India’s Climate Action Plan


The Prime Minister, as head of the Council on Climate Change, released the much-anticipated National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) on 30th June 2008. The NAPCC was expected to lay down a national strategy and concrete steps India plans to take to deal with climate change as regards both adaptation and mitigation. Since climate change is a global problem, not amenable to being tackled only on a country-basis, this strategy also required to be address, and be cast in the context of, global arrangements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

 It is extremely unfortunate that NAPCC has been drawn up on through a highly confidential process with no attempt at seeking opinions of the broader community of experts and other knowledgeable and concerned sections. In the past, drafts of some important new policies, such as the New Environment Policy, were made public, suggestions invited and even some consultations held before finalization, even if this process lacked in sincerity. It is difficult to understand the reason for this thick veil of secrecy when even the nuclear deal, with several aspects central to national security and involving the hitherto highly secretive atomic energy establishment, was subject to much informed debate in the public domain.

Background   There was also some urgency as regards the timing of the NAPCC’s release. It is well known that the Prime Minister’s Office and the External Affairs Ministry, the Nodal Ministry responsible for international climate negotiations, attached great importance to taking the NAPCC to the G8 Summit in Hokkaido, Japan, later this week. The US has been pressing India hard to come up with some commitments and action on climate change, and the US and other G8 countries expected some delivery at this Summit, taking advantage of Indian compulsions on other fronts, notably on the nuclear deal.

  Since the release of the IPCC 4th Assessment Report (IPCC/AR4) last year, and the deliberations at Bali, there is now wide-ranging scientific consensus that human-induced GHGs are responsible for climate change which appears to be at or near the “tipping point” beyond which it could become irreversible, and that immediate actions are required to drastically reduce emissions. The Bali Conference decided that new stiffer targets to replace the rather ineffective Kyoto Protocol would be decided upon latest at the 15th Conference of parties in Copenhagen in end-2009.

The US with 16% of global greenhouse (GHG) emissions is of course still refusing to join the Climate Treaty and accept binding emissions reduction targets arguing, among many other excuses, that it would not do so unless emerging giants such as China and India, despite having only a fraction of US per capita emissions, also accept targets. The EU on its part has proposed a 50% reduction of emissions by developed countries by 2030, but has tended to make concessions to US demands at least partly in the hope of somehow bringing the US on board. Whereas the Bali Declaration still preserves the UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” under which binding targets would not apply to developing countries, it is increasingly clear that large emitters among developing countries cannot continue for long on a business-as-usual trajectory. Activists and public interest groups campaigning for urgent global action on climate change also feel that there is considerable scope even within the existing UNFCCC framework for leading developing countries to take meaningful steps towards mitigation, and countries such as China and India are being looked up to for showing the way.

 In this context, with China having already come up with a Climate Change Policy even before release of IPCC/AR4 in mid-2007, India was clearly under enormous pressure to step up and put some concrete action plan on the table.

No vision   Regrettably, India’s NAPCC fails to come up to expectations.

NAPCC is replete with high-sounding but vague goals, shows good intentions in some parts and a few sound suggestions especially with regard to technology development and deployment, but has little vision to speak of and reveals no genuine political will to translate plans into action.

NAPCC proclaims its intention to constitute a “national strategy to firstly, adapt to climate change and secondly, to further enhance the ecological sustainability of India’s development path”. But it does not address the first in any rigorous or detailed manner while the second, going so far as to declare “a directional shift in the development pathway”, is simply a tall claim.

NAPCC expectedly reiterates India’s adherence to the Kyoto principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, thus rightly underlining India’s rejection of binding emissions reduction targets similar to that for developed countries responsible for over 80% of accumulated GHGs in the atmosphere. At the same time, clearly aiming at assuaging increasingly shrill demands from the US and others, NAPCC has a major focus on mitigation even at the cost of adaptation, prompted by the need to show that its approach is “compatible with our role as a responsible and enlightened member of the international community” ready to make contributions to tackling a global problem including fulfillment of the obligation of all parties under UNFCCC including developing countries to “formulate and implement programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change” short of binding targets. India can now claim she has done that, which seems to be the main purpose of this Document. But this is claim is only formalistic not substantive.

