Considering that we have to grow at 8%, that we have launched the Make-in-India initiative and that we have to provide electricity to over 300 mn Indians, we need a balanced strategy: Ashok Lavasa, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
India has announced its emission reduction targets in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The basic idea behind the exercise is to attain higher levels of growth that the country requires but with a substantially lesser level of harmful emissions, even though The Economist claims the country could be the biggest contributor of new greenhouse gas emissions in the next 15 years. Environment, Forests and Climate Change Secretary Ashok Lavasa explains to Santosh Tiwari how INDC targets are to be met and who will finance the investments required in clean technology. Excerpts:
Why are the targets linked to GDP growth?
It has been seen in the past that, everywhere, GDP grows with certain emission intensity. Economic activity requires energy, and for producing this energy and utilising it (for example, in the automobile sector), fossil fuels are used. Clearly, energy is the main driving force for GDP growth. So, the type of technology we use and the emissions that this use of energy generate are related to the GDP growth that you have achieved. What we mean by saying that we will reduce the emission intensity of GDP is that we will use clean technology to achieve growth, and thus emit less. Take the power sector—if you were generating 100 MW of electricity based on a sub-critical technology, then the emission that the sub-critical technology will leave behind will be far more in comparison to utilising the super-critical technology that produces the same amount of energy, emitting much lesser. This means the ratio between the emission and energy generated will become better. While India will continue to follow its development agenda, it will be done in such a way that it brings down the emission intensity of our GDP growth.
How will this impact the “developed countries versus the developing” debate in terms of tackling climate change?
Emission targets taken under the Kyoto Protocol were binding on developed countries. Most developed countries have reached their plateau of growth. For them, it is important to bring down gross emissions of their economies. Their rate of growth has become very small and they are just maintaining that. They have already reached a certain level of economic growth by utilising energy. Now, it is time for them to bring down their total emissions. So, they have posted absolute targets in terms of reducing emission intensity. Developing economies have a different concern—China, for example, also set targets based on carbon intensity or emission intensity—because we have to grow. Our per capita income is so low, we have poor people to cater to—to grow, we require energy, and that energy will generate emissions. So, in absolute terms, your emissions have to grow, but the ratio of emission intensity with GDP growth will come down. In the first phase, when India had taken the voluntary pledge (all countries took pledges for up to 2020), we said we will bring down the emission intensity of our GDP by 20-25% with reference to 2005—that was the benchmark year. Now, what we have said is that, by 2030, we will bring down the emission intensity between 33-35%.
How does it compare with other countries?
If you compare it with developing countries, you will find that India’s targets are very ambitious. But I think comparisons, in this case, may not be appropriate because you have to look at it in terms of growth prospects and development agendas of these countries. An absolute comparison between INDCs of one country and another may not be the yardstick of emission. Considering that we have to grow at 8%, that we have launched the Make-in-India initiative, that we have to provide electricity to over 300 million Indians who don’t have access to electricity, and that our per capita electricity consumption is one-third the world average, we need a balanced strategy. All said, you have to provide for the development space which developing nations have to cover, when you make a comparison between two countries.
What about developed countries?
We have made it very clear in our INDCs that whatever efficiencies India will achieve will only be attained keeping in view the development agenda of our country. Development is foremost. There are statistics available to see how have countries achieved this level of growth. For example, India’s per capita income is $1,500. If you compare this with developed countries—what their emission intensity was when their per capita income was $1,500—then we can make a comparison whether we are following a cleaner path than what was followed in the past. India’s current per capita GDP (in purchasing power parity terms) has been achieved at a substantially lower level of emissions compared to developed countries. The emission intensity of developed countries at a similar economic level, as India is today, was approximately 0.9 kg CO2/$ while India’s emission intensity is 0.36 kg CO2/$, which is 60% less.
To attain and sustain this kind of growth, India will need investment in clean technologies. Who will fund that?
We have made it clear that to follow this path and fulfil developmental requirements, we need a lot of resources. We have also stated that while India is keen and determined to raise resources for fulfilling its contribution target, it is expected that developed countries will fulfil their obligations of providing finances and providing technology transfers because that commitment has been made by them as a part of the convention.
But you can’t expect developed countries to finance all requirements…
We are not linking the achievement of our target with any specific amount which should be made available by the Green Climate Fund (GCF). If developed countries have made a commitment that they will provide resources for the GCF, we are saying that those resources should be provided so that developing countries can access them. Having said that, it is equally important a lot of effort and investment comes from the private sector, both domestic as well as overseas. We are already witnessing that in the last several years; because of progressive policies that India has announced and due to the procedural simplification which has been done, investment is coming into various sectors. We expect this investment will increase. The National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency, launched a few years ago, is a good example. The government has only created an enabling policy framework and a regulatory environment, and has said, here is a mission, here are the specific targets given to eight specific sectors. The targets had to be achieved in three years and they have been achieved with industry investing for this. Similarly, you look at the renewable energy programme—a lot of investment in solar and wind is made by private players. We expect that the international community of investors will recognise there is a great opportunity available in India for investments, getting return on investments and, at the same time, contributing towards the cause of emission reduction. The message we are giving to the world is, here is a country which has so much of developmental opportunities, where so much of investment is possible, and if you invest here, you get a return and contribute towards the cause of climate change.
Are issues such as the imposition of tax on transport vehicles passing through Delhi also part of the agenda?
A number of regulatory mechanisms, measures and policy initiatives have been taken, and more are required if we have to move towards this goal. Take the thermal power sector. The emission norms of thermal power stations are being made more stringent. Auto fuel is another area where emission norms have been made strict. Take corporate auto fuel efficiency norms. These are being made more stringent. Similarly, in Delhi, because of the inability of vehicles to find alternate routes, they are compelled to come to Delhi, even if they don’t need to. We have been told that alternate routes are available, but perhaps vehicles are not using those routes because there is a toll and they want to save on that expenditure. If you create a disincentive for these vehicles to use Delhi roads only as a bypass or transit, that will then send the signal that rather than giving a tax to the Delhi government, we might as well use the alternate route, so they will weigh what is better for them. I think such policy interventions are required and they do prove effective.
What is the ultimate message that India has sent through its emission control plan?
India is one of the most impressively growing economies in the world. We house 17% of the world’s population. We have a lot of development space to cover. So, by sending a signal to the world that we will develop, but will not cause the kind of damage that was caused by other countries, we are conveying a very positive message.