilities that feed into the national grid.
Enhanced Energy Efficiency. India passed its Energy Conservation Act in 2001, and it is anticipated that the effects of the legislation, plus additional measures, will result in 10,000 MW of energy savings by 2012. Added measures may include the creation of a market in which energy savings certificates can be traded, the promotion of affordable energy-efficient appliances, and demand-side management programs. Energy consumption is rising quickly in India; for example, commercial energy use in 2003 was about 250% of 1990 consumption levels.
Sustainable Habitats.The Energy Conservation Building Code will be expanded. Waste-to-energy programs and technology will be encouraged, particularly in cities, and improved public transport will be used to increase ridership as well as facilitate the growth of small and medium cities. Transport fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) has already boomed in many cities, at times as a result of legal challenges to air pollution. Although CNG-based GHG production is high, one recent report suggests that the reduction in particulates afforded by a switch to the new fuel has resulted in lower overall contributions to atmospheric warming in New Delhi.
A 5% ethanol blend is already mandated in nine Indian states, and is expected to increase to 10%.
Water Conservation. Few countries outside of the Middle East have less water resources per capita than India, yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that gross per capita water availability could drop another 35% by 2050. Even absent impacts from climate change, the country is already “likely to become water scarce by 2050,” according to government officials. A national goal of 20% water efficiency has been set. Technologies such as waste water recycling and desalinization will be employed, and the National Water Policy will be revisited to address variations in rainfall and river flows, as well as declining water tables in many parts of the country.
Last year, multiple potential future tipping elements in the climate system—subsystems which could unexpectedly collapse—were identified by climate researchers, including an instability in the Indian summer monsoon, which is Earth’s most productive wet season.
Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem. North Indian rivers are largely fed by ice and snow. About fifteen thousand Himalayan glaciers—the largest body of ice outside the polar caps—form a network of reservoirs that support perennial rivers such as the Indus, Ganga (Ganges) and Brahmaputram. The Gangetic basin alone is home to 500 million people, as well as almost half of India's grain production.
|Recession of the Gangotri glacier, 1780-2001. Click to enlarge. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory|
However, glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than anywhere else the world. Last year’s IPCC Fourth Assessment Report estimated that at the present rate of deterioration, many Himalayan glaciers are likely to disappear by 2035 or sooner, with total glacier area dropping to about a fifth of the present area. The 30.2 km long Gangotri glacier has receded at a rate of about 23 meters per year between 1985 and 2001, compared to an average of 7.3 meters per year between 1842 and 1935.
Many perennial rivers are projected to become seasonal, limiting the production of energy (via hydropower) as well as food. Although India became a net exporter of food in 1995, its food production is rapidly being outpaced by population growth. Indirect per-capita grain consumption, through the production of livestock, is also expected to rise as an expanding Indian middle class increasingly opt for meat-based diets.
NAPCC recommendations for the preservation of Himalayan ecosystems include organic farming and sustainable tourism, as well as best practices in land use, watershed management, development, and community-based management.
Green India. A Green India campaign had previously been announced by Prime Minister Singh, which calls for the afforestation of 6 million hectares, doubling the current rate and increasing the country’s area under cover by almost half. Degraded forests and the creation of wildlife corridors will be given particular attention. The program will be funded in part by income collected from developers who convert forested areas for non-forest use. The ultimate goal is to have about a third of the country covered in forests.
The Green India plan also envisions the planting of “fast-growing, climate-hardy species”. A similar plan has been employed in China for the past twenty years, creating a monoculture of poplars to replace lost natural forests and feed the country’s exploding paper industry. Critics charge that the practice has largely resulted in “empty forests” which often fail to attract bird and animal life.
Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change. A Climate Research Fund will be set up to identify challenges of climate change as well as appropriate responses, including impacts on health, demographics, migration patterns, and coastal communities. Of particular note is the poor quality and detail of climate-related data in the region.
Sustainable Agriculture. Here, the term “sustainable agriculture” primarily refers to crops that are more resilient to climate change-related stresses such as heat, drought, flooding, and increased pestilence. As major rivers become seasonal, crops will have to maintain productivity even if they are exclusively rainfed. The report recommends a particular focus on the prevention of declines in domestic food production.
In a report released this month, Goldman Sachs said climate change could deplete India’s cultivable land area and productivity, reduce labor productivity and increase the threats of toxic and chemical waste in the environment.
“Although such dire prognostications are premature, urbanization, industrialization and ongoing global climate change will take a heavy toll on India’s environment, if not managed better,” it said.
India’s release of its inaugural National Action Plan On Climate Change precedes the G8 summit that will be held from 7 to 9 July in Hokkaido, Japan. Climate change is front and center on this year’s G8 agenda, and the US in particular has indicated an unwillingness to set targets unless China and India agree to do so as well.
In 2007, China released its first climate change strategy, also without emissions targets, ahead of that year’s G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. However, in a marked turnabout last week, Chinese president Hu Jintao asked developed nations for help in fighting climate change, saying that “our task is tough, and our time is limited”—and that government must ”drive the idea [of emissions reduction] deep into people’s hearts.”
This year’s G8 summit is also preceded by an announcement from the World Bank that it will set up two investment funds: one to help emerging economies adopt low-carbon energy technologies, and the other to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Initial donations to the two funds are expected to reach some US$5 billion, and the World Bank plans to approve the first projects and programs by the end of this year. Prime Minister Singh plans to visit the G8 summit next week.
 Center for Global Development: Working Paper 134: Another Inconvenient Truth: A Carbon-Intensive South Faces Environmental Disaster, No Matter What the North Does. December 2007
 China View: Chinese president urges enhanced efforts to cope with climate change. 28 June 2008
 Press release: World Bank Board Approves Climate Investment Funds. 1 July 2008