Actions in any one country, especially a country such as India with under 3% of global emissions, cannot go any great distance in tackling the global problem of climate change. As a strategy document, NAPCC should therefore have spelled out India’s position on global requirements, particularly emissions reductions by developed countries, and how it views the state of play in global negotiations. However, the traditionally timid and, of late, markedly pro-US and pro-Western orientation of the External Affairs Ministry is clearly visible in downplaying the role of and demands upon the developed nations. NAPCC only calls upon them to “affirm their responsibility for accumulated GHG emissions and fulfill their commitments under the UNFCCC”. No demand that the US join the Treaty, nor a statement that humanity may be doomed if the US stays out. No demand that developed countries agree to and be accountable for “deep cuts” far exceeding their existing Kyoto commitments as called for by the IPCC albeit with targets dropped from the Bali Declaration at US insistence. Clearly NAPCC has been drafted and shaped with US sensitivities as uppermost in mind.

 Commitments of developed countries under the UNFCCC are in fact seen as being solely “to transfer additional financial resources and climate friendly technologies to… developing countries.” This has been India’s unfortunately consistent and extremely weak contribution to the entire process of global climate negotiations: to convert the entire discourse into one about money, about transfer of financial or knowledge resources from the political-economic North to the South. The climate battle is not primarily about money, however important the demand is for resource transfers as a legitimate part of the ecological debt owed by developed countries. Reversing climate change will require a fundamental re-ordering of global developmental structures, but there is no hint of this in NAPCC. Maybe all this is too much to ask for, so let us turn to the specifics.

No strategy   The operational thrust of NAPCC is in the shape of 8 Missions on Solar Energy; Enhancing Energy Efficiency; Sustainable Habitat (embracing energy use in buildings, municipal solid wastes and urban transport); Water Resources; Himalayan Ecosystem; Afforestation; Agriculture; and Climate-related R&D or what is termed Strategic Knowledge.

Two things are striking at the very outset.

 Firstly, NAPCC sets very few quantitative except in one or two cases which we shall discuss. These need not be binding targets under UNFCCC but targets set internally for India to achieve, and against which performance can be assessed. Can one talk of “Missions” without or measurable targets targets? There is also no statement of a baseline of current emissions and projected trajectories under a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, against which targets could be set or achievements assessed.

  Contrast this with China’s National Climate Change Policy (CNCCP) which, although criticized by some environmentalists for not going far enough, certainly makes a good beginning with measurable goals. As an overarching goal, set against baseline figures of emissions, energy use and other parameters, it targets a “20 percent reduction of energy consumption per unit GDP by 2010, and consequently reduce CO2 emissions” and then goes on to specify 2010 targets for renewable energy, afforestation in terms of percent cover and also carbon sink quantum, renewable energy etc. NAPCC contains no comparable overall goal or target of, for instance, lower rates of inevitable emissions growth or lower energy intensity of the economy or lower carbon-intensity. While elsewhere the NAPCC speaks of the importance of “benchmarks for enforcement and monitoring”, it fights shy of applying this to itself!

Secondly, there is no overarching target or goal that knits NAPCC together. Here again, we have Missions without mission statements or goals and, most importantly as we shall discuss later, without dedicated allocation of financial resources. Even many of the goals or rather broad intentions are rehashed from earlier Policy Statements with global warming dimensions as add-ons. Shorn of climate-specific goals, targets and resources, there is no strategy and the “action plan” can be considered only as a vague wish-list.

The Missions    There is no target set for increasing the proportion of renewable energy in the total energy mix. The NAPCC’s Solar Mission promises to promote use of solar energy in homes, commercial establishments and for power generation through photo-voltaics, solar thermal and Concentrating Solar Power. The Mission does set a target of 80% coverage for low temperature applications and 60% coverage for medium-temp solar energy applications in urban areas, industries and commercial but in the absence of any benchmark figures for current energy consumption in these sectors, these “targets” mean little and there is no way to assess performance.

 On conventional power generation, NAPCC discusses various options at some length particularly as to introduction of available new technologies but there is little on increasing energy generation efficiencies in existing power plants. Improving energy-use efficiencies especially in industry is also discussed but, while mentioning that authoritative studies have estimated that CO2 emissions from fuel and electricity use in industry could be reduced by about 16% over BAU by 2031, there is no suggestion that increased energy efficiencies will be mandated. On the contrary, NAPCC hints at low expectations on this count by lamenting that these measures would involve incremental and investment costs and need for technology transfer from developed countries, and hoping for more funding becoming available under Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or other multilateral arrangements, of which there is little chance, and leaves it at that!

 This is in sharp contrast to pronouncements made in the Integrated Energy Policy (2007) of the Planning Commission where the same options are discussed in considerable detail but with more targeted policy options. Indeed, the Energy Policy document, which does not address emissions reductions directly but instead focuses on energy saving (which would of course have the effect of reducing emissions), where it states that 25% improvement in energy intensity is quite feasible with available technologies at low cost which easily pays for itself through savings in energy use, and also results in even greater savings in energy production. Strange indeed how a policy prescription seen as positive, do-able and cost-effective as regards energy is viewed so pessimistically from an emissions angle in the NAPCC!

