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Shravya Reddy’s Blog

India at Cancun - What The Global Community Should Expect

Shravya Reddy

Posted November 24, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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India will join other countries next week at Cancun to try and work towards solutions for global climate change. Over the past year India has already shown leadership on this critical problem, and we expect that it will continue to be positive and proactive at the upcoming Sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In recent years we have seen a dramatic shift in how India approaches these discussions. Moving gradually from a hard stance on per-capita emissions to a more measured position on equity, and now a strong emphasis on transparency and accountability, India has demonstrated that it is willing to engage constructively in international negotiations.

A year ago at Copenhagen, India played a key role in creating the Copenhagen Accord, along with Brazil, South Africa, China and the United States. Under the Accord, India declared a domestic emissions intensity reduction target of 20-25% reductions from 2005 levels by 2025. The focus of discussions at Cancun will be on such domestic targets (as opposed to crafting an international binding agreement) and what countries are doing at home to tackle climate change.

Countries’ domestic targets and actions will be a key aspect of any evolving international agreement to address global warming. In fact, countries accounting for over 80% of the world’s emissions have already committed to specific actions that they will undertake at home, as discussed by my colleague Jake Schmidt.  While all such actions are intended to have beneficial climate impacts, many countries commitments reflect the recognition that such actions are in their own long term developmental interests; actions that enhance energy security, promote better health, help alleviate poverty and raise standards of living, but also have significant climate change co-benefits.

In addition to a clear understanding of the implications of climate change for itself and other nations, India’s changing posture on climate change has been shaped by the growing opportunities it sees for its citizens in a future clean energy economy. India seeks continued and sustainable prosperity, and its host of domestic actions on climate change and clean energy are already helping it race ahead and improve the lives of everyday people. 

India’s ambitious National Action Plan on Climate Change articulated “national missions” in eight key areas including solar energy, energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, the Himalayan ecosystem, forestry, sustainable agriculture and climate change science. With the release of guidelines under the National Solar Mission, India surged forward on solar energy, and recent trends indicate that solar power costs will drop by as much as 20% by 2013, making this clean, low-carbon source of energy a more affordable choice for India’s people. India’s goal is to develop 20 Gigawatts (GW) of solar power by the year 2022. India is also providing funding incentives to solar power operators, financial institutions, state and local governments, utilities, NGOs, and entrepreneurs.

Under its National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency, India set up the innovative Perform, Achieve, Trade (PAT) program, a trading scheme involving Energy Savings Certificates that will allow high-energy consuming industries to compete in reducing their energy usage. This program is expected to reduce carbon emissions from India by nearly 98 million tons a year, from current levels. India also just launched its national Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) trading scheme, which will encourage power distribution companies to meet their Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) obligations and increase consumption of renewable energy.

India eliminated gasoline subsidies, and reduced subsidies on diesel, natural gas and kerosene. It also introduced a “coal tax” of $1 per metric ton of coal, which will be used to finance clean and renewable energy projects across the country.

Through such progressive actions as well as other complementary policies, India has already reduced its emissions intensity by 17% from 1990 levels by 2005. Thus, it is well on its way to meeting its Copenhagen Accord target. Spurred by its success thus far, India should set its sights even higher. It could aim to reach the full Copenhagen target by 2015, and then reinforce its seriousness to tackle climate change by targeting at least 30% reduction by 2025, if not more, perhaps even based on 1990 levels instead of 2005  – a move that could lead to another breakthrough in international climate discussions.

India should also continue to lead other countries in transparency of domestic actions, as it has in the past year.  In May 2010, India was the first developing country to release a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory after Copenhagen, and it established the Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment (INCCA) to help prepare its National Communications and meet its UNFCCC obligations. India is already moving ahead on its workplan for a second National Communication to the UNFCCC, and just released a robust scientific assessment of climate change impacts on its economy in 2030, which has been analyzed in detail by my colleague Anjali Jaiswal.

At Cancun, India will be able to talk confidently about what actions it is taking now, where they are headed, and what its actions mean for the world. To echo Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, India can play a key role at Cancun, and many are expecting it to do so. All eyes will be on India’s promising International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) proposal for monitoring emissions, a significant contribution towards increased transparency across the international community.

India is thus likely to come to the table with a strengthened position and with a renewed resolve to create progress at Cancun.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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