Global Summits: Where are we going? – Episode – 4

Global Summit

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Development writer and international negotiations watcher Biraj Swain discusses with Samir Saran of Observer Research Foundation, Bidisha Pillai of SAVE the Children India, Amitabh Behar of National Foundation of India and Mukul Sanwal, career bureaucrat and India’s chief climate negotiator at 1992 Rio the recently concluded United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Summit which were gavelled in New York in the last week of September. They discuss the goals themselves and what they hold for us and our future and our children’s future. The panelists pick their favourite ones. They discuss India’s pitch and participation, and if the over-presence of private sector, is that making the global public good, the UN, a compromised entity. The close by discussing the road ahead for SDGs in India, for Indians.

They also listen in from one of India’s youth delegate at the UN, Anoyara Khatun, on her aspirations and expectations from India and world leaders.

The readings:

  1. Sustainable Development Goals, final outcome document
  2. Fit for whose purpose: Private funding and corporate influence on the United Nations
  3. The World’s search for sustainable development: A Perspective from the global South
  4. The Reality of Social Rights Enforcement
  5. The Global Goals
  6. A Note on the Optimal Supply of Public Goods and the Distortionary Cost of Taxation
  7. Indian teenager Anoyara Khatun joins Bill and Melinda Gates to combat child trafficking
Columns/Op-Eds, Energy, Water / Climate

Unbundling the coal-climate equation

October 7, 2015 03:47 IST | Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan, The Hindu

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There is still enough room for India to grow its coal consumption while continuing to accelerate its thrust on the expansion of renewable energy.

Ahead of the Paris climate summit, India announced on October 2 its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for climate change mitigation and adaptation. India intends to reduce its carbon emissions intensity by 33-35 per cent by 2030, from its 2005 levels. While this commitment has drawn fulsome praise from many, the green ayatollahs have predictably ignored its herculean clean energy ambitions and focussed on Indian dependence on coal. It is time to lay bare the ‘coal hypocrisy’ of these privileged ‘western greens’.

India’s total energy consumption is a fraction of that of China, the U.S., the European Union and the OECD. Its position at the climate change negotiations has continued to reflect the centrality of access to energy for human development. And India’s normative position is supported by data, such as the positive correlation between energy access and the Human Development Index (HDI).

Lifeline energy

While a number of estimates exist on how much energy is needed to meet development objectives (we call it ‘lifeline energy’), an interesting benchmark is that of the 2000-Watt (W) society, based on a Swiss research group’s findings. The research states that 2000-W per capita is a basic level of energy which accounts for housing, mobility, food, consumption (manufactured goods) and infrastructure. In a forthcoming paper for the European Council on Foreign Relations, we argue that if the ‘space’ allocated to India for coal consumption towards fulfilling lifeline energy needs is even nominally equitable, India does not have to compromise on its development and growth aspirations.

On an average, U.S. citizens consume nearly the full extent of this lifeline energy benchmark using coal, the ‘dirty fuel’. India consumes only 19 per cent of the benchmark through coal. In fact, citizens of OECD countries get a much larger proportion of their energy needs relative to the 2000-W benchmark from coal than non-OECD countries.

It is important to note that in 2014, the average Indian accounted for around 20 per cent of the average American’s coal consumption and around 34 per cent of those from the OECD. What has caused concern in the developed world is that while they have reduced per capita coal consumption relative to pre-financial crisis levels, India has increased consumption over the same period. In our analysis, we point out that just as reduced coal consumption of developed countries following the crisis does not necessarily reflect a greater degree of ‘responsibility’ towards the climate, the increase in consumption by India does not reflect ‘irresponsibility’.

This is better explained by two key trends, visible after the crisis. One, while developed countries have been cutting down energy consumption as a whole, developing countries have been increasing consumption, albeit at a gradually declining pace. Two, while developed countries have been cutting coal consumption faster than primary energy consumption, developing countries have increased coal consumption faster than primary energy consumption. Clearly then, industrial consumption (manufacturing and jobs) is very much part of the lifeline consumption matrix for developing countries.

