India Steps Up Climate Change Efforts

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Jamir RameshAs international climate negotiations progress this week in Bangkok, Thailand, India has shown signs of more proactive engagement on climate change issues both internationally and at home.

While the Indian government continues to emphasize poverty alleviation and economic development as the country's highest priorities, recent stances on domestic emission reductions indicate that India is taking considerable steps to encourage more constructive global climate talks.

India joins a growing contingent of developing countries that "are making very significant efforts to show what they are doing to address climate change and indicate what more they are willing to do," according to U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer.

Until recently, India had repeatedly rejected calls to quantify its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the grounds that this would jeopardize national poverty alleviation goals.

"India cannot and will not take emission reduction targets because poverty eradication and social and economic development are first and over-riding priorities," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in June.

But two weeks ago, in a surprising reversal, India agreed to quantify its efforts to mitigate climate change. Ramesh said India would reduce emissions by "a broadly indicative number," although the reductions would still not be bound by international law.

At the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Italy in July, India joined 16 other countries in declaring that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels should not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. This goal remains somewhat controversial, however, as there is still no clear agreement on how countries will share the burden for reducing global emissions.

At the subsequent Major Economies Forum in Washington, D.C., this September, India proposed that it could submit more detailed and regular information to the international community on its domestic climate change efforts as a step toward greater transparency.

All countries that are party to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are required to submit periodic "national communications" that report on their carbon emissions and climate mitigation activities. But India, like other developing countries, has not had to submit these reports as regularly or in as much detail as industrialized countries, especially for those actions that are not internationally funded.

"We are prepared to...incorporate [self-funded actions on climate change] in our national communication [and] consider making the national communication more detailed and more regular," said Shyam Saran, India's Special Envoy on Climate Change, speaking to Worldwatch. But, he said, all parties to the UNFCCC would need to agree to such changes.

These recent overtures from India's government are a sign of the country's growing investment in the success of the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December, Ramesh said.

"The single most important message we need to give the world is that we are proactive, constructive, [and] we want a fair and equitable agreement in Copenhagen," he told the Indian Express.

Strengthening efforts at home

India's investment in climate change appears to be ramping up domestically as well.

Last month, the Ministry of Environment and Forests released a report listing 20 initiatives that the country is undertaking to address climate change at home. These steps come as part of India's larger National Action Plan on Climate Change.

The report mentions reforestation as a priority on India's environmental agenda. A major drive is under way nationwide to add 0.8 million hectares of forest per year, coupled with efforts to improve forest management, conservation, and regeneration and to boost local capacity and job creation for some of India's poorest communities.

These initiatives will help offset 11 percent of India's annual emissions, according to the Ministry report.

The report also touts the government's recent approval of two of the eight "missions" that comprise the National Action Plan on Climate Change: the Solar Mission and the Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency.

The Solar Mission sets a target to install 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity by 2020 and 200 GW by 2050. It is the most ambitious solar plan that any country has put forward so far.

The Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency contains initiatives designed to improve the efficiency of energy use across sectors. The government has said the program will include a series of mandated efficiency standards for vehicles, buildings, and appliances; a market-based mechanism to trade energy-efficiency certificates; and other mechanisms to finance efficiency efforts, such as tax exemptions and insurance funds.

The Ministry has also floated a proposal to create a National Environmental Protection Authority that would monitor and evaluate the implementation of environmental efforts in India. The proposal comes as part of a new drive from the Ministry to improve its "accountability and transparency," as outlined in a recent video that asks viewers to provide feedback on Ministry activities.

India firm on equity concerns

Despite its increasingly proactive engagement on climate issues, India has not waivered from its position that equity concerns must underlie the international climate negotiations. The government insists that, despite a common goal of global climate stabilization, each country has a different responsibility to address the problem.

"The major responsibility for bringing about [climate change] is that of the developed countries, and...they should carry out credible action in order to control emissions," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a press conference following the recent G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsyslvania.

Topping India's agenda have been appeals for more ambitious emissions cuts from industrialized countries as well as larger commitments to provide financial and technical support to the developing world.

"Nearly 200 million [Indians] live on less than $1 a day and nearly 500 million do not have access to modern sources of energy," said External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna at a U.N. roundtable event in New York in September.

At the meeting, Krishna called on industrialized countries to cut their carbon emissions "at least 40 percent by 2020" from 1990 levels and asked them to consider changes in lifestyle patterns to achieve this shift.

"We cannot get away from the fundamental fact that unsustainable lifestyles and patterns of production and consumption in the developed world have caused climate change. This cannot continue," he said.

Krishna emphasized the importance of focusing on climate change adaptation as well as mitigation. "Developing countries must be supported financially, technologically, and with capacity-building resources so that they can cope with the immense challenges of adaptation," he said in a statement to the U.N. General Assembly.

Anna da Costa is a Worldwatch Institute fellow based in New Delhi.

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