India’s climate strategy needs revision

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

Climate change negotiations are by now predictable. The already-industrialised come to each conference of the parties (COP) with a clear game plan, that is, to erase their contribution to the emissions already present in the atmosphere, thereby effectively remove the differentiation between their responsibility and that of the rest of the world to act. This would rewrite the 1992 convention on climate change and let them evade the obligation to provide funds and technology for action in the developing world. The problem is that developing countries do not come with an equally clear plan or proactive position. As a result, in each meeting, including the recently concluded COP20 at Lima, developing countries lose. The terms of the agreement change progressively and deliberately against the poor and the Planet.

Indian negotiators believe they can maintain the status quo and delay any new agreement, but as climate negotiations show, this tactic does not work. We block but the rich countries shove and the ground slips from under our feet. We need to revise our strategy.

For instance, India went to the Lima COP all guns blazing to oppose ex-ante review of mitigation commitments. It has been decided that all countries will declare their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—how much emissions they will cut, why and when. The ex-ante review is to measure and review whether a country has met its target. It is also to see if the sum of these actions is sufficient to keep the world below the guardrail of 2°C increase in temperature. If not, then to decide on further action.

Why did India oppose this? Because when the idea was first proposed at the Copenhagen conference in 2009, it was definitely unacceptable. The proposal was to move the world from setting mandatory carbon dioxide reduction targets to voluntary action. Under the target approach, the world would decide on the carbon budget—how much can it emit and still stay below 2°C rise—and then set targets for each country, based on past contributions to greenhouse gases. Under the voluntary approach, countries would decide how much emission they would (or could) cut. These commitments would be ex-ante reviewed.

India rightly fought the obliteration of the principle of differentiation, which meant targets would be based on equity and past responsibility. The review was also seen as a dilution of national sovereignty.


But that was the past. Since then India has agreed that the post-2020 climate agreement is not just applicable to all countries, but that all will take voluntary mitigation commitments (called contributions) which will be domestic actions. So, it has already tacitly agreed to dilute the principle of differentiation. The only peg it is hanging its hopes on is that all this action will be done under the principles of the convention, which inscribe equity. But in this new regime, India has to be proactive and nimble to operationalise the principle of equity.

If it wanted to do this, India could have proposed to hold the rich accountable for their commitments through the ex-ante review. In this way, each country’s domestic contribution would include an equity metrics of its per capita emissions and the carbon space it will occupy. This contribution and subsequent action would be reviewed before the post-2020 climate change agreement is signed so that targets can be revised to take into account ambition and fairness. This way we not only keep the world safe, but also ensure that each country’s actions are based on rightly shared common atmosphere.

Instead at COP20, India decided to stand with China, which has a definite interest in opposing the ex-ante review because it aims at peaking its emissions by 2030. China has already dumped us and moved on. Under an agreement with the US, it has agreed to match its emissions with that of the US at a massive 12 tonnes per capita per year in 2030. The two big polluters will appropriate the bulk of the carbon space, leaving nothing for the growth of the rest of the developing world.

In the Lima Call for Action, there is no provision for ex-ante review. Now countries will provide information about how their INDCs will be fair and ambitious, but in light of national circumstances. We have no mechanism to ensure that the commitments by the rich countries are equitable, and not crippled by what countries can do. In the final communiqué in Lima, even the basic principle of equity—common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities (CBDR)—has been fatally twisted. Now it says CBDR will be “in light of different national circumstances”. Effectively, this means the US can say it cannot do more because its Congress will not pass legislation. It has legalised lack of ambition or inequity of action. The rest can follow this course as well.

We can call this a “win” for developing countries or for our heating Planet, only if we are delusional.

India’s progress in combating climate change

India’s second national communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

State level climate change trends in India

An evaluation of India’s national action plan on climate change

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  • Dear Ms. Sunita Narain: Happy

    Dear Ms. Sunita Narain:

    Happy New Year 2015!

    I fully agree (and diagree with you) with Government of India's stand. Kudos and well done GoI!

    Why do we link voluntary mitigation commitments to 2 deg C temp rise through ex-ante review!!! Why ? What happens if ex-ante review finds that mitigation commitments are not enough and which most likely will happen!

    Voluntary commitments are purely voluntary and are based on domestic assessment in order to combat global warming but why subject them to international conditions/limits. By agreeing to make voluntary mitigation commitments, it is clear that GoI is committed to do its best while protecting the country's interests.

    The moment we link it with 2 deg C rise, it becomes to some extent binding on us to revise the mitigation commitments upwardly after ex-ante review.

    I appreciate that you think of environment but at the same time please think a little about country's development too where millions live in poverty and are vulnerable to disease and death with or without global warming !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Hope in 2015, you can change your perspective.

    Sincerely yours,

    K D Bhardwaj

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Namaskar, Sustainability


    Sustainability issue [from my book ÔÇ£Environment and PeopleÔÇØ]:

    Few would disagree that economic development and environmental protection will top the national and international agendas in the 21st Century. Nations measure the monetary value of goods and services from economic activity as an indicator of national well-being. Current accounting systems used to estimate productivity do not reflect depletion or degradation of natural resources used to produce goods and services. During much of the 20th Century, both producers and consumers depleted natural resources with little thought for the environmental damage they were causing. We continued to overlook environmental damages until polluted land, water, food and air began threaten human health and until native species and ecosystems began disappear.

