Asian Insider

India's new climate change goals prompt discussion on whether it is doing enough

The new goals are higher than those set in 2015, but omit a specific target for renewable energy. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - India has pledged higher targets on climate but the new goals, which omit a specific target for renewable energy, have prompted a debate on whether the world's fourth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide is doing enough to fight global warming.

According to its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) announced last week, the country has committed to reducing its emissions intensity - the volume of emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) - by 45 per cent by 2030 from its 2005 level.

It has also set a target of 50 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030.

Installed capacity refers to the maximum output of electricity that a power generating system can produce under ideal conditions.

These are higher goals compared with the 2015 NDC ones that had pledged a 33-35 per cent reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, and 40 per cent electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel by the same year.

The new NDC targets will be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ahead of the Conference of Parties (COP) climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

These new goals have been welcomed by experts, especially at a time when the Indian economy is recovering from losses inflicted by the pandemic and the world is seeing less action on climate change.

India is the fourth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the United States and the European Union.

However, the absence of a specific target for renewable energy has been seen as a climbdown from the five pledges made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at COP26 in Glasgow last year.

He had announced that 50 per cent of India's energy requirement would be met by renewable energy by 2030.

This was seen as ambiguous and even impossible given the vast portfolio of energy needs, including cooking fuel.

The NDC goal narrows the target down to installed electricity capacity. But it also says this goal is now going to be met by non-fossil fuel, which includes hydropower and nuclear, and not just renewables such as wind or solar.

Mr Nandikesh Sivalingam, director at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said India should have included a specific renewables target.

"Not having one is disappointing given that India has been doing well in the renewables space," he told The Straits Times.

The 2015 NDC targets had included a 175-gigawatt (GW) target for renewables by 2022.

India had an estimated 40 per cent installed capacity from non-fossil sources (with 22 per cent of generation) as at June 2022.

This is expected to increase to 62 per cent by 2030 to provide 40 per cent generation, according to the Central Electricity Authority.

"This new NDC goal is pretty much business as usual and not big enough in the context of 2030," added Mr Sivalingam, noting that the target also leaves room for a parallel expansion of fossil fuel capacity.

The 2015 Paris Agreement requires countries to detail pathways to ensure the globe does not heat beyond 2 deg C, and strive to keep it below 1.5 deg C by 2100.

According to The Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis, India must phase out coal use by 2040 to be aligned with the Paris Agreement's 1.5 deg C limit.

Experts, however, suggest coal will remain a key mix of India's energy supply.

The International Energy Agency expects the share of coal in India's power generation mix to be in the low 30 per cent range  by 2040.

The goal to cut emissions intensity by 45 per cent would require a "substantial decoupling" of emissions from GDP, said Dr Navroz Dubash, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR).

According to a research publication by two of his colleagues, India's emissions grew at an annualised rate of 5.1 per cent between 2010 and 2016, while its GDP increased at an annualised 6.8 per cent in the same period.

"If India continues to grow at a similar rate of 6.5 per cent between 2020 and 2030, then in order to meet the intensity pledge, emissions will only be able to grow at a maximum of 3.1 per cent annually between 2016 and 2030," wrote CPR fellows Aman Srivastava and Ashwini Kumar Swain.

India, Dr Dubash also noted, should be judged on a joint reading of international pledges and domestic policy.

"What we state internationally is not the outer limit of what we aim to do. We often have domestic targets that outstrip the international ones because they are calibrated to make sure we meet international targets and exceed them in fact," he added.

These domestic targets include 450GW renewable energy capacity by 2030 as well as a goal for states to meet 43 per cent of their energy demand from renewable energy sources by 2030.

"The international community should be looking not just at international pledges but also at what countries are actually doing at home," Dr Dubash said.

"We should not get so hung up on a pledge-taking process divorced from national policies."

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