x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tough talk hides climate action

India aggressively defends its corner ahead of global climate change discussions in December.

India is aggressively defending its corner ahead of global climate change discussions in December, but behind the scenes the country is making concentrated efforts to cut carbon emissions that put many developed nations in the shade. Richard Orange reports When India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, went to Beijing a fortnight ago, it looked like the developed world's worst environmental nightmare: two normally competing regional rivals, which together will create much of the world's future carbon emissions, were teaming up before climate change talks in Copenhagen in December. But it was only last week, when Mr Ramesh followed up the visit with a prediction that India would more than double its per capita carbon emissions by 2030, that he started to look the best candidate to replace the former US president George W Bush as global climate villain number one.

Mr Ramesh was speaking at the launch of a report compiled by five different research agencies, including the Energy and Resources Institute of India and the management consultancy McKinsey, which projected that India's per capita emissions would rise from under 1.5 tonnes today to 3.5 tonnes by 2030. "There is lot of commonality and co-operation with China when it comes to Copenhagen," Mr Ramesh told reporters at the release of the study. "We want a fair and equitable agreement in Copenhagen."

Judging by what he told Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, when she came to India in July, that means India will not budge from its stand against emissions caps. "There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions," he said. Thankfully, India's tough negotiating stance belies actions on the ground that in many areas put it ahead of some developed countries.

On the very same day that Mr Ramesh was synchronising strategies in Beijing, The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh quietly approved an energy saving scheme that is as ambitious as anything a European country has yet put in place. The national mission on enhanced energy efficiency will save nearly 100 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year from 2015, Mr Singh said. To put that in perspective, the UK's Carbon Trust is talking about saving 20 million tonnes a year by 2050.

Dr Ajay Mathur, whose Bureau for Energy Efficiency pushed the scheme, and who previously headed the World Bank's climate change team in Washington, said: "The mission really pushes the envelope, both for the savings it seeks to achieve and the institutional arrangements which it puts together to achieve these savings." Under the scheme, India's industrial plants will each be given strict energy savings targets and awarded tradable certificates if they overachieve, a little like Europe's cap and trade scheme.

"It's much, much better than the cap and trade scheme, because it's not market-linked," said V Raghuraman, the India adviser to the Climate Group, the lobbying organisation launched with support from Tony Blair. "It's also much better than a voluntary scheme, such as there is in the UK, because it's mandatory and there's no question of missing the targets." This is not the first time that India has been a trailblazer. In July, the announcement of India's national solar mission won plaudits from Greenpeace and other environmental campaign groups.

The mission aims to see US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) invested in building 20 gigawatts of solar energy plants over the next decade, saving some 42 million tonnes of carbon annually. Capacity is planned to increase to 200gw by 2050, when, according to Greenpeace, it could save more than 434 million tonnes of carbon a year. "India's solar mission represents one of the world's largest renewable energy plans to date," said the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute in a report on the project. Siddharth Pathak, the Greenpeace climate campaigner in India, said the country's tough negotiating stance gave a misleading impression. "The perception everyone seems to be putting forward is that India is the deadlock, because it's against the conventional world order. But if you look at the initiatives that they're doing, India is quite progressive. Where India falls short is on the PR. It's unable to show what actions its doing on the ground."

Dr Mathur said: "The world's most efficient cement plant, steel plant, fertiliser plant, refinery - you will find them all in India. We've seen a 25 per cent decrease in energy intensity over a six-year period: this is fairly good. If you look at other countries, you will see that this kind of increase in energy efficiency hasn't really occurred." In the past few years, India has become the world's fifth-largest market for wind power, with more than 10gw of capacity installed. It is one of the few developing countries that has increased forest cover in the past 20 years, and its forestry plan sees it spending $2.5bn reforesting 6 million hectares, expanding forest cover from 23 per cent to 33 per cent of its territory.