    Sustainable technology focuses on pollution and cleaner technology. Pollution prevention minimizes undesirable effluents, emissions and wastes from products and processes that obviate the need for treatment and control. A preventive approach includes using fewer or non-polluting materials, designing processes that minimize waste products and pollutants and directing the latter to other useful purposes, and creating recyclable products. Cleaner technology uses less fuel or alternate fuels to produce energy and generates little or no waste for industry, agriculture and transportation. Thus sustainable technologies are those that can reduce environmental pollution through significant technical advances. Society as a whole benefits from sustainable technologies. Since the technology is the key to sustainable development, it must be commercially available, economically compatible and environmentally and socially acceptable.

    The basic question that arises from how do we measure sustainable development, (1) what is it we wish to sustain and (2) over what time and what area and in locality in the world. Temporal scale of interest is probably relatively short when viewed in relation to geological time but quite long when viewed in relation to the lifetimes of people. The upper limits of special scale are constrained, with current technology, to the size of our planet. Locational prospective are also of interest in examining issues of sustainability. For agriculture systems in the developed world the main issues of sustainability include diversification from a relatively limited range of commodities and reduction of flows of nutrients and pesticides from agricultural system in to adjacent systems. For agricultural systems in developing countries the impetus must be to produce food in increasing amount without destroying the ecological base upon which plant growth is dependent. To assess the sustainability it is necessary to understand the extent and severity of environmental problems. This includes several areas but let us look at 12 priority areas, namely (1) population stabilization, (2) integrated land use planning, (3) healthy cropland and grassland, (4) woodland and re-vegetation, (5) conservation of biological diversity,
    (6) control of pollution in water and air, (7) development of non-polluting renewable energy system, (8) recycling of wastes and residues, (9) ecologically compatible human settlements and slum improvement, (10) environmental education and awareness, (11) updating environmental laws, and (12) new dimensions to national security.

    Industrial growth and employment is the powerful stimuli for the rapid urbanization of developing countries. Lack of planning, and collapse of infrastructure due to rapid migration frayed the urban fabric putting enormous pressure on shelter and services. It also put pressure on the water and energy. The energy needs of developing countries will grow at a faster rate than those of industrialized nations. Because 95% of the worldÔÇÖs projected population growth will occur in these nations, economic development is essential to their survival.

    No doubt it's exciting to search for new, supposedly "sustainable" sources of energy. But it would be great if there was also an equal emphasis placed on trying to find an economic model which does not require growth - as our current model does. That would relieve politicians of their obsession with insisting on a growing human population - which the planet clearly cannot accommodate, without extinguishing all other species but our own (except those we need for our food supply). Fewer humans would seem to be the best answer for a sustainable future for everyone.

    Four decades back, governments in developing countries looked in this direction -- population control. But now nobody bothered on this vital important issue except talking on greenhouse gases emissions and on this spending billions of US$ just to divert and pocket the money. In India, with the present population growth, power needs were estimated as 9% growth. The power share by source in India and USA at the end of August 2011 was as follows:
    % share of source-wise energy production in
    Source India/USA
    RES -- 11%/3.8%
    Nuclear -- 2%/21.5%
    Hydro -- 21%/6.0
    Diesel/gas -- 11%/19.8%
    Coal -- 55%/48.9%

    The basic question is, can we reach zero emission levels by 2100 either in USA or in India with the present fossil fuel share of power production along with the growth rate [9% for India]? We must look at practical aspects rather than speculative aspects. Through population control and control on lifestyles, we can bring down the growth rate in power sector. Then only we can achieve the target. With the population growth the population is going to reach 11 billion by 2100 and thus power needs are going to be trebled under new lifestyles!!!

    Some argueÔÇØ that population growth is reducing gradually: For example, during the late 1960s, world population growth peaked at over 2% annually; currently, WPG is 1.14%; for 2020 the estimate is that WPG will be less than 1%; and for 2050, estimate is less than 0.5%. The primary way this has been achieved is economic: the richer the country, the lower the population growth.ÔÇØ But the fact is not that simple. Please read John Bellamy Foster's book "The vulnerable planet: A short economic history of the Environment". This was translated in to Telugu by Prajashakti a daily newspaper in Hyderabad, for which I wrote a review published on 15 July 2001. In this book, the author discussed the issue of population growth prior to industrialization to after industrialization. He says the prior to industrialization, the births and deaths are also high. After industrialization the births and deaths are low. Also, prior to industrialization the longevity was short but after industrialization the longevity changed to longer life. This is associated with change in health care system.

