The national action plan for climate change begins with a conceptual disadvantage. It quotes Indira Gandhi as saying “poverty is the worst polluter”, and adds that “poverty eradication will be the best form of adaptation to climate change”. By adopting the right measures, the action plan will promote “our development objectives” while yielding “co-benefits” in mitigating climate change. The Indian position is affirmed by the Kyoto protocol and climate change convention, which is quoted in the action plan document as stating “development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priority of the developing countries”.
There is a clear hierarchy — development comes first and fighting climate change comes second. The reality is different. The world and its knowledge have moved on since the Kyoto protocol was adopted in 1997. The development which harms the environment and damages health and nature, imposes costs and becomes unsustainable. It is a lot clearer today that environmentally unsustainable development is no development at all.
Destroy a pristine ecologically rich forest to mine, say, bauxite and chances are you will do more harm than good. You will reduce a carbon sink (vegetation which captures and stores carbon dioxide), destroy a catchment area whose streams feed an important river in a steady seasonal routine and replace this with floods created by quick runoffs, soil erosion upstream and silting downstream, maybe reducing the capacity of a reservoir, raise temperatures, reduce the earth’s stock of flora and fauna and lead to more ill health among local people. The economic gains of the mining will be negated by huge costs to be incurred in not the next generation but much earlier. The only way to develop, attack poverty, is to secure the environment along the way. Then temperatures will not rise and the climate will not change.
The action plan document categorically states, “India has a well developed policy, legislative, regulatory and programmatic regime for promotion of energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power, fuel switching, energy pricing reform and addressing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in the energy sector. As a consequence of these measures, India’s energy intensity of the economy has come down sharply since the 1980s, and compares favourably with the least energy intensive developed countries.” Splendid. So why do we need a new action plan with as many as eight new national missions (covering solar, enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, sustaining the Himalayan eco-system, Green India, sustainable agriculture, and strategic knowledge for climate change)? Isn’t the institutional framework already in place and producing results?
The reality is somewhat complex. According to 2005 data put out by the International Energy Agency, India scores well (low) in per capita energy consumption and is behind only Brazil in per capita CO2 emission (sample: the US, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Russia, South Korea, Brazil, China and India). It falls further behind, coming after Brazil and Japan and ranking the same with Germany in energy consumption per unit of GDP in purchasing power parity terms. It is behind Sweden, Brazil and Korea in terms of CO2 produced per unit of energy consumed and behind Sweden and Brazil in CO2 per unit of GDP in PPP terms. In this sample, the crown for the least energy-intensive developed country surely goes to Sweden, with Japan, Korea and Germany following. India’s energy performance, on the other hand, is better than that of the US, Russia and China.
In recent years China has bettered India in reducing its energy intensity. India is certainly not a culprit but it has a lot to do to ensure its current high growth is sustained. Its fossil fuel consumption till now has been greatly contained by the poor using biomass to do its cooking. This will rapidly reduce (it should because the smoke is a health hazard for the poor women who do the cooking) as incomes grow, raising the demand for gas and oil to keep home fires burning. Europe was initially able to perform well in terms of its emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto protocol by addressing the highly polluting power plants that were operating in the erstwhile Eastern Europe. Once that historical advantage was gone (the easy option exhausted), Europe’s performance has plateaued. Since the eighties new technology and business imperatives have taken Indian energy efficiency forward. It is hardly correct to take policy credit for what is captured in “business as usual” scenarios, which assume a certain amount of improvement automatically happening even in the absence of policy.
The document abounds in motherhood statements and banalities and there is also the odd incorrect assertion (there is no Metro Bus project in Bangalore, as mentioned). An action plan should not abound in “would” and “should” and simply delineate recent frontier R&D activities. To be useful, it should clearly state what needs to be done. The first item in such a list has to be the need to raise fuel prices. Instead of subsidising fuel, subsidy should go to energy-saving consumer items like compressed fluorescent lamps. It is also vital to introduce “time of the day metering” for at least bulk power consumers so that big bucks paid for peak hour demand can make gas-based power plants, which can be started quickly, commercially viable. (This will make a Dabhol viable.) Since we have to rely on coal- fired power plants indefinitely, clean coal technologies are vital. You can go a long way by simply washing coal more. A lot can be done and there is extensive knowledge within the government to do it. A policy document should at least say the right things boldly. Making it happen is another matter.
6 months ago