Tuesday, March 17, 2009

National Action Plan on Climate Change Missing Target

The National Action Plan on Climate Change, launched by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is missing its target. The Plan seeks to make India’s economic development energy efficient. It envisages a gradual shift to renewable sources of energy. Economic activity based on fossil fuel is to increasingly give way to one based on sustainable, non-fossil fuel. The plan mandates the setting up of energy benchmarks for each sector and allows trading in energy saving certificates. Industrial units using more than the stipulated amount of energy will have to buy energy saving certificates from those saving on energy.

While developed countries have emission cut targets under the existing UN regime, they want India and other developing countries to also agree to cuts. The US even suggested that India’s National Action Plan become the base for its international commitments.

Key Components
The National Action Plan on Climate Change encompasses a broad and extensive range of measures and focuses on eight missions, which will be pursued as key components of the strategy for sustainable development. These are missions on solar energy, enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, conserving water, sustainable the Himalayan ecosystem, creating a “Green India”, sustainable agricultural and finally establishing a strategic knowledge platform for climate change.

Disappointingly, the National Action Plan refrains from setting a national emissions target for greenhouse gases, a demand made by some European countries. Nor are there sector-wise targets, which countries such as Japan have been calling for. Specific curbs on emissions are also absent in the document; such targets and restrictions are still viewed as impediments to growth in an energy-hungry economy.

The Kyoto Protocol exempts developing countries from absolute emissions targets but India may not be able to postpone a quantified reduction in emissions beyond 2012, when the first phase of the protocol ends. India’s stand on emissions is that with a low per capita carbon emission figure of 1.02 metric tonnes, the immediate task before the Government is to take care of economic development. Richer, more polluting countries—the US has a per capita emissions figure of 20.1, the European Union 9.409 and Japan 9.87—ought to implement the Kyoto Protocol’s emission reduction target.

Renewable Energy
Besides the push in solar energy, the plan also suggests making it mandatory for power grids to purchase renewable energy from producers and set up progressive targets to do so over the coming years. While the move towards solar and solar derivatives is bound to reduce the dependence of fossil fuels, the Plan also puts as much emphasis on demand side management—reducing consumption levels in both industry and housing sectors. The Government envisages saving 10,000 MW by 2012 through energy efficiency measures.

The Plan will help bolster the country’s argument that it is ready to take an array of ‘no-regret’ actions—steps towards a low carbon economy that do not come at the cost of its poverty alleviation and growth targets.

Missing Target
The National Action Plan on Climate Change clearly lacks a sense of demonstrable urgency. The Plan has been justly criticised for adhering to the old path of economic growth involving unsustainable energy intensity, and for abandoning equity principles. The poor feel the immediate effects of an altered climate. The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, Shyam Saran, has indicated that the eight missions envisaged under the action plan are nearing finalisation, but it is obvious that they will remain on the back-burner until a new Government assumes office after the 2009 general elections.

Numerous months have been lost in getting State Governments to roll out key missions covering sustainable habitat, agriculture, green cover, water conservation, and public transport. The scientific view makes it clear that all major countries, including India, must cut emissions significantly. Leading climatologists think the safe level for global atmospheric carbon dioxide is 350 parts per million (ppm), but that level is history.

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