Cutting emissions intensity: Can India lead the world on climate change?
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Cutting emissions intensity: Can India lead the world on climate change?

India has pledged a 33-35 percent cut in the intensity of its carbon emissions (based on 2005 levels) by 2030. The word’s third largest aggregate emitter of greenhouse gases plans to achieve this mainly by embracing clean energy and increasing forest cover.

More specifically, India’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution), which it recently submitted to the UN, pledges to source 40 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources like solar power. It will also increase the country’s forestland in order to create a carbon sink capable of sequestering 2.5 – 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide. India estimates that it will require US$2.5 billion to achieve these goals.

India’s promise is the final piece to a global climate change deal

India’s promises mean that all major economies are on board for a binding agreement on climate change come December, when the UN will hold its next climate conference in Paris. Already, over 196 countries have submitted individual goals, including the top two emitters — China and the U.S. — as well as other major economic powers like the European Union and Brazil.

An Indian-German partnership

One way India plans to achieve its climate goals is by working with Germany, the largest economy in the EU and 4th largest in the world by nominal GDP.

On Monday, the two countries formed the Indo-German Climate and Renewable Alliance in order to officially intensify bilateral cooperation on issues relating to climate and energy technology. These include:

(1) Next generation solar technology; (2) Renewable energy storage; (3) Climate-friendly space cooling technologies; (4) Super-efficient appliances and buildings; (5) Zero emission passenger and freight vehicles; (6) Energy-efficient rail and water infrastructure; (7) Off shore wind.

(source: Z News)


Environmental activists in Bangalore, India. Pic: Kiran Jonnalagadda (Flickr CC)


The question of coal

The main source of electricity in Germany, like in India, is coal, with 45 and 40 percent shares, respectively. In Germany, this is controversial in terms of both pollution and climate, though not as controversial as nuclear power. India’s coal industry, on the other hand, is positively booming. Only last month, construction began on what aims to be Asia’s largest coal mine. And this is just one of many.

From Reuters:

India is opening a mine a month as it races to double coal output by 2020, putting the world’s third-largest polluter at the forefront of a pan-Asian dash to burn more of the dirty fossil fuel that environmentalists fear will upend international efforts to contain global warming.

While the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011 put nuclear power out of favor not only in Japan, but also in Germany and to some extent in India, coal — a far dirtier fuel and a potent source of greenhouse gases — is bigger than ever.

So if smaller, highly industrialized countries like Japan and Germany cannot effectively curb their coal use, what hope is there for a massive developing country like India? How can India hope to meet its goals and lower emissions?

What does cutting “emissions intensity” mean?

Be careful of headlines. One important point is the language of India’s climate pledge regarding its emissions. The South Asian giant has not, in fact, promised to cut overall emissions by 2030, but rather its “emissions intensity”. This means that it will reduce its projected growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 33 – 35 percent, a much more achievable goal for a country home to 1.2 billion people, which is rapidly industrializing and experiencing economic growth, but still trailing China in terms of wealth indicators and lifting its population out of poverty.

While India’s climate goals should be encouraged, do not expect a country in such a situation to reduce its true emissions. On the other hand, India has already shown that it can cut its emissions intensity. In fact, it is already doing so.