In New Delhi, skepticism over Paris climate treaty 'wish list'

Volunteers for the India Beyond Coal movement hold up placards calling on India to reduce its reliance on coal and transition toward greater use of renewable energy. The country’s planned post-2020 climate actions will be “fairly simple” and conservative, with an emissions reduction target of between 20 and 40 percent. Photo by: / CC BY-NC-SA

India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to a Paris climate treaty will be “fairly simple” and conservative, with an emissions reduction target of between 20 and 40 percent, if members of the government’s climate advisory team and other stakeholders could have their way.

Countries that have committed to creating a new climate agreement in Paris, France, agreed to prepare their INDCs — which would publicly outline their planned post-2020 climate actions — ahead of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in December 2015.

“The more ambitious you make them, the less there’s the chance of success,” said Ajay Mathur, director general of India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency and a member of the prime minister’s Council on Climate Change, at the National Stakeholder Roundtable on Indian INDCs held April 30 in New Delhi.

With Paris talks fast approaching, the pressure is on for countries to outline their post-2020 plan for climate action to contribute to a new international climate agreement. Stakeholders are being tapped by the Indian government to help craft the country’s INDCs, but they have numerous concerns.

“There’s slight skepticism about INDCs, I must say,” said Vikrom Mathur, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank, who interviewed members of the climate change council, industry lobbyists, climate experts and others as part of a study to determine the level of buy-in for INDCs. They’re concerned about the right to consumption, equity, finance and technology not being linked to contributions, Vikrom explained.

Past climate negotiations have seen India — a middle-income country that’s home to a third of the world’s poorest people — push for developing countries to be given room to grow, with cheaper technology and financial support from developed nations.

“The problem of having a 2030 vision [is] it will be a wish list — I don’t know what are the technologies that will occur in 2030,” Ajay told Devex on the sidelines of the roundtable. “In 2000, did I know that [light-emitting diodes] were going to be around in 2015?”

Modeling for future energy use is another concern, making it difficult for India to draft its INDCs, according to Ajay. Structural changes that occur in developing countries are “entirely impossible to predict,” he said, noting that when India experienced low growth in the past, “carbon intensity actually increased.” Meanwhile, the current modeling of India’s 2030 energy use scenarios coming from institutions and experts is “all over the place … so what do I pick out” to determine INDCs? Ajay asked.

He’s also skeptical about India’s ability to make commitments and the necessary policy interventions, regulations, and incentives to achieve them for the commitment period.

“This country has never planned for 15 years, we have five-year plans, sometimes there [are] proposed plans for 10 years — how do we do 15 years?” he argued. “This is unheard of in our planning system … because you are locking in choices that future policymakers will make. I predict it will fall flat on its face when countries realize they can’t deliver it.”

Stakeholders also voiced concerns about the iffy legal nature of INDCs; how “ratcheting up” would occur if the target of capping the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees — which many scientists believe would avert the worst effects of climate change — is not reached after all the INDCs are added up; and the INDC framework not addressing adaptation and compensation for climate change-related damage, caused by events such as cyclones and droughts.

There’s a “very strong desire” among Indian stakeholders for INDCs to include “a strong attention to adaptation, and compensation for loss and damage,” Vikrom said.

What do Indian stakeholders want to see in India’s INDCs?

The wide consensus is for a “simple, fairly conservative approach,” Vikrom said. “Numbers can be modified between 2015 and 2020, when there is clarity on the legal status of INDCs, levels of financing and technology mechanisms.”

The view is that a simple approach is better as many of India’s sector targets don’t match the commitment period, he added. There’s also consensus that emissions intensity targets “linked to [gross domestic product] and growth” should be the basis of India’s INDCs.

Ajay is calling for India’s INDCs to be flexible, with commitments made at “a fairly aggregate level,” and detailing on finance added later to allow for cost changes.

Jayant Mauskar, a retired Indian bureaucrat who was previously associated with India’s climate negotiations, meanwhile favors regulatory measures to be left out of India’s INDCs as the nation has “less money and more demands.”

Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, a member of the prime minister’s Council on Climate Change, also told Devex he was disappointed by the lack of receptiveness from developed nations on technical cooperation, and calls for the Green Climate Fund to be used to buy out technology to make it freely available for developing countries.

U.S.-based chemicals company “DuPont has recently come out with a substitute which avoids [greenhouse gas-trapping hydrofluorocarbons used in air conditioners] but the costs are much higher, so what are you doing, you’re forcing down an agreement on phasing out HFCs,” said Dasgupta, a former diplomat, who’s advised India’s delegation to UNFCCC meetings since 2002. “This is driven by profit. It’s not driven by climate change, so unfortunately I can’t say that we’re seeing a very receptive atmosphere”

So when might India make its INDCs public?

“There’s politics about it. My own guess is it will be later, rather than sooner,” Mauskar told Devex.

Observing the debate, Action On Climate Today program leader Kai Kim Chiang told Devex some of the talk centered on the need to “determine your INDC on adaptation first, and then let that drive your development scenario. But national development policies should be the driving force and climate change mitigation and adaptation should be considered within the larger scheme of things.”

Chiang made clear that she was not speaking on behalf of the program, which has climate projects in South Asia, and shared some of her thoughts on how financing plays into the INDCs.

“My understanding is that within India, … the Indian government [has] resources that they can tap into, and maybe just additional technical assistance is all really that’s needed,” she suggested.

Countries have already started submitting their INDCs, with the U.S. promising to slash emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2015, the European Union planning to cut by at least 40 percent by 2030, with 1990 as a baseline, and Russia saying it would reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020, also with a 1990 baseline. INDCs have also come from Norway, Switzerland, Gabon and Mexico.

With India pegged to become the world’s most populous nation by 2028, its contribution to any climate agreement will have major implications on whether the world heads toward a low carbon future. Indian stakeholders say they are keen for emissions to be addressed and climate negotiations to be robust and successful. But so far it seems they’re still wary of making firm, long-term commitments to tackle global warming.

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    Alys Francis

    Alys Francis is a freelance journalist covering development and other news in South Asia for international media outlets. Based in India, she travels widely around the region and has covered major events, including national elections in India and Nepal. She is interested in how technology is aiding development and rapidly altering societies.