It has also enthusiastically implemented carbon saving schemes under the UN's clean development mechanism (CDM), set up to channel money raised by carbon trading. India, with more than a quarter of the projects registered so far, is second only to China in the number of projects. Dr Mathur's Bureau of Energy Efficiency was instrumental in developing a project, funded by money from the CDM, to replace all of the country's incandescent light bulbs - about 350 million to 400 million - with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, eventually saving more than 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

India has 264 green building projects registered, of which almost 20 per cent have qualified or pre-qualified for the US Green Building Council's LEED certification. Jamshyd Godrej, the chairman and managing director of Godrej and Boyce, and a pioneer of green buildings, said: "As far as green buildings are concerned, I think we are well ahead of most of the world - we are certainly well ahead of China, and we are well ahead of most of Europe."

Not all of India's older industrial plant are top of the range, Dr Mathur admits. "In the state of Jharkhand you will find two plants side by side: one plant set up two years ago will be an amazingly efficient plant and one set up 30 years ago will be an amazingly inefficient plant." When India's economy started opening up to international markets 15 years ago, its previously sheltered companies found that their high cost and unreliable power supplies made them uncompetitive. The only option for many was to become more energy-efficient.

"The point is simply that as far as cost effective measures are concerned, those make sense to us anyway for a number of reasons," Dr Mathur said. "So all of these things we will continue to do, irrespective of what the climate change debate is." Mr Raghuraman said: "Industry has to do it, otherwise industry will die. Look at the figures. Between 2002 and 2007 we were supposed to add 41,000 megawatts of new power generation capacity and we actually added only 17,000mw. But the economy still grew the fastest ever, so there have been many efficiency gains."

The other reason why India has some of the world's most energy-efficient industry and buildings is simply that much of it is new. "If we continue to grow at 9 per cent, by 2030, 90 per cent of our assets will be new," Mr Raghuraman said. "So we can leapfrog other countries." The same goes for buildings. If construction continues at present rates, by 2030 about 70 per cent of India's buildings will have been built between now and then.

All this is not to say that India's rapid development does not pose a terrifying prospect for the global climate. Its population of 1.2 billion people means that as a country it is already the world's fourth-biggest emitter (fifth-biggest including the EU), despite each person emitting about 15 times less carbon than someone in the US. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the UN's international panel for climate change, confessed last year that the Indian-built Tata Nano, which will bring car ownership within the grasp of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of new consumers, was giving him "nightmares".

India aims to meet much of its power shortage by building as many as 10 4,000mw coal-fired power plants. "We have the third-largest reserve of coal," Mr Ramesh said in an interview last week. "It would be foolish of us to give up on that option. But if India even matched China's emissions of about 4.6 tonnes per person, it would mean adding about 4 billion additional tonnes of carbon emissions every year. To put that in perspective, it is about the same amount that would be saved if the entire EU became carbon neutral.

India is loth to take measures that will slow down its economic growth without the US and Europe agreeing to much more drastic cuts. "The problems come when you talk about measures which are large net costs, where you are doing it only because of climate change negotiations," said Dr Mathur, who is part of India's negotiating team. Dr Mathur's proposals, focused on accelerating technology transfer and development, have so far been blocked by the developed world, which is worried about losing intellectual property. But there are early signs that the new US administration is easier to deal with.

"You have to say they're trying very hard to see how various countries can be moved towards an agreement at Copenhagen," he said. There were still bound to be differences, Dr Mathur said. "The question is 'who pays?' That's the developing country-developed country tension. That's not going to go away. It's unavoidable." Dr Mathur said he could see an agreement where the world's countries all agree to maintaining long-term per capita emissions at between two and four tonnes a person. That would mean the US cutting per capita emissions by almost 80 per cent.

In Beijing, Mr Ramesh made a public call for developed nations to cut their emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. "That's a game changer," Mr Ramesh said. "It would be very difficult for me, as an Indian minister, not to respond if developed countries accepted this proposal. The fat would be in the fire, our bluff would be called." When even that proposal, which would only put the US halfway towards parity with the rest of the world, seems breathtakingly unachievable, it shows just how large the tension between the developed and developing worlds is.

business@thenational.ae