India’s voluntary climate actions


in Economics, Politics, The environment

In international climate negotiations, India has been one of the states asserting most forcefully that developing countries should not have mandatory emissions caps applied to them. It argues, quite rightly, that states that are now rich largely became that way on the basis of fossil fuel use, and that it still has high levels of extreme poverty to address. That being said, all global emissions will eventually need to be cut. Approaches like contraction and convergence seek to address these practical and ethical issues, by giving states like India and China a bit of space in which to keep increasing emissions, before theirs peak at a level far below where rich states are now, and eventually fall to zero.

While India isn’t signing on to such schemes now, they are taking some voluntary actions unilaterally: “a proposed $20 billion investment in solar energy; a plan to return a third of its area to forest; and many energy-efficiency measures.” These are the sorts of win-win measures that generate positive secondary effects. Solar power doesn’t cause air pollution, and can help countries reduce their dependence on imported fuels. Reforestation protects watersheds and decreases erosion. Energy efficiency might be the single area where it is most possible to actually save money while reducing emissions.

Eventually, India will need to be brought into a binding global emissions reduction regime. For now, whatever actions that can be taken to drive their development process towards a low-carbon course should be undertaken.

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. August 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm

The influence of unreformed India varies. In airlines, where riotous competition has taken hold, its role is confined to a half-dead Air India. It burns a lot of money, but has lost so much market share that it inflicts itself on relatively few travellers. In electricity, however, it is a different story. For India to grow at 8-10% a year, supply must at least double in a decade. The government has rightly sought private investment in power stations. But the supply chain these plants will join is still largely unreformed and in poor shape.

At one end, fuel, which in India means coal, is dug up by a state monopoly that seems unable to raise its production fast enough. Even today there are shortages, although India has the world’s fifth-largest reserves. At the other end, the wholesale buying of power from generators and its distribution to consumers is largely in the hands of state firms that do not charge market prices and together made losses equivalent to 1% of GDP last year. Generating companies, with their big investment plans, are being squeezed by the need to import more expensive foreign coal to top up supplies and by the bankruptcy of their main customers. An industry which should be booming is regarded as toxic by many investors and as a potential source of bad debts by some bankers. “The reforms will happen: after the whole system collapses,” predicts a power-firm boss.

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