Business Standard

NSG membership not key to India ratifying Paris Agreement

Government exaggerated the importance of nuclear to its clean energy commitments? ?under the pact?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Tashkent on Thursday on the sidelines of SCO Summit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Tashkent on Thursday on the sidelines of SCO Summit

Nitin Sethi New Delhi
The government, while staking a membership claim to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), had claimed that nuclear power would constitute nearly a  third of India’s clean energy capacity by 2030. But the publicly stated and aspirational target of 63-Gw nuclear power it referred to makes for less than 15% of the total clean energy capacity India plans to build by 2030 to meet its Paris climate change commitments. 

Going by actual internal projections the government used to make its commitments under the global climate pact, nuclear power was estimated to be even lower, constituting 3.91% of India’s clean power portfolio by 2030. 

Sushma Swaraj, external affairs minister, had on June 19 said India joining the NSG was especially important this year as it had committed under the Paris Agreement to secure 40% of its power capacity in 2030 through clean sources — a third from nuclear power. When the membership bid failed, the external affairs ministry said on June 24, “An early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement.” 

NSG membership not key to India ratifying Paris Agreement
But in projections used to make its commitments for clean energy under Paris Agreement in 2015, the government estimated that out of the clean power portfolio of 409 Gw by 2030, nuclear would constitute only 16 Gw. This works out to merely 3.91%. Business Standard reviewed the presentation made in the PMO in September 2015 and other documents that showed that the projections of India’s clean power portfolio had used the conservative estimate of 16 Gw of nuclear and instead banked on solar and wind to meet its emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. India already has 5.8 Gw of nuclear power capacity installed. The total installed power capacity by 2030 has been projected by the government at 820 Gw. Therefore, nuclear power is projected to constitute a mere 1.95% of the power capacity by 2030. 

This questions the significance of a seat on the NSG for India to achieve its commitments under the Paris Agreement. 

The ministry of external affairs replied to Business Standard queries to say, “India envisages 63 Gw of nuclear power capacity by 2032, a figure mentioned in our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This should amount to approximately 1/3rd of our non-fossil fuel power generation capacity by 2030.” 

When asked to explain why the government had stated that the denial of NSG membership could impede India from moving forward to ratify or join the Paris Agreement, the MEA said, “Membership of the NSG creates a climate of predictability with regard to rules for nuclear commerce with India, giving both Indian and foreign companies the confidence to commit the resources that will be needed for the expansion of nuclear power in India. India being a price-sensitive energy market, such an outcome also helps keep the cost of nuclear power within a reasonable band by lowering the risk premium.” 

INDCs refer to the targets for reduced growth of emissions and clean energy that India has formally committed under the Paris Agreement in 2015. The 63-Gw figure the MEA refers to is one of the many non-binding aspirational numbers mentioned in a 28-page preamble to the binding targets of a document submitted to the UN. The document says, “Efforts are being made to achieve 63 Gw installed capacity by the year 2032, if supply of fuel is ensured.” 

India made only three specific and binding emission reducing commitments under the Paris Agreement. It will reduce the emission intensity of its economy by 33-35% by 2030 below 2005 levels. It will ensure 40% of its power capacity is from clean sources. India will increase the quality and spread of its forest cover to ensure 2.5-3billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is sucked out of atmosphere and sequestered by 2030. 

Even if one was to take the aspirational target of 63 Gw, it works out to be 13.82% of the clean energy capacity projected internally for 2030 and not near the one-third the government has publicly suggested. Large hydropower is not taken as part of the clean energy portfolio while small hydro is. 

This 63 Gw comes from India’s 2006 Integrated Energy Policy. Internally, while preparing the targets for the Paris Agreement it was highlighted that the gestation period for nuclear was too high to pragmatically consider adding greater capacity by 2030. With the prices rapidly dipping and NDA’s mission to enhance solar capacity, this option got the top billing and makes the largest share of the clean energy pie by 2030. 

At the time of making its Paris Agreement commitments public, the government neither revealed the future energy pie mix nor did it commit to one to the international community. But, internally, the energy mix was discussed and shared with ministries based on which the overarching numbers for emission reduction were committed to the UN. 

On June 24, after the failure to achieve a breakthrough at the Seoul meeting of NSG, the ministry of external affairs spokesperson said, “An early positive decision by the NSG would have allowed us to move forward on the Paris Agreement.” This led to reportage that India may hold back on ratifying the Paris Agreement. 

Initially countries had agreed that the Paris Agreement would become operational in 2020. But when the agreement got stitched together it left the window open for an early operationalisation. The US was seen keen to have it come into force before the end of President Barack Obama’s term. Now it requires at least 55 countries, accounting for around 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, to join or ratify the agreement. 

After the agreement was stitched in December 2015 many major developing countries, including India, assessed that they should hold on to the ratification till the important rules of the Paris pact are fleshed out and the developed countries deliver on their commitment for climate finance. 

But the US continued to advocate that the Paris Agreement be signed by the end of 2016. Besides, in the UN negotiations, this also got reflected in the joint statement between India and the US recently, which was signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington. The US pushed that India agree to join the agreement by 2016, just as the US would. The best India could do to wade off the pressure was to segregate the actions of the two countries in two separate sentences. The joint statement finally read, “The United States reaffirms its commitment to join the Agreement as soon as possible this year. India, similarly, has begun its processes to work toward this shared objective.” 

The ministry of external affairs’ statement, suggesting that lack of NSG membership would create impediments for India to get a move on the Paris Agreement, contradicts the commitments India made in its joint-statement to the US. India alone constitutes only four per cent of global emissions. If it was to hold back from ratifying the Paris pact in 2016, denying President Obama his legacy, it would need to do so with several other large developing economies, adding up to a substantial share of the emissions. That, negotiators and observers agree, would be a hard task considering, China, just like the US, has already announced that it would ratify the Paris Agreement in 2016 without awaiting consultations with India on the matter. 

Don't miss the most important news and views of the day. Get them on our Telegram channel

First Published: Jun 29 2016 | 10:06 PM IST

Explore News