Growth-development link

Many financial institutions such as the U.S. Exim Bank have stopped funding coal-based power generation projects. The World Bank also seems to be following in this direction even though coal consumption has been increasing in developing countries and coal-based energy remains the most practical option of scale. This tendency isolates economic growth from lifeline energy and skirts the central goal of development within growth.

India is neither in the same basket of per capita coal consumption as developed countries nor comparable to China. In fact, we have shown that India will meet a larger proportion of the 2000-W benchmark through ‘clean’ fuels than developed countries. Therefore, there is enough room for India to grow its coal consumption while continuing to accelerate its renewable energy thrust. And this is precisely what the Indian INDCs reflect.

India has set a target of renewable energy capacity of 175 gigawatts by 2022; and has promised to achieve 63 GW of nuclear energy if “supply of fuels is ensured”. It will be among a handful of countries to source a large proportion of its lifeline energy needs from non-conventional sources, across the developing and developed worlds.

It is worth emphasising that unlike developed countries that have already peaked their energy consumption, India must first strive to provide the 2000-W per capita lifeline energy to all, even as it seeks to clean this energy mix. India will continue to consume coal to grow its industrial base, improve HDI and develop its economy. This in turn will allow it the financial capacity to invest heavily in non-conventional sources. The Indian INDCs reflect this enduring paradox; India will need to grow its coal capacity if it is to successfully go green.

Developed countries such as those within the EU want to reduce their emissions to two tonnes per capita by 2050; which will in turn reflect the total carbon ‘space’ available per capita if the world is to limit global warming to manageable levels. While the road to Paris is paved with such good intentions, it is essential that each person on this planet begins to move towards an equitable carbon profile. This has two clear implications.

First, large developing countries such as India must invest in renewable energy benchmarks that match developed countries. Second, developed countries must pare down per capita coal consumptions to levels which would match India’s lifeline consumption through coal in the future.

Simply put, every time a new coal plant comes up in India, one should be shut down in the OECD. If coal use can be substituted by clean sources, then millions of tonnes of coal capacity in EU and the U.S. are low hanging fruits. India uses coal to satisfy less than a fifth of its potential lifeline energy needs, while OECD countries use this ‘nasty’ fuel to satisfy two-thirds of theirs. It is time to meet in the middle. No, we are not suggesting historic responsibility; only the one we jointly shoulder for tomorrow.

(Samir Saran is vice-president and Vivan Sharan is visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, India)


India Pledges to Curb Greenhouse Gas Growth

Renewables will help the country power up with less pollution

By Lisa Friedman and ClimateWire| October 2, 2015

India has pledged to slash its emissions intensity relative to economic growth and make a massive push on clean energy by 2030 as part of its formal submission to the United Nations ahead of landmark global warming negotiations in Paris.

A solar-powered pump in India.

Ajay Tallam/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

India’s vow to unconditionally cut emissions intensity 33 to 35 percent below 2005 levels and boost the share of non-fossil-fuel energy sources more than threefold as long as it receives assistance from Western countries was widely praised by the environmental community, even as some said the world’s third-largest emitter could do more.

Referencing yoga, ancient Sanskrit texts and Mahatma Gandhi—on whose 146th birthday the plan is being formally unveiled today in New Delhi—the submission argues that India’s right to pull itself out of poverty is not necessarily incompatible with protecting the environment. At the same time, it lays out some hard-as-coal truths.

“In order to secure reliable, adequate and affordable supply of electricity, coal will continue to dominate power generation in future,” India’s intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) reads.

“One of the important areas of global collaborative research should be clean coal and fossil fuel, energy management and storage systems for renewable energy. Given the current stage of dependence of many economies on coal, such an effort is an urgent necessity.”

The blueprint outlines an action plan for decarbonizing energy-intensive sectors like transportation and building. It vows to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. It also details what India must do to protect water, agriculture and communities’ health and physical safety from floods, droughts and other increasingly devastating impacts of climate change.

Not part of the target but highlighted as a major undertaking was India’s current goal of expanding its current 35 gigawatts of clean energy capacity to 175 GW by 2022, while responding to a fourfold energy consumption growth.

The price tag for its clean energy efforts: around $2.5 trillion between now and 2030. The INDC does not say how much of that should come from the international community, but argues that “meaningful and adequate” finance will be key to achieving the targets.

