Will India accept Paris green target on climate change?

Green energy mix

As India prepares to ratify the terms of the Paris Agreement on climate change on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti, it must prepare to fulfil a global commitment by ensuring 40 per cent of its power capacity comes from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, up from 30 per cent today as per a power ministry assessment in August 2016.

The countries who will sign the accord must reduce the focus on fossil fuels in their energy mix to 30-35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. India generated 75 per cent of its electricity from coal, IndiaSpend reported in May 2015; this has reduced to 61% by August 2016, according to the power ministry.

The Paris Agreement was approved by 195 countries in December 2015 and will come into force in 2020; till then plans need to be formulated to bring the annual global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

China was the leading polluter, producing 27.3 per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions; the US was next with 16.4 per cent followed by India with 6.6 per cent, according to the June 2016 BP statistical review of world energy.

India produced 13.8 per cent of all CO2 emissions in the Asia Pacific in 2015, the second largest contributor behind China (57 per cent).

Although its per capita emissions are roughly one-twentieth of the average global level, IndiaSpend reported in May 2015, India houses one sixth of the world’s population. The average citizen of the UK, Germany, Canada, and the US pollutes between five and 12 times as much as an average Indian.

India has the fourth largest wind turbine capacity (5.8 globally) globally. The wind turbine capacity increased 12 per cent from 114,609 MW in 2014 to 145,109 MW in 2015.

India has 2.2 per cent of solar power capacity in the world, and is among the top 10 nations. China has the maximum solar power capacity (18.9 per cent) followed by Germany (17.2 per cent) and Japan (15.4 per cent).

Challenges will emerge as India continues to develop

Deforestation in urban areas is predicted to lead to several Indian cities with trees on less than 5 per cent of their land areas, IndiaSpend reported in March 2016.

When trees are cut, they release stored CO2, and they can no longer absorb the same during photosynthesis. As much as 3 billion tonnes of CO2, or 10 per cent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions, come from deforestation, according to a December 2013 note by Union of Concerned Scientists.

As India develops, Co2 emissions will rise, IndiaSpend reported in May 2015.

Despite problems, the government has outlined ambitious targets: As much as 50 per cent of power capacity could come from non-fossil, environmentally-friendly sources, Business Standard reported in September 2016.

The transition will be costly, and the focus now will be on working with developed nations to acquire funding and identify affordable technology.

Developed nations are committed by the terms of the Paris Agreement to support developing nations.

Help from developed nations may not come — a particular danger being the presidency of Donald Trump, who could and seemingly would renege on the US commitment were he elected, BBC reported in May 2016.

It is for these reasons that the union cabinet has inserted caveats, conditions into their acceptance of the agreement, Business Standard reported in September 2016.

So, if the global situation changes and other countries are not fulfilling their commitments, India can review its position rather than risking its development targets.

India is the 12th country to take this position, and it is unclear whether this will undermine the accord’s success.

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Charlie Moloney is a multimedia journalist.