The Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh finally unveiled the National Action Plan on Climate Change (pdf: 15 mb). It is a 52 page document. There are 8 missions to combat, mitigate and adapt to climate change: 1. Solar Energy 2. Enhanced Energy Efficiency 3. Sustainable Habitat4. Conserving Water 5. Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem 6. A “Green India” 7. Sustainable Agriculture 8. Strategic Knowledge Platform for Climate Change. I have not read the document yet but I plan to and maybe post on some topics of interest. Meanwhile I was struck by this statement by the PM that India's per-capita greenhouse gas emissions will "at no point exceed that of developed countries."
This is a clever statement. It re enforces our commitment to the per-capita method of looking at CO2 emissions, which India has argued is the only equitable way of addressing emissions, but at the same time issues a challenge to developed countries to reduce their emissions as much as possible. It also gives us a huge space to increase our own emissions. Currently per-capita emissions of developed nations average to about 15 tons of CO2 per year. India emits per-capita about 1.3 tons CO2 per year. The G8 have made various pledges to reduce emissions by 60-80% by 2050. Even if they are able to reduce emissions by 50%, an amount considered very optimistic by many, India will theoretically be able to increase its per-capita emissions about 5 fold while maintaining levels below those of the developed nations. Our emissions will most likely not grow that much. The projections are for a 2-3 fold increase in our emissions by 2050 with the business as usual scenario, but might be a lot less (pdf: 8 mb) if we enlarge our energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, both of which feature in the National Action Plan on Climate Change.
We need to look at reducing our CO2 emissions not only from the perspective of combating global warming but all the associated pollution that accompany CO2 emissions. Coal burning power plants, industrial emissions, emissions from transportation are all adding to the rapid growth of sulphate pollution one of the main ingredients of soot. This not only has damaging local health effects but may even impact monsoon patterns. Climate models predict an overall increase in the Indian monsoons over the next several decades, but a recent study shows that an increase in soot also known as brown haze which hangs over the Indian subcontinent may weaken the monsoon by blocking sunlight reaching the Indian ocean. While an uneven increase in rainfall due to a warming trend will come with its own problems, even a short to medium term decrease in overall rainfall might prove to be disastrous for India. Flipping or rather scrolling through the report I noticed that there is not much enthusiasm on carbon capture and storage strategies (CCS) for coal power plants. This is a pity since much of our expansion in power generation in the 11th 5-year plan will be through increased coal plants. I think this is where we should be proactive in pursuing technology transfer for CCS under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. Power generation will account for about 50% of our emissions in 2050 and a shift towards cleaner technologies for coal plants and a larger component of renewable energy in power sector will go a long way in achieving emission reductions.
Reducing these emissions is in our own interest and I hope we don't get too caught up in our "right" to emit as much per-capita as developed countries to ignore the impacts of increasing emissions and associated pollution on our own citizens. We keep making the argument of our per-capita emissions being lower than developed countries but what is never pointed out by the government but has been pointed out by others is that there is a huge disparity in our emissions. Although the average per-capita emissions of an Indian is about 1.3 ton CO2 per year, about 150 million Indians already emit considerably more than the sustainable limit (2.5 tCO2 per year) needed to restrict CO2 levels to about 450 ppm corresponding to about a 2 deg centigrade increase in temperature (this is considered a threshold figure, any temperature increase more than this will increase the risk of catastrophic changes to the climate system). The rest of the 800 million or so emit much less, but this is the section of society which will feel the impacts of local pollution as well as long term climate change the most. If through a scientific evaluation we have come to a consensus cutoff value for our emissions, then an exceeding of that limit by rich Indians is as unjust on poor Indians as exceeding that limit by a rich European. So while we argue for the right to equitable per-capita emissions with developed countries we need to extend the same principle to address disparities in our society.
I am sure there is a lot more to say about various aspects of our response to climate change but this will do for now.