Similarly in Habitat there are lots of homilies to promoting public transport, better urban planning and paying attention to water supply and sanitation but, apart from recounting estimates from the National Energy Map of India (2006) that energy savings could be as much as 30% in new residential and 40% in new commercial buildings, and that substantial savings could be garnered by shifts to public transportation and inter-modal shifts from road to rail, there are again no targets. Again, NAPCC lags behind other government policy documents such as the National Transport Policy even while rehashing their recommendations.

In all the above, NAPCC relies chiefly on labeling, tax policies and credit mechanisms but no mandatory, legislated or regulatory measures. This despite the fact that the various sectoral Policy Documents from which NAPCC draws much of its substance themselves prescribe many mandating and regulatory regimes, such as for fuel-efficiency standards in vehicles, energy efficiency benchmarks for industry etc.

A lack of political will and legislative or policy support is further evident. NAPCC recounts that the Xth Plan had set targets of 100% water supply and 75% sewerage/sanitation services in urban areas but does not say how much was achieved. It takes the welcome stand that municipal solid waste (MSW) management should be considered a public good or environmental service to be provided by government and not as a potentially profitable — even though current neo-liberal government policies particularly under the JNNURM are going in exactly the opposite direction — and pointedly remarks that this will require even more funds than provided for water and sanitation! On mass transportation, NAPCC laments that it would entail substantial costs and “diverting resources from other priority claims on fiscal resources”.

On water resources, the Plan admits that India is heading inexorably towards severe water scarcity, notably due to unchecked groundwater extraction indeed “mining”. But apart from a vaguely-worded promise to “develop a framework to optimize water use by increasing water use efficiency by 20%”, it again fights shy of mandating and regulating extraction patterns and falls back on pricing mechanisms and marginal “solutions” such as urban water harvesting.

Conclusion    So where is the “directional shift” and the “sustainable developmental pathway”? Where is the political will and coherence of governance?

A lack of funds is a recurrent theme in the NAPCC, reinforcing India’s constant refrain in climate negotiations that action in any area is predicated upon fund transfers from developed countries. While the Action Plan is slated to cover the next two Plan periods till 2017, it states only that wherever “the Mission calls for an enhancement of the allocation…, this will be suitably considered”, which is Finance-Ministry-speak for “don’t ask us for funds”!

If each government department is expected to “do what it can” within the funds, policy framework and institutional structures presently available, no wonder there are no targets and no wonder the NAPCC is full of regurgitated projections and promises from earlier reports and documents. Such as increasing forest cover to 33%, a government target going back at least a decade, and a promise for afforestation of 6 million hectares of degraded land, for which funds have been set apart under Supreme Court orders as compensation for diversion of forest lands for commercial and industrial purposes!

Another recurrent theme is the problem of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in connection with technology transfer from developed countries. Regrettably, here too there is no recognition that the issue of IPRs in climate-related technologies is fundamental to the North-South conflict as well as to tackling the climate crisis, just as it has been seen in the case of major communicable diseases and pharmaceutical research. India should lead a demand by developing countries that all climate-related technologies should be placed in the public domain rather than seeking some coping mechanisms to deal with the privatization and commodification of knowledge under monopoly capitalism.

All this is not to take away from the several good sections in NAPCC, especially where research goals and future technology trajectories are discussed.  Some sound research goals, with quantified targets, are indeed put forward such as in renewable energy systems, local production of solar photovoltaic systems, in solar thermal power and in closed-cycle nuclear power. These relatively strong areas in the NAPCC, while drawing heavily from previous governmental Policy Documents especially the Integrated Energy Policy, are perhaps due to the prodding of scientific and technological agencies under the umbrella of the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor, a key element in the Action Plan structure which correctly recognizes that technology is a key element in emissions mitigation strategies.

 Unfortunately, technology by itself cannot achieve the desired objectives which require funding, a re-oriented policy framework with mandatory performance goals and corresponding regulatory, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms rather than reliance on market forces, and above all a political will. Regrettably these are absent from the NAPCC.

 It is to be hoped that the promise made in the NAPCC, and declared by the Primie Minister himself while unveiling the Plan, that “the NAPCC will continue to evolve” is not merely lip service and that, in the coming days, the NAPCC will be thrown open for wider consultation. Informed public opinion and mass campaigns should strive to re-shape the Climate Action Plan towards meeting the twin and complementary goals of climate change mitigation and sustainable development.