“If the world indeed is concerned about its new investments to be climate friendly, it must consider the opportunity provided by a country like India,” the report argues. Wealthy countries, it admonishes, “can certainly bring down their emission intensity by moderating their consumption, and substantially utilize their investments by employing them for development activities in countries housing a vast majority of people barely living at subsistence level.”

‘This is a different India’
India’s down-to-the-wire submission at the end of the final day available to countries to file their plans to the United Nations makes it one of the last major economies to effectively take responsibility for tackling climate change. Among Group of 20 countries, only Saudi Arabia has now failed to turn in a plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The INDCs from 120 countries, including the 28-member-state European Union, will collectively make up a new global climate change accord that leaders hope to broker in Paris in December. India, long viewed by the United States and Europe as an obstructionist in the negotiations, is expected to play a key—and, activists insist, increasingly positive—role.

“This is a really significant step for India,” said Anjali Jaiswal, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s India Initiative, said of the INDC. She acknowledged that the government’s emissions intensity target could have been more ambitious—a target of 40 to 45 percent had been floated in the media. But, she noted, under the stated plan, India’s economy will grow seven times larger by 2030, while emissions will triple, rather than a typical 1-to-1 ratio.

“The targets are very important in that they make a big step to reducing emissions intensity while also allowing India’s economy to grow,” Jaiswal said. “We think this is a really strong step for India.”

Harjeet Singh, ActionAid International’s global climate policy manager, who is based in India, agreed. He called the INDC “extremely comprehensive” and said, “reading it, what came to mind is, this is a different India.”

Singh described India’s approach as making note of the historical responsibility of wealthy countries that have been polluting the atmosphere for decades while also going beyond the old rich-poor divide.

“It’s solution-oriented,” he said of the INDC. “It talks not just about national circumstances, but how energy needs are going to grow and the number of initiatives we have to make sure of a low-carbon pathway.”

India’s INDC is markedly different from China’s in both style and substance. Unlike China, India offers no peak year for halting emissions growth. Energy experts said that comes as no surprise, given the nearly 400 million people still living without electricity in India. It also was released on Indian soil, timed to the birthday anniversary of the leader of the country’s independence movement. Chinese President Xi Jinping, by contrast, made China’s two major climate change unveilings while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama, first in Beijing last year and later in the White House Rose Garden.

“India in some ways is the man in the middle. It’s an emerging economy, but it’s not a developed economy,” said Jaiswal.

Samir Saran, a senior fellow and vice president at the Observer Research Foundation, a leading think tank in India, praised India for coming up with what he called a “positive and novel” approach to fairness—or, as it is known in the U.N. climate negotiations, “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Rapid economic growth raises questions
“India has demonstrated leadership in sharing common responsibility … through a differentiated proposition on action that seeks global partnership on the means of implementation,” he wrote in an email.

Others were less impressed. Greenpeace India called the non-fossil target a “step in the right direction.” But, the group added in a statement, “India’s continued commitment to expand coal power capacity is baffling.”

Meanwhile, the goal of ramping up non-fossil energy to 40 percent also raised questions. Without hydropower, several energy analysts pegged India’s current levels at 12 to 14 percent. With large hydropower, however, the country is already at 30 percent non-fossil energy, making the jump less significant. The INDC does not specify what sources it is including—or if the projected growth also includes nuclear energy.

Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate staff member, said the plan “predictably” emphasizes growth through coal expansion, and called on India to truly show its commitment to climate action by agreeing to restrict hydrofluorocarbon gases (HFCs), a potent contributor to climate change, under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

“India must also do more to encourage private-sector investment in solar and other clean energy, including by reforming their notoriously corrupt and inefficient government bureaucracy, or investors will stay away and throw serious doubt [on] their laudable renewable energy goals,” Bledsoe said.

Varun Sivaram, Douglas Dillon fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said India is in a difficult position. Without moving away from coal and enacting major structural reforms in the utility sector, he noted, it’s unclear if even meeting the 175 GW of renewable energy goal would do much to reduce India’s emissions.

“If they meet it, it will be a miracle. But even if they meet it, they will have to produce a lot more power from coal plants just to keep up with a 7 percent growth rate,” he said. “It’s not clear that just investing in renewables will result in a 1-to-1 reduction of emissions.”