    Population raise was projected to reach 11 billion by 2100 and at the same time, technology based lifestyle is going in the multiple levels. They are associated with losses. Taking all these factors in to account, Indian government projected growth at 9% in power sector and accordingly power industry was projected. India is looking at power saving under national action plan on climate change. Also, proposed use of solar energy in thermal power plants and reducing losses. In practical sense the renewable energy including hydro power at the most reach 50% by 2100.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
    Let me present the statistics on El Nino and Cyclonic activity vs Indian monsoons:
    India receives principal rains in the Southwest Monsoon season [June to September but in some years it may extend in to May and October]. It is 78% of annual rainfall. In southeastern parts of India also receives rainfall in post-monsoon season, known as Northeast Monsoon season. In the case of Andhra Pradesh three meteorological sub-divisions: Coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema and Telangana respectively the percentages in the two monsoons are: 52, 39; 60, 29; & 80, 12. Northwest India also receives winter rains and Himalayan region receives snowfall. In the two monsoons the principal rains are associated with low pressure systems like depressions, cyclonic storms and severe cyclonic storms. In the Arabian Sea they are few [258 during 1891 to 1990] and large in the Bay of Bengal [1212 during 1891 to 1990]. During Southwest Monsoon, low pressure, depressions, cyclonic storms give copious rains and while in the Northeast Monsoon cyclonic storms and severe cyclonic storms give copious rains and bring along with them disasters. Also they bring rains and disasters in pre-monsoon [April-May] to Southeastern parts of India. That means severe cyclonic storms occur during pre-monsoon and post-monsoon seasons. During 1880-2006 [126 years], El Nino years are 18, La Nina years are 24 and 84 are normal years. That means El Nino and La Nina years cover one-third of the years and the rest are normal years. Below presented tables present these along with low pressure systems.
    El Nino [1880-2006]:

    Number of years wherein the rainfall is under
    De BN NN An Ex Total

    El Nino 7 5 5 0 1 18
    Normal 14 13 37 14 6 84
    La Nina 0 0 7 7 10 24
    Total 21 18 49 21 17 126

    De = deficit, BN = below normal, NN = near normal, An = above normal, Ex = excess

    Cyclonic activity in Bay of Bengal [1891-1990]:

    Pr Mo Po

    Depressions 40 514 196
    Cyclonic storms 26 119 109
    Severe Cyclonic storms 45 29 106

    Pr = pre-monsoon [April-May], Mo = Southwest Monsoon [June to September], Po = post-monsoon [Northeast Monsoon, October to December]

    IPCC report says more than 50% [half] the global average temperature raise after 1951 was contributed by global warming. Here, they are not sure the exact percentage!!! Very recently American Academy of Sciences jointly with British Royal Meteorological Society published a report in which they presented a graph showing global temperature time series along with 10, 30 & 60 year moving average pattern. From the 60-year moving average pattern it is clear that after removing 60-year cyclic pattern that the trend showed less than 0.5 oC -- 60-year cycle varies between -0.3 to +0.3 oC. That means global warming component is less than 0.25 oC from 1951 to date. However, here the 0.5 oC is an over estimation of global temperature raise as the urban heat-island effect is overemphasized with dense met network in urban areas and underemphasized the rural-cold-island effect with sparse met network. This is clearly evident from satellite data. That means global warming component [if it exists] far less than 0.25 oC and by 2100 it may reach less than 0.5 oC. Under this scenario, the impact of global warming will be negligible.
    Unfortunately, we use climate change synonymous to global warming, which is not true. Climate change includes both the natural variations, which play prominent role in precipitation; and man induced variations in which ecological changes plays vital role. Global warming is one part of man induced variations. So far the component of global warming in global temperature raise is less than 0.25 oC. This will not have any impact on agriculture or health. Extremes in the climate parameters are part of natural variations. The precipitation cyclic variations do influence agriculture but they are different over different parts of the globe based on cyclic variation periods. There is no need to panic with global warming.

    We need to stop urban oriented capital investment - IT growth and we must go for rural - agriculture oriented investment. In other words we must stop unabated urban growth model. We must establish health care, education, roads, housing in rural areas. In fact the IT is generating more e-waste -- telephones, computers, TV sets and business modules -- and not in any way helping the rural India. The government must change from business oriented pollution culture to agriculture oriented pollution-free culture.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent. I entirely agree

    Excellent. I entirely agree with you Madam.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • If we go into the history of

    If we go into the history of environmental protection the Indian Government has never been serious. Only funds have been allocated and diverted for political or personal gains by the politicians, bureaucrats, contractors and even so called 'scientists'. The last group has been taking the advantages, positional as well as financial in the garb of research projects, scientific studies or Committee Memberships. Even today majority of people who talk about environment are not serious about environment. They talk so just to come in the limelight so that they can get their shares in the spoils.
    As far as business houses are concerned they consider environment to be important only on World Env. Day, Earth Day etc. They dole out some funds for environment related activities on those days and issue ads in news papers and magazines. Otherwise they have been sacrificing the entire environment for their profits.
    These are some of the reasons that the country and its poor population have suffered so much on account of environmental disasters, depletion, pollution and contamination of environmental resources and so on.
    Till we change our priorities nothing is going to change. We will just keep on discussing.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply