Tuesday, 18 August 2009

India, Coal and Global Warming

India's rhetoric in Bonn is at odds with its Climate Change Plan

In 2008 India was the world's fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide and looks determined to follow a path leading to higher CO2 emissions by substantially increasing the use of coal to meet the growing demand for power and industrialization.

The choices made by India, and the help given by developed nations to support progress towards lower emissions path, are critical to combating global warming.

India's UNFCCC submissions, and recent pronouncements at the August UNFCCC meeting in Bonn by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh that India will not accept emissions targets, must be interpreted as India presenting emissions mitigation as a problem solely for developed countries to solve.

To justify its own 'no emissions targets' position, India cites historical rights to the atmosphere as it propounds Indian economic growth first, maybe targets later.

At the same time India is berating developed countries for their failure to reach their Kyoto GHG mitigation targets, and is asking that they provide finance for adaptation, waive I.P.R. on technologies and that they reduce their emissions by "more than 25-40 percent by 2020"

AFP reports that Ramesh has suggested that developed countries give 0.5-1.0 % of their GDP annually to enable developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However India's combative rhetoric is likely to be counter-productive since equity would be best served by a collaborative ethos within which developed countries willingly supported developing countries along low carbon development paths with both finance and new technologies.

Those developing countries seeking to place blame on developed countries might pause to consider that the latter were unaware of their impact on climate at the time that they were industrializing. If developing countries recklessly seek to follow high GHG emissions paths under the prevailing global conditions, they do not do so in ignorance. Global warming science is now unequivocal and all countries will be affected.

Since it is clear that India understands the significance of the accumulation of atmospheric CO2, the language used in Bonn is disingenuous, and contrasts with that used by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in introducing India's 2008 Climate Change Action Plan (NAPCC). The plan is focused on sustainable development and has many positive features.

"Achieving national growth objectives through a qualitative change in direction that enhances ecological sustainability, leading to further mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions" is the second of seven guiding principles laid down in the NAPCC

But actions speak louder then words. At the same time as climate negotiators were in Bonn, Reuters and the Times of India reported (11August 09) that the Indian government was taking steps to promote private investment via competitive bidding for new coal mines to supply industries like steel and cement and to increase the supply of coal to the power sector.

India has 7.1% of world reserves of coal, in particular 54,000 million tonnes of anthracite and bituminous coal which is comparable with those of China, whose larger reserves include more lower grade coal and lignite. Demand for coal, already high in India, is currently partly satisfied by imports and India has secured funding for more coal fired power stations. It was also reported that Coal India intended in the future to acquire interests in coal mines overseas in Indonesia and South Africa and other countries.

This surely signals that India's has already made up its mind to expand use of coal very significantly in future with consequent impact on CO2 emissions.

India's position may appear totally disconnected from the reality that global warming is driven by CO2 emissions. Recent actions and rhetoric are difficult to reconcile with the India's 2008 Climate Change Action Plan. But, while the pressures due to the aspirations of a massive population are understood, and to use coal to meet these aspirations might seem the obvious path, it is extremely shortsighted.

Coal fired plant has a life of forty years at least and once in place a change to more sustainable infrastructure will be challenging. The window of opportunity to take a low carbon development path is now.

In Summary

India's rhetoric in Bonn is at odds with its Climate Change Plan published last year. Indian leaders are aware of the opportunities offered by a sustainable technology path, and that evolution towards non-coal-based distributed energy systems would offer better long term prospects for their citizens than a centralised coal based economy.

However in practice, it seems, they choose not to opt for sustainability and look set to increase their use of coal.

An intransigent stance on emissions targets is a tragedy, not just for the Indian people but for the entire world.

For developed nations to be willing to fund clean technology and adaptation measures, India's proposals need to be consistent and lead to a more sustainable future.

A new, more constructive dialogue is needed.


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