Reporter Gayathri Vaidyanathan contributed.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500


India Vows to Cut Carbon Intensity in Paris Pledge

OCT. 2, 2015, 11:16 A.M. E.D.T., The New York Times

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NEW DELHI — India’s long-awaited pledge for a global climate pact shows how the world’s No. 3 carbon polluter is making significant efforts to rein in the growth of emissions linked to its fast-surging demands for energy, analysts said Friday.

India vowed to reduce its emissions intensity by 33-35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, primarily by boosting the share of electricity generated by sources other than fossil fuels such as coal and gas to 40 percent.

That means India’s emissions will continue to grow as its economy expands, but the increase relative to economic output will be lower than it is now.

“Our every action will be cleaner than what it was earlier,” Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters Friday, insisting that Indian traditions and culture are already “at one with nature.”

India was the last of the major economies to present its offer for the U.N. climate deal that’s supposed to be adopted in December in Paris.

Javadekar said India held its submission back so it could coordinate its filing with the Indian holiday celebrating the birthday Friday of the country’s forefather, Mohandas K. Gandhi, an ardent environmentalist.

As of Friday, 146 nations accounting for 87 percent of global carbon emissions had submitted their pledges.

Environmental groups following the U.N. climate talks welcomed India’s offer.

“India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy, and is poised to play an active and influential role in the international climate negotiations this December,” said Rhea Suh, president of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

Some said the carbon intensity target was conservative and projected that India would exceed it if it meets its renewable energy goals.

“This shows that key economic and infrastructure ministries have been closely engaged in formulating climate policy, which is an important break from the past,” said Navroz Dubash of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Climate analyst Samir Saran at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank, also described India’s targets as ambitious and “rooted in Indian reality,” given the fact that at least 300 million citizens — a fourth of the population — still have no access to electricity at all, while hundreds of millions more make do with just a few hours a day.

India’s submission also made that point, noting that “it is estimated that more than half of India of 2030 is yet to be built.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made manufacturing and job creation a key promise of his administration, and has implored foreign companies and governments, with the slogan “Make in India,” to help.

India also promised aggressive reforestation efforts, with enough new trees to absorb up to 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, and laid out plans for adapting to changing weather and temperatures.

“This is a positive and novel Indian approach,” Saran said, adding that India was effectively sharing responsibility for taking action to protect the climate while seeking global partnerships on implementing those plans.

India plans a fivefold boost in renewable energy capacity in the next five years to 175 gigawatts, including solar power, wind, biomass and small hydropower dams.

Even with a major boost in renewable energy, India is also planning to expand coal power — the biggest source of emissions — to satisfy its energy needs. Coal-fired power plants account for about 60 percent of India’s installed power capacity.

By 2030, the government said its installed capacity from “non-fossil fuel-based energy resources” would grow to 40 percent. Currently non-fossil sources account for about 30 percent — half of it solar and wind power and the other half large hydropower and nuclear.

India said boosting its renewables would require help with transfer of clean technology and financing — two of the crunch issues before the Paris deal, which is supposed to apply to all countries but also include provisions for rich countries to help poor countries fight climate change and adapt to its consequences.

Scientists say the heat-trapping carbon emissions released by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — are a key driver of rising temperatures that could lead to potentially catastrophic impacts, including flooding of island nations and intensifying droughts.

China and the U.S. are the only countries with higher emissions than India. As a bloc, the 28-nation European Union’s emissions are also higher.

Like other developed countries, the U.S. and the EU committed to absolute reduction targets, while China pledged that its emissions would stop growing by 2030. India, with hundreds of millions still living in poverty, wasn’t expected to offer a peak year because its emissions are projected to increase for decades as energy demand rises along with economic growth.

Javadekar said industrialized countries should be setting even more ambitious targets than what’s been pledged so far.

“The developed world has polluted the world, but we will help even though we are suffering,” he said.

Two climate research groups this week said the pledges put forth before the Paris conference would slow global warming but projected that temperatures would still rise by between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees C (4.9 and 6.3 degrees F).


Ritter reported from Stockholm.


This report has been revised to correct quote from Javadekar.