Friday, December 11, 2009

Can India Cut Emission Intensity Without Carbon Sequestration?

Yes, is the answer at least according to the Indian government.

A reader left a comment on my previous post on the distribution of potential basalt and ophiolite carbon reservoirs asking:

In your original post you suggested this was probably a non-starter for India, given our unwillingness to implement cuts in emissions. Do you think recent moves by China (and now more modest ones by India) to cut emission intensity will change the equation at all?

The original post was the one on Deccan Basalts as a potential reservoir for carbon sequestration projects.

I don't know about the Chinese plan but the 5 point plan put forward by Mr. Jairam Ramesh the Minister of Environment and Forest, India, to cut carbon emission intensity does not include carbon sequestration as a strategy.

Instead the government is aiming to reduce emission intensity by 20-%-25% by 2020 using:

1) Mandatory fuel efficiency standards for vehicles by December 2011
2) Mandatory green building code
3) Amendments to energy conservation Act
4) Progress report on forest cover
5) 50% of new capacities in power plants to be based on clean coal technologies

If you think these are big concessions by the Indian government you would be wrong. There is nothing really radically new about the way India plans to achieve its voluntary target of reducing emission intensity. That process was already underway much before Mr. Jairam Ramesh's announcement.

Emission Intensity is a measure of the energy efficiency of your economy - emissions per unit GDP - and between 1990 and 2005 India reduced its emission intensity i.e. improved its energy efficiency by about 17%.

Automobile makers have been steadily improving vehicle efficiency for years. Other industries too in an effort to be competitive have been streamlining their processes and improving efficiency. The Indian government years ago has set targets for expanded forest cover. Even India's notoriously  wasteful coal power plants have been improving their efficiency over the last few years and a large fraction - as high as 60% to 70% - of  new coal plants from both the public and private sector will be built using cleaner technology, the so called supercritical coal plants which use advanced coal combustion technology. This trend is being driven not by government fiat but by the rising price of coal due to increased demand and the need to import larger quantities of the fuel.

All this implies that this new target the government has announced won't require politically difficult decisions. Instead, the government is relying along with a few nudges and pushes on the naturally growing efficiency of industry to achieve a large fraction of the target of reducing emission intensity.

On the other hand geoengineering strategies like carbon sequestration which avoid emissions altogether face several hurdles. For at least the immediate target of reducing intensity by 2020 the science and technology may not be ready. Sequestration is also expensive. This means coal plants will have to bear much higher costs than they would voluntarily agree to. And that means government regulations and tough political decisions. And there are potential land acquisition issues that may come up if the sites chosen for sequestration projects underlie agricultural or forest land.

So emission intensity riding on the back of increasing efficiency of the Indian economy is likely going to be the government mantra for some time to come.

Unfortunately increased warming is a result of the total amount of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. And those despite a reduction in emission intensity will keep increasing, although at a slower rate.


  1. Thanks for this. It was my sense that 20-25percent was pretty much a business-as-usual approach with a few tweaks. Definitely not something to get worked up about.

    China's cuts (40-45 percent) seem more significant. From what I can tell, they were planning on doing it anyway, but that doesn't mean the cuts aren't big. The WSJ has something here that suggests as much:

    Still, one problem with China's response is that is allows the West to continue to move production to China; thus emissions fall in the West because Western consumption (and ours too) is being made possible by Chinese production. Emissions are thus "embedded" in Chinese made products, but the consuming countries don't have to count them.

    And of course we need reductions in output overall, right? And the US is not doing much at all in that regard.

  2. yes, moving production from one region to another may favor balancing the books for western nations but the atmosphere does not care for that.

    not emitting much anywhere is the only way out.

    thanks for the WSJ link.

  3. What exactly is a green building code?

  4. buildings designed and constructed with materials to conserve energy..