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Climate change & development

India must secure headroom for its growth demands

Business Standard Editorial Comment  |  New Delhi 

As the date of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December comes closer, there is an increasing global interest in what stance India will adopt at the forthcoming summit. This was amply reflected in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's various consultations with world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, during his recent US visit, where the issue of climate change dominated the agenda. Though the main interest is about whether New Delhi will make or mar a positive outcome from the Paris meeting, there is also a growing appreciation of the subtle, but distinct, change in the country's climate diplomacy. The clinching evidence of this came when, after the bilateral meeting with the US, Mr Obama remarked that India's leadership in the upcoming conference would set the tone, not just for today but for decades to come. The forceful articulation by Mr Modi of India's concern about global warming and, more so, about the need to shun negativism to pave the way for a positive agenda to tackle global warming has also contributed to changing the world leaders' perception of India. At the United Nations, too, Mr Modi rightly stressed the need for cooperation in ensuring "climate justice" by adhering to the well-propounded and widely accepted principle of "common but differentiated responsibility" for global climate action.

It is, therefore, time that India walked the talk and demonstrated its keenness to do much more to stave off the catastrophic climate change than it was willing to do in the past. With the major environment polluters like the US, China and the European Union having already declared their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) - most of which are a shade better than anticipated - New Delhi, too, will need to come out with an INDC package, which should be both impressive and pragmatic. It should be feasible without sacrificing the development imperatives, which are of paramount importance to India. The point to note is that China has pledged to reach peak greenhouse gas (GHG) emission level by 2030, but only after raising the carbon footprint of its economic development to a fairly high level - becoming the world's biggest polluter in the process. India, on the other hand, has yet to cover a good deal of ground to come up to China's level of economic development and, therefore, needs more carbon space in the coming few decades. A possible date for India's peak carbon emissions could be 2040 or 2045.

India's legitimacy for playing a constructive role in crafting a climate deal at Paris has become relatively easy, thanks to its already-announced commitment to lower the carbon intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 to 25 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 and taking some well-advised initiatives towards this end. These include, among others, setting an ambitious renewable energy target of 175 Gw for 2022, taxing mineral oils and coal, increasing the use of relatively low- or non-polluting fuels for public transport and cleaning up the cities and rivers. However, with its rather heavy dependence on imports to meet its energy needs, the country cannot afford to cut down the use of coal in the near future. It is, therefore, imperative for India to safeguard its development space even while contributing positively towards global climate action based on the principle of common but differentiated obligations. In other words, India must not compromise on equality in terms of emissions per head or emissions per unit of GDP.

First Published: Thu, October 01 2015. 21:38 IST