Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre), then environment minister Prakash Javadekar (left) and then power minister Piyush Goyal releasing a book at the inauguration of the India Pavilion at COP21 Summit, in Paris, France on 30 November 2015. Photo: PIB
Dragging its feet on international commitments does not speak well for any nation. It is now 20 months since the Indian government agreed to accomplish ambitious climate goals under the Paris Agreement, 2015. But unfortunately, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the nodal authority to implement what was agreed upon, has made no progress to report on that front. In fact, it has not even taken the first step of communicating to any state government or Union ministry of their required responsibility and contribution to fulfil targets.
The Paris Climate Change Conference was held between 29 November and 13 December 2015. It was the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). At the meet, India had committed to a “reduction in the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 level” as part of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Reduction of emissions intensity means reducing pollution per unit of GDP or economic activity. So, if GDP grows, so do emissions. India promised to reduce it by 30-35 per cent for every unit of GDP by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.
It also committed to creating an additional carbon sink (a natural or artificially created environment which absorbs carbon compounds and compensates for CO2 levels in the atmosphere) of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. An even more ambitious goal it set itself was to achieve about 40 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. The Paris Agreement became effective in November 2016. The first global stocktake will take place in 2023, and subsequently once every five years.
However, the Ministry has so far not directly intimated the states, on whose strategies and actions will depend whether India meets its climate commitment. Instead, it has merely listed the NDCs on the ministry's website. This casual approach is explained by the fact that the deadline is not immediate. “The Paris Agreement is for 2020 and NDC targets under the Agreement are for post 2020 period,” the Ministry stated in its June 8 response to a plea filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by activist Anupam Saraph.
He had filed the plea in March 2018 to find out if communication had been sent to all ministries and the chief secretaries of states informing them of India's NDCs and under which existing laws could the same be achieved. “We have to report our emissions every five years,” says Saraph, adding that the Ministry is erroneously interpreting that the deliverables are for post-2020. “So, from a legal standpoint, we will fail to deliver (on our NDC commitments).”
However, Chandra Bhushan of the Centre for Science and Environment is of the view that the Ministry may be correct in claiming that the deliverables are for post-2020 since India must first meet its NDCs under the 2012 Cancun Agreement. But that, he points out, is no excuse for the Ministry not following up on the Paris commitments. “Legally speaking, the Ministry is right to say that the action plan is for post 2020,” says Bhushan. “Still, communication regarding the NDCs to the states is the bare minimum. The government has not done its homework.”
The role of the states
The Ministry's June 8 RTI response conceded as much when it said that the “Paris Agreement Work Program is being negotiated to finalise procedures and guidelines for implementation of Paris Agreement”. Even as the Centre is doing adaptation work in the areas of agriculture and water supply, the Ministry has merely requested states “for reorientation of State Action Plan on Climate Change in the light of commitments made under the NDCs”. The response under RTI further revealed that no specific government officer or department has been given the responsibility of enhancing carbon absorption capacity, and that protection and conservation of forests remains the prerogative of state forest departments.
Bhushan explains that the bulk of the work to achieve climate goals has to be done by the states through what is known as the State Action Plan on Climate Change. And while a number of states are exploring renewable energy options such as solar power, Bhushan stresses that these initiatives are “autonomous, and not in the least motivated by climate goals”.
Odds and ends
With reference to reducing carbon emission intensity as a factor of GDP, Saraph notes that the cost in environmental terms of India's growth is more than the overall gains. “Since economic activity results from use of energy, and carbon emissions from energy contribute over 64% to the carbon emissions, increased GDP will result in increased carbon release,” he says. “We must reduce our primary energy demand and ensure that our carbon footprint is brought down (in order to meet NDCs).” Incidentally, the Modi government claims it is committed to growing India's GDP at a rate of 7 per cent till 2022.
India’s carbon removal capacity increased from 0.24 billion tonnes in 2000 to 0.31 billion tonnes of carbon equivalent in 2010, as reported by the Ministry in its second national communication to the UNFCCC in 2015. Given the increase of 0.07 billion tonnes in 10 years, and no active effort on the part of the various ministries and state governments, says Saraph, India would at best accomplish an increase of 0.14 billion tonnes of carbon removal by 2030.
Bhushan points to a more basic issue which must first be addressed by MoEFCC. India must have a foolproof mechanism to monitor emissions periodically. The country presently calculates its carbon emissions once in a decade. “The environment ministry must first and foremost put in place a reliable database that monitors emissions and emissions reduction,” he says.
Very clearly, much needs to be done by the MoEFCC if India is to deliver on its international commitments. Perhaps, the Ministry urgently needs a wake up call. “In the Netherlands, a citizens group sued the government for doing too little to protect against climate change,” says Saraph, “ I suppose we need something similar for our government's complete inaction.”