Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is India's Climate Change Stance Defensive as The Hindu Claims?

Today's lead editorial 'Break the climate deadlock' has a lot of good things to say about what China has done with regard to climate change. There is however little about what India has done; on the other hand, we are adviced to follow China's lead. As developing countries, both have similar interests where climate change negotiations are concerned. There is also nothing inherently wrong in learning from other countries. Rather, the question is whether India is lagging behind China with respect to formulating policies to deal with climate change or in preparation for the upcoming Copenhagen summit. If that is the case, the editorial does not say why or where we ought to catch up.

If China has published its National Climate Change Program in 2007, India released its own National Action Plan on Climate Change last year. Hu Jintao's remarks at the UN were widely covered and can be read here. They are significant for what he did not say but the reader would not guess that reading only the editorial. Here is what The Hindu says:

The first will be a reduction, by the year 2020, of the energy intensity of its GDP growth by a notable margin from 2005 levels. In parallel, China is engaging the United States on climate change with potentially beneficial outcomes for both sides in terms of technology development and preferential assistance. All this should persuade India to abandon its defensive stance.

Hu's actual remarks as relevant here were:

We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions — (inaudible) — GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.

Second, we will vigorously develop renewable energy and nuclear energy. We will endeavor to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020." [ Emphasis added].

In other words, these are self-imposed goals that China will attempt to meet, not a guarantee to the international community to commit his country to those targets. Most of his other promises were either similarly stated as endeavors or were made only in principle with no numbers being offered. Indeed, it was this failure to lay down specific goals that attracted significant attention in other newspapers (see the New York Times editorial here, the Telegraph's take on it here and the Guardian's report here. A US official made the same point as reported in the BBC here).

Jairam Ramesh's statement refusing to accept binding limits imposed by treaty is not inconsistent with what Hu has stated here with respect to China. Just as he announced that China has imposed mandatory national targets, India too is similarly considering imposing unilateral and voluntary curbs on carbon emissions (see here) though in our system, it will naturally take time to consult all the stakeholders before legislation to that effect can be passed (there are many issues regarding the specifics of such a proposal). Hu spoke about the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities embodying the consensus of the international community in accordance with China's climate change program. India's National Action Plan also refers to the same principle (see page 47) and based upon it, concludes that 'developing countries are not required to divert resources from development priorities by implementing projects involving incremental costs – unless these incremental costs are borne by developed countries and the needed technologies are transferred.' The editorial offers no convincing reason to substantiate its view that India's stand is overly defensive as compared to China's.

In the second paragraph, it lists India's problems while claiming that China unlike India has spelt out clear actions to deal with them:

In the Indian context, the poor efficiency of thermal power plants also needs to be addressed. The solar mission, which forms part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, needs a major push. It is revealing that in 2006, a not-so-sunny Germany produced 2,220 gigawatt-hours of power from solar energy while India’s tally was 19, equalling tiny Luxembourg. To make a credible case at Copenhagen, therefore, a lot of detail needs to go into the eight missions that make up the national plan. The States need to vigorously pursue the green agenda in areas such as sustainable agriculture, water protection, urban planning, and forestry. Here again, China’s policy is on firm ground. President Hu Jintao has spelt out clear actions on renewable energy, greater reliance of non-fossil fuels, and increase in forest cover.

India's plans to improve the efficiency of our thermal power plants and the problems in doing this are dealt with in the Action plan (see page 39). There is also an entire chapter in the plan on the National Solar Mission. The government also announced last month an ambitious solar power plan for the same purpose (though whether it takes off depends on whether western countries are prepared to pay for it and transfer technology for the purpose). Hu may have committed China towards climate friendly policies but how far his country will actually go is far from clear at this time. India has played the game well so far and neither the lack of acknowledgment of some of its steps nor the implied criticism of its stand as 'defensive' are justified.

6 comments:

Hindu Fundamentalist said...

pilid, good post. international media have been critical of obama for not taking the lead in climate change, while appreciating both china and india for coming up with some plans to tackle climate change. but for chindu so used to deriding india, it demands india to blindly follow china.

another misleading statement is the mention of india's defensive stance. india is not opposed to climate change but the extra burden that developed countries want to impose on developing countries that could have a direct impact on growth. under bush, this was flagrant when us did not sign the kyoto protocol but wanted india to control emissions. just like india, china also opposed the lopsided climate change policy.

Pilid said...

HF,

Correct. India does not want to be seen as a spoilsport at the negotiations but at the same time, it cannot accept the sort of caps that are being proposed in the West. China is facing the same predicament except that the pressure has been higher on them owing to the fact that their emissions are greater than ours.

The other uncertainty is how far the US is willing to go (which is responsible for ~25% of global emissions). Obama's leeway is severely constrained by what Congress is willing to do and there are serious doubts that even a highly diluted version of the Waxman-Markey bill will pass in the Senate. Indian officials are surely aware of these facts and seem to be moving along at about the right speed.

Thyagarajan said...

Pilid, Do we have the numbers in China in regard to the Solar energy production so that it can be compared with the 19 generated by India? I am sure it would only be in similar region and would definitely not compare with West Germany.

Pilid said...

Thyagarajan,

I did not find a specific number for solar power alone in China's climate change document. This news item says that at the end of 2008, solar power capacity attached to the grid was less than 100 MW, or 0.01% of China's entire installed capacity.

Thyagarajan said...

IF we could take the new item as correct, would it not imply that India's production at 19 giga watts (As stated in the editorial) is way beyond the Chinese (His Masters voice - for the Hindu) which produce a measly 100 megawatts. How could they still continue with their pontification.

Pilid said...

Thyagarajan,

You are right but if India is doing better than China, I doubt that it will find mention in the paper.