Tuesday, July 1, 2008

India Launches National Action Plan on Climate Change

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.


  1. Hi Suvrat,

    I'm glad to have discovered your blog. Been meaning to leave a long comment here, addressing a number of points raised, for the past three days and postponing it for later each day. So I'll leave a quick short one for now...

    CCS is not really a proven technology yet - the cost and energy requirements of pumping carbon deep underground is prohibitive. By the time CCS is ready, various renewable energy technologies would already be cost competitive with (what is subsidised cost of) coal based power generation. We need to abandon coal altogether.

    You should join Green-India. We need to build up momentum for transition from coal to renewables and your support will help.

  2. Hi Manu-
    I came across your blog via what's with climate. I'm glad someone working in the renewable energy is blogging enthusiastically.

    no doubt CCS is costly. But "we need to abandon coal altogether" is easier said than done. Currently we produce probably just a few percent of our power from wind and solar while coal produces about 55%. The rate at which new wind and solar capacity (nuclear?) that needs to be installed yearly for the next 2-3 decades to completely replace coal is staggering (you probably have the numbers on hand)and my feeling is coal will continue to play a significant role in our energy mix for the next 30-40 years. Ignoring CCS is I feel unwise, since It does provide a tool to reduce emissions during this inevitable transition period from fossil uels to renewables. Besides technological breakthroughs in CCS may make it less costly.

    while I compeltely support efforts to massively increase renewables, there is no silver bullet solution, whereby we can just abandon coal in the near to medium term future.

  3. Suvrat, what would you say if I told you that in the 1990's, a town in the U.K. with a population over 60,000 went entirely off-grid while generating its own power and eventually reducing their energy consumption by over 77% in ten years? They used a technology that has been known for over a 100 years.

    Did they have access to any special renewable energy resource? No. Did they spend a fortune on the transition? No. Did they make enormous sacrifices in their lifestyle? No. Did they use rocket science? No. Did their economy suffer? No.

    So how did they do it? Good old energy efficiency. They installed distributed trigeneration gas plants that typically run at 80-90% efficiency compared to 30% of traditional gas plants. They do this by employing CCHP - combined cooling, heating and power generation from one source. In other words, more efficient use of resources. Now, the guy who did this plans to do the same in London.

    You know, earlier this year I came to the conclusion that this is not a technological problem. It's a political one. We don't have the politicians with the vision and the courage to take the kind of bold steps that are needed to make the transition to a low-carbon economy. This is where people like us need to step in to inspire others to force the politicians.

    "The rate at which new wind and solar capacity that needs to be installed yearly for the next 2-3 decades to completely replace coal is staggering"

    Yes, but possible. Feel free to look up Lester Brown's Plan B 3.0 that calls for 80% emission reductions by 2020 and shows a pathway to power the world through renewables.

    Then there are futurists like Ray Kurzweil - with an enviable track record of being right in the past - that predict that solar power will be competitive with fossil fuels in 5 years. Whether he's right or not, I don't know but there's a certain glut of supply in silicon PV expected to bring prices down 40% in two years apart from other promising developments. Regardless, Kurzweil's main argument has a lot of weight. It's that when we think of future technological developments, we imagine a linear path but sometimes there's exponential growth.

    I can tell you that there are several renewable energy technologies at hundreds of MW scale and some at GW scale that can help us in the transition. These are not emerging but ready technologies that can be put to use today. Plus there's billions of dollars of venture capital and trillions of govt money available to be invested in large scale renewables. The only thing that's sorely lacking is political will.

    The technological breakthrough in CCS you mention is in Capture part, the problem is with the Sequestration part. No matter how efficiently you capture it, you'd still need to bury it. Which seems to be a hugely convoluted way of dealing with energy generation - first get it out of the ground, then put it under the ground. Why not capture what's freely available, namely solar, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal, biomass, and other power?

    We have to absolutely abandon dirty coal in the next two decades if we want any chance of survival as a civilisation. I'm sure you understand the severity of climate change better than I do.

  4. Manu-
    thanks for the links. I have no disagreements regarding your argument that renewables is the way to go. And I realize that technology too is available. I am just not convinced that we will follow that pathway quick enough to eliminate coal in the next 2 decades.

  5. Suvrat, it's an uphill task but it's possible. Besides, we need to be guided by what's needed, not whats feasible. Just last week I learnt about some amazing new renewable energy technologies that can help in the transition. Check out the ones on tidal power and clean coal in that link.

    Al Gore is about to deliver a landmark speech on energy today in Washington.

    I believe abandonment of new generation from coal and phasing out of all existing coal plants over the coming decades will be a part of his call.

  6. A preview of Gore's speech is out. He's calling for abandonment of coal not in 20 years but in TEN!

    Now this is leadership.

  7. Manu-

    your commitment towards India breaking out of the grip of fossil fuels is inspiring. I will study the materials you have sent.


  8. Thanks, Suvrat. =)

    Gore is speaking in Washington as I write.