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Paris Climate Change Summit: Challenges and Solutions

In our previous issue we highlighted promises made by India on climate changes that seemed unfeasible. Here, Abhinav Raj speaks to various experts to flesh out the challenges and pinpoint possible

Abhinav Raj
Publish Date: Dec 25 2015 4:07PM | Updated Date: Dec 28 2015 4:31PM

Paris Climate Change Summit: Challenges and SolutionsFile: photo

The Indian government has presented its INDC or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held at Paris. This is an unveiling of sorts of India’s climate action plan.  


 A 33-35% Reduction of Emissions Intensity and Raising Zero-Carbon Electricity Generating Capacity to 40%

The INDC promises a 33-35% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. It also pledges to nearly triple the renewable energy capacity by 2022 and to raise the share of zero-carbon electricity generating capacity to 40% of the total by 2030.
Dr Ritu Mathur, Senior Fellow, Green Growth and Resource Efficiency, at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, a Delhi based research institute focused on energy, environment and sustainable development)has responded to this by saying,“Reducing emission intensity by 33%-35% is an unprecedented challenge. This calls for significant technological transformation than can surmount the inevitable trade-off between environmental integrity and the urgency of rapid inclusive growth. It is akin to running a race on a treadmill.”
What kind of transformation? For an indicator, Mathur points to specific schemes her institute is engaged with: “The Perform Achieve and Trade (PAT) Scheme for large energy consumers and various other voluntary efforts by the Indian industry (like the India GHG Program, a collaborative initiative of TERI) are already yielding results. Some of India’s plants can be compared with the best in the world in terms of their specific energy consumption levels. SIDBI and other departments are also focusing on making the SMEs energy efficient. Commitments to continue with these efforts as mentioned in India’s INDCs are commendable and would help achieve the emission reduction intensity targets of 33-35% by 2030.”
Also, the Indian government has committed to reduce emissions from transport sector, a sector considered to be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases with metro cities like Delhi topping the chart owing to an unbridled use of private vehicles on the road.
As per the report of Delhi’s Transport Department, the total number of vehicles in Delhi is more than the combined total of vehicles in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Recently, Gurgaon and Delhi have observed ‘car free days’ but that will be too little to meet such targetsas the transport sector alone became the source for over 2000 megatons of CO2 in 2010 globally.
In addition to such initiatives, the government will have to bring a legislation to restrict private transport in major cities to achieve what it has promised to the UNFCC. This will take time to legislate and implement and may be unfeasible in the near future. The Supreme Court’s order to levy a surcharge on trucks and commercial vehicles entering Delhi is one indication of a decision to clamp down on escalating air pollution in the capital. But this is the court’s initiative. The executive will have to pull up its socks too. 
Prof. S. Mukherjee (School of Environment Sciences, JNU) adds that going green is more about “social awareness than just political announcements”. “The government must encourage not more than one car per family to contain energy consumption owing to unbridled use of private vehicles,” he says.
Along with the promise of emissions reduction,India has promised to generate 40% of its electricity from “non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund (GCF)”. This indicates a chance of the promise on emissions being fulfilled, but only when there is institution building on the national and international front to mobilize financial and technological capabilities. Also, despite the government’s commitment towards expansion of renewable energy capacity, coal could still constitute a major share of its energy given the escalating demand.
Generating 175 GW through Solar and Wind Power
India hasset a target of generating 175 GW through solar and wind power by 2022. The government now plans to float infrastructure bonds to the tune of US$794 million, particularly for renewable energy projects. India’s electricity demand of 776 terawatt hours in 2012 is estimated to increase to 2,499 TWH by 2030.
However, the government’s limited budget, which is constrained by a large fiscal deficit and multiple development priorities, is a major impediment to accomplish the set goals.
Expansion of renewable energy capacity is possible only when markets provide finance,and unfavourable debt terms cost 30 per cent more in the generation of renewable energy as compared to other countries. Domestic debt is expensive due to unfavourable macroeconomic conditions as well as underdeveloped capital markets, and foreign debt becomes expensive once hedging costs are added.
Therefore, low-cost, long term debt from domestic capital markets and from foreign markets have to be encouragedfor reducing the cost of generation of renewable energy capacity.
The current government has also claimed to be a leader in solar energy by setting an ambitious goal of 20 GW by 2022. But paucity of water and poor infrastructure like water and power transmission lines maybe major impediments for India to achieve this target.
Also, besides a lack of funds, policy uncertainty and unnecessary regulatory procedures appear to be major hurdles towards the expansion of solar capacity.
Moreover, there has been no major investment in solar projects until now, and concerned ministries are still to come up with appropriate roadmap pertaining to the building of new substations. In addition, the lack of solar radiation data is another issue that needs to be addressed.
A Carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2
The government has also pledged to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 through afforestation drives but it has failed to provide a roadmap as to how it would strike a balance between its ambitious development projects, which includes infrastructure development and industrial expansion, and the expansion of forest cover.
Ms Mili Majumdar, Senior Director, Sustainable Habitat, TERI said “Aggressive policy push and rigour of compliance is much needed in the building sector to contribute to achievement of INDC goals. In addition to contributing to energy efficiency goals, GRIHA is also an enabler for capacity addition of renewable energy and afforestation efforts”.
Mr Amit Kumar, Dean (Distance & Short-term Education), TERI University said, “India will have to mount concerted efforts on several fronts such as augmenting electricity infrastructure, energy storage, indigenous R&D, and human resource development.”
Mukherjee (School of Environment Sciences, JNU), however, feels the challenges lying ahead are much tougher than they are made out to be. Merely pledging to cut omissions won’t serve the purpose as there has to be a proper action plan to achieve the same. “Govt. has to come out with a roadmap where infertile lands are used for setting up industrial plants, and cultivated lands are spared,” says Mukherjee. “All major afforestation drives have been in the urban areas and illegal cutting of trees in rural areas have not been checked in the way it should have been.” In terms of more specific suggestions, Mukherjee also lays emphasis on the need to check leakage of petroleum or hydrocarbon from cars parked in a disorderly way— which contaminates the soil and affects the surface water.
It is commendable that the Government is making efforts to ensure a mix of clean energy for meeting the country's total energy demand through policies and programmes such as those promoting solar and wind energy. However, the task is huge and the time at hand is short. It is easystate that a complete ban on dirty power should be imposed and we must immediately shift to clean energy. But actually doing so will require great political will and people's support which may not come instantly since such a decision will impact and affect every section of the society. While such a shift is necessary with immediate effect, achieving it will require a measured and calculated approach. A key parallel solution, according to Dr. Govind Singh, Co Founder and Director of Delhi Greens, is to “create awareness among the people about how global warming is already affecting a large part of India”. “How climate change is going to make things very difficult for all of us in the near future if we do nothing about addressing it today,” He adds.