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India quantifies emissions cut - Drive to cover vehicles and buildings

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  • Published 4.12.09
Jairam Ramesh

New Delhi, Dec. 3: India announced today that it would reduce its carbon emissions intensity by 20 to 25 per cent by the year 2020 from the 2005 level, quantifying a low carbon growth strategy to combat climate change just as China had done last week.

India’s actions to reduce emissions intensity would be voluntary and unilateral, environment minister Jairam Ramesh said responding to a four-hour debate in Parliament, just four days ahead of the crucial UN climate change talks in Copenhagen. India’s absolute emissions will continue to rise as the emissions intensity is a measure of the emissions released per unit economic output.

Ramesh said the 20 to 25 per cent emissions intensity reduction would be achieved through mandatory fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, mandatory environment-friendly building codes, and the introduction of clean coal technologies for power plants.

Under these initiatives, automobile manufacturers would have to specify kilometre per litre of fuel for all vehicles from 2012 onwards, and municipal authorities would have to ensure that new buildings come equipped with energy savings designs or technologies. Half of all new coal power plants would also be based on clean technologies.

Industries would also be encouraged to reduce energy intensity.

“This will not depend on Copenhagen... this is voluntary action that will benefit our own economy,” Ramesh said. India had achieved 17.6 per cent reduction in emissions intensity between 1990-2005.

“But the lower the emissions intensity, the harder it gets to reduce it even further,” said a senior climate change analyst. “As the intensity reduces, the easy energy efficiency options run out.”

Between 1990-2005, for instance, the move from two-stroke to four-stroke engines, or more efficient power plants and appliances would have contributed to emissions intensity reductions.

India’s announcement follows China’s proclamation last week that it would reduce its emissions intensity by 40 per cent by 2020, a move that had bolstered the pressure on India to quantify its own actions.

Ramesh said India might “do more” depending on what emerges from the Copenhagen summit. India and other developing countries are asking industrialised countries to accept legally binding deep cuts in emissions and are seeking finance and technology for their own voluntary actions.

He said India would not accept legally binding emissions cuts targets and would not accept any time frame during which its emissions would peak. These, Ramesh said, would be India’s “non-negotiables” at the climate change talks.

“These are red lines — there will be no compromising on these,” he said.

India’s announcement of emissions intensity reductions has evoked a mixed response from environmental groups. Ramesh’s remarks on per capita emissions have also surprised some observers.

“This is a positive step towards quantification of India’s action on climate change on the eve of Copenhagen conference,” said Vinuta Gopal, climate campaign manager with Greenpeace India. “India is clearly positioning itself as a moral leader,” she said in a statement.

“This will put pressure back on industrialised country leaders like Obama, Merkel, Brown, and Sarkozy. These leaders will have no excuse now to not have ambitious emission reduction targets,” said Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace International climate policy director. In recent weeks, Brazil and Indonesia have also quantified actions on emissions.

However, some environmental analysts have cautioned that statements of domestic emissions goals could harm the multilateral negotiation process.

"Why are the developing countries giving out numbers -- when industrialised countries should be offering deep emissions cuts," said Kushal Yadav, a climate policy analyst with the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

"If India reduces emissions intensity, and the industrialised countries don't cut emissions, we'll still face the consequences of climate change," Yadav said.

India has consistently maintained that its per capita emissions would never exceed those of the developed countries. India's per capita is about 1.2 tonnes per year, compared to more than 20 of the US.

But, Ramesh said, India's per capita advantage is an "accident of history."

"We couldn't control our population that's why we get the benefit of per capita," he said. "Our biggest failure has been population growth rate. We have to ask whether we can go beyond the per capita," he said.

Ramesh's statement followed a debate during which several members of parliament expressed concern about impacts of climate change on India and the need to pursue alternative models of development.

"Environmental problems won't be solved if we pursue the Western model of development," said Murli Manohar Joshi, Bharatiya Janata Party MP and former science and technology minister. "We need to tell the West that their model of development has harmed the planet. We need to pursue clean energy. I have hope in solar energy," Joshi said.

India should build on its traditions of "recycling and conservation of resources," said Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Trinamul Congress MP in her intervention during the debate.

M.B. Rajesh, the CPM MP from Palakkad blamed the climate crisis on what he described as "mindless exploitation of global resources" that has led to a situation where industrialised countries occupy 75 per cent of "carbon space."