The Big Picture – India Ratifies Climate Treaty- What does it mean for India and the World?

  • December 1, 2016
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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India Ratifies Climate Treaty- What does it mean for India and the world?


The 2015 Paris agreement has been now in force for a while. After China and USA, the world’s two largest emitters ratified the agreement during the G20 summit, the third largest emitter India ratified it on October 2, 2016. However, there was invisible pressure on GHG emitting countries. What is reflected behind the pressure is the blame game in the global system. Everybody was trying to present things in a manner that unless they do something, nothing can happen. This blame game lies behind pressure. Though there was no pressure on India as EU and Japan had not yet ratified the agreement, India was going to ratify it as its ratification procedure was simple with only cabinet approving it and not go to the Parliament. Also, there was a symbolic advantage of doing it on Gandhiji’s birthday.

What next?

There are two large and one minor action that India needs to accelerate:

  1. To achieve INDCs that India has pledged- the carbon intensity for the economy, i.e. carbon emission reduction 33-35% by 2030 as compared to 2005.
  2. At least 40% of India’s electricity generating capacity will be from non-fossil fuel.
  3. Two and half billion tons of C02 will be captured by trees and forest cover.

To do these, there is need for an action plan. Right after Paris agreement, the PM formed a group to look at what could be done at energy efficiency and forming the targets for renewables so that process is moving ahead. Now it needs to know what kind of instruments are put into place and formulate action plans.

The second issue is that the Paris mechanism is also called the transparency mechanism. It means that periodically, all the countries would put on the public domain what they are doing and what is their progress towards meeting their own commitment. This is important as countries need to be sure that they are on track to achieve them.

Third issue is global stock taking. Periodically, the countries will assess what is needed to be done in order to keep the temperature much less than 2 degrees. This can happen when transparency mechanism is put in place.

So, the key issue is to get policy instruments in order to reach targets and to start the process of measuring, consolidating and reporting progress on each goal.

Voluntary participation

Compared to previous unsuccessful agreements, this is one agreement that will force US and China to do something. The lacuna is that there is no compulsion and they can do as they wish. This liberty will not allow to reduce their land emission but other options of sharing their emissions with other countries which will reduce their emission in indirect way.

The commitments are in terms of how much carbon is being produced by production in the country. If one really wants to focus on lifestyle, the emphasis should be on how much carbon the consumption is producing. It is estimated that may be a quarter of the Chinese emissions are from products which are consumed by it. The issue of lifestyle is based on consumptions. Yet, this point has not been made sharply that the global commitments in the terms of carbon emitted by production is only a partial story. But if there is a commitment to reduce the carbon footprints of domestic consumption, it will compel the country to look at lifestyle issues and not tectonic issues only on supply side.

There is a carbon tracker which evaluates the contribution of countries in terms of how much they ought to be doing if there has to be 2 degree goal success. Only a handful of countries are in the adequate category. One of them is Morocco where the Marrakech conference was held recently. India is in middle category of adequate but not fully adequate. Most countries are below it. Russia is very below in adequate.

These NDCs are voluntary agreements. The energy consumption of OECD countries is approx. 4500 kg of oil equivalent. India has 600 and china has 2000 kg of oil equivalent. Thus, they don’t want to make any compulsion as bringing down from 4500 to 500 will not go well. People are free to choose their lifestyle.

Also, earlier the Kyoto protocol did not deliver on reduction targets. So all the countries decided for bottom up approach in which all countries give their own targets and it is then reviewed periodically. The effort is to globally reach the global target. It has worked in MDG in some respect. But whether it will work in new system has to be seen.

Now the approach is that of ‘pledge – achieve – pledge more’ so that the global targets are achieved. In this scenario, there will be local organisations which will push the government to deliver on the targets. The central point is that at the end of day, the global commitments are less than what is needed to be achieved.


The key challenge for the developed countries lies in how they substitute the power stations, and construct buildings with more efficient ones. For the developing countries, the challenge is to manage the growth so that next power plants and buildings are more efficient than before. The Paris agreement allows this to be figured out on their own so that national and together global goals can be achieved.

India has to restructure its electricity system. If India has 160-165 GWs of solar and wind, there is no sense to back out on renewable energy. In that case, the coal plants production will go up and down in course of day to balance out. Currently also, many coal plants are backed down. For most countries, what they have promised is easy to do. India had Low Carbon Committee Report which had put down road map of 40-45% whereas India has committed 30-35%.

Recently, there has been discussion about India being power surplus. The power plants running at the lowest power load factor has come down. This points that India is building on huge capacity in power plant whereas the growth in electricity demand is growing at 6.7% which if taken into account in 2022 along with 65GW of coal based power plants which are under construction at the moment, coupled with 175GW of power in pipeline of renewable energy. If this is achieved, India would no longer need investment in coal based infrastructure.

There are three kinds of electricity demand that one has –

  1. Constant needs- 110 GW of demand which is all the time.
  2. Variations in need- in summer, more ACs are on, hence there is need of more electricity. In winters, it is less. More people use AC, more is demand for power.
  3. The base load which is increasing on year on year can certainly be met by coal.

The problem comes during peak hours. On the other hand, even if there is solar and wind electricity, it has conditions of availability of sunlight and requisite wind speed to generate electricity. When it is not performing, electricity will be still needed and here comes the need of coal power plants. Challenge is to create an electricity system in which there is meeting of the volatile demand where the prices are affordable.

On climate change agreement, India will face pressure to phase out coal based plants will increase. India initially was declared as villain when it was trying to protect its coal based power plant. When next stock taking is done, India has to have an action plan on phasing out reduction in coal.

How to adopt a low carbon footprint economy is a challenge. How to improve lifestyle of people. How to show that people consume less energy. This is easy to do it as large number of people in India are not energy extensive user so India can contribute more than pledged.

The worst bulk of emissions will be come from energy that will be used in future. Presently, there is very little energy and hence, quality of life is poor. If lifestyle has to improve, energy has to improve.

Challenge is how to improve it without huge increase in carbon emissions. It is through using energy efficiently. Eg. LED produces light as a bulb but uses 1/10 of electricity. Efficient motor provides same power as inefficient motor at half of energy consumption. This should be the focus whether industry or agriculture or home. This combined with producing electricity form low carbon or zero carbon sources will solve the problems.

Taking care of water needs

The Paris agreement doesn’t talk about water but as seen in summer, there has been draught. Cauvery issue, Karnataka received less rainfall whereas rest of country had normal rainfall. So water scarcity will emerge in coming years.

Water crisis will trigger continental migration. People will leave from one place to another place. In village, water table is down, there is no electricity, no agriculture, so they will leave from rural area to smaller cities and then to bigger cities. And then at same time in polar areas like Scandinavian region, there are global warming effect where ice is melting and more greenery is there. So again migration will be there. Thus, water crisis will trigger this.

Economic development vs. climate change

It’s a mix story. If there was severe cost penalty attached, moving away from fossil fuels, India would have its economy affected. But increasingly, it is found that there isn’t much of cost penalty. India is not necessarily paying a price. It is possible that alternative requires more policy effort more managerial effort. So funds are not an issue. Today, internationally, there is no money available for coal but it is for renewables. Hence, the shift is more necessary.

Connecting the dots:

  • Paris agreement is not only about mitigating climate change but also to avoid the disasters to be followed if proper precautions and measures are not taken. Examine the effects of climate change and solutions to mitigate it.


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