With the submission deadline for the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) for the Paris Climate Summit drawing near, the spotlight is once again on New Delhi. India, which is hosting a meeting of like-minded developing countries on this subject, is the last major player which is yet to announce its INDC.

Considering the European Union as one unit, India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) in absolute terms, even though China’s emission is more than three times and the US’s two times than that of India. In per capita GHG emission terms, it’s far behind not only countries from the developed world but even developing countries like China, Mexico, Iran, Brazil and Indonesia. India also happens to be the country where a third of the world’s poorest reside, a third of its population still lacks access to electricity, and the prevalence of underweight children is highest in the world, double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

India contains 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, with Delhi topping the list. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rates India as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Uplifting millions of poor while limiting GHG emission is one of the biggest challenges India faces.

Indian strategy

The government appears to be sceptical about adhering to the emission intensity targets pledged in the Climate Summit in 2009, hence the delay in submission of INDCs. India had then undertaken to cut its emission intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. The level achieved is 18.6 per cent thus far, with hardly any scope for further reduction. Hence, India is hesitant to propose 25-30 per cent emissions figure for 2020-30.

The Indian proposal is not out, but is expected to lay down two pledges, one involving what India can achieve with its own resources and the other that can be achieved if technology and finance are made available by the West. Further, the country will not commit to a year when its GHG emissions will peak, nor will it provide sectoral commitments, but will give an economy-wide achievement.

The measures that India is taking for INDC are: renewable energy capacity addition, increasing coal cess to four times its earlier value, pushing an aggressive energy efficiency programme, and setting up the National Adaptation Fund and National Clean Energy Fund.

The perception in the world community as well as domestically is that India is taking a minimalist approach and would continue with its business as usual scenario. Such an approach will be dangerous from the perspective of not only climate change but also human health.

The real picture

The hard reality is that while India’s growth is non-negotiable, it can’t work in the long term if it’s not environmentally sustainable. India will have to take strong and determined actions for bringing the pollution level to safe limits, for its own sake. However, as the ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ principle is the heart of the climate negotiations, Indian submissions can’t be compared with the developed world or other developing countries with higher per capita emissions. India has ambitious targets for renewable energy. It also has one of largest reserves of coal, which at present fulfils 60 per cent of our energy needs, and will continue to form a substantial portion of energy base for India’s growth. The phasing out of present sub-critical coal power plants and shifting to super-critical and ultra-super-critical ones — that could reduce coal usage by 15 per cent — simultaneously investing in Clean Coal Technology will be a balancing act.

Further, laying down stringent emission-related regulations for industries and its strict implementation, shifting the public transportation to CNG in at least all the tier 1 cities, moving to Bharat Stage IV norms for vehicular emission for the entire country and targeting Stage V swiftly, curbing excessive use of artificial fertilisers while turning to sustainable agriculture would make a serious dent in GHG emissions. In fact, GHG emission cuts can help in job growth and improve productivity of the economy, through sustainable disposal and conversion of solid waste, for example.

A bottom-up approach of wide-scale stakeholder and public participation in determining the INDC has not been adopted. This would have reflected the level of existing domestic concern on the matter. Hence, while India must push for a fair and equitable climate deal, it must shoulder its responsibility for the sake of the planet and the poorest in the world.

The writer is the secretary-general of CUTS International. Sonal Shukla of CUTS contributed to the article