The yoga strategy

 By James Crabtree

Inspired by Gandhi, India’s plan against CO2, by 2030, provides for a 40 percent increase in renewables compared with the current energy mix, thanks to the environmental support of Prime Minister Modi. Yet while the plan seemed in keeping with India’s previously unwavering view that industrial countries should bear the full costs of any future action to remedy the planet’s changing climate, its pledges signaled an unmistakable change in approach

(This article, written by James Crabtree, head of FT Mumbai bureau, is a preview from print edition 30 of Oil Magazine)

India was the last country to unveil its plan to curb carbon emissions in the run-up to crucial climate change summit in Paris. The delay was chosen with care, allowing it to be released on October 2nd, the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi. Each participant in the Paris talks had brought out what is known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) plan, putting forward steps that, taken together, would go on form the basis a hoped-for agreement to hold down increases in global temperatures. India’s final contribution struck a folksy tone, referencing yoga and ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts, while including a quote from Mr Gandhi that seemed to chide the world’s richer nations: “Earth has enough resources to meet people’s needs, but will never have enough to satisfy people’s greed.”  Yet while the document’s tone seemed in keeping with India’s previously unwavering view that industrial countries should bear the full costs of any future action to remedy the planet’s changing climate, its pledges signaled an unmistakable change in approach.

A transformation that focuses on renewables

For a start, India pledged to cut the carbon intensity of its economy —  the amount of greenhouses gases emitted per unit of gross domestic product — to around a third of the level seen in 2005. There would be a rapid increase in renewable energy, hitting 350 gigawatts by 2030, up nearly ten-fold from the current level, with an especially dramatic jump in solar generation. And while India’s carbon emissions would continue to rise over that period, it pledged that 40 per cent of its energy would came from non-fossil fuels by 2030. “It is a huge jump for India, therefore it is a very ambitious target,” environment minister Prakash Javadekar said at the INDC launch in New Delhi, referring in particular to the energy intensity target. Many observers agreed. “It was impressive, and chock full of policy specifics in a very helpful way,” says David Waskow, director of the climate initiative at the World Resources Institute. “If they can be achieved, it would be a real leap ahead.”

India’s newly ambitious policy is just one element lying behind a tentative sense of optimism among climate activists that two weeks of frenetic negotiation at the Paris summit might produce a reasonable deal. If that is to happen, India’s involvement will be critical. Asia’s third largest economy is already the world’s third largest greenhouse emitter, behind only China and America. But India’s rapid growth over the coming decades, as well as the ample reserves of inexpensive coal which lie temptingly beneath its soil, mean that a successful pact to limit climate increases will be all-but impossible without its say-so. Going on to strike such a deal remains a formidably complex task. The Paris summit is widely seen as the last chance to deliver one that has a hope of limiting global temperature increases to two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, the benchmark target for global climate policy. This follows a range of previous failed agreements, ranging from 1997’s Kyoto protocol, which was never signed by the United States, to the 2009 Copenhagen summit, which ended with no agreement at all.

Also essential is the commitment of the developing countries

This time, negotiators shifted tactics, with each nation given the task suggesting its own targets — the INDCs — prior to the talks. This coincided with a wider intellectual shift, in which emerging economies such as China and India began to view climate action not simply as the responsibility of western nations, but of developing economies as well. “Each now country has to look at what they can do on the ground,” says Saleemul Huq, a climate scientist at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. “In the past, it was much more about trying to get other countries to do things, and resisting having to do things at home, which is one of the reasons why India was often see in the past as a spoiler, or having a recalcitrant attitude, on climate issues.”  In the past India’s was perhaps the strongest advocate that the moral responsibilities for climate mitigation lay with richer nations, whose growth since the industrial revolution had produced nearly all of the world’s carbon emissions. Often known as the principle of equity, this sat at the heart of the negotiation strategy of the so-called like-minded group of developing countries (LMDC), an influential group of a few dozen emerging nations. In this, India had plenty of of justification. Although a large carbon producer, it remains a relatively minor emitter in per capita terms, far below China, whose rapid recent growth has pushed per capita emissions above the global average. As one of the world’s least developed nations, India is also among the most vulnerable to climate change, with hundreds of millions of citizens set to face climate-related hardships ranging from droughts to internal migration.


India energy mix

One hundred billion dollars for solar power

A number of other factors had also begun to break down the once clear climate divide between countries like India and the richer OECD nations.. The most significant came last November, in a bilateral deal between the US and China, in which the Chinese agreed to reduce and ultimately stop emissions increases by 2030. Although widely welcomed globally, some in India viewed the move with suspicion, implying that China, the world’s most important emerging economy, had abandoned its fellow developing nations, in the process junking the principle that the west was responsible for clearing up the climate mess it had created. A swathe of further bilateral deals have since followed, including one between India and America in January. “You now have much more complicated coalitions than simply the developed world on one side, and the developing over on the other, which makes an agreement easier,” says Mr Waskow. “There are some questions where the US has been aligned with South Africa and Brazil, rather than the other rich countries, so you have all sorts of new alliances now.” The changes provide some of the background context to India’s changed climate policy. Much of the impetus for its new ambition, however, only arrived following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year. A reform-minded leader, Mr Modi is an enthusiast for renewable energy, and solar in particular, which is a popular source of power in his home start of Gujarat. Earlier this year, he unveiled a plan to plough $100bn into increasing solar capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022, up from just four gigawatts today, helping to reach a goal of 175 gigawatts of renewable power overall. October’s INDC then bumped up this target further as part of India’s new 40 per cent non-fossil fuel pledge. “The point is that India has expanded its renewable energy and non-fossil targets, which were already quite aggressive,” says Arunabha Ghosh, head of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water think tank in New Delhi. The targets are especially impressive, Mr Ghosh argues, because India’s huge reserves of coal would otherwise have seen traditional fossil fuels make up roughly three quarters of electricity generation up to 2050, with renewables at around a tenth.

Instead, India now aims to push its share of renewables to a level only achieved by a handful of rich countries like Germany, but to do so far more quickly. “It is a huge shift from what would otherwise have been the case,” he says. Sceptics of India’s new approach tend to fall into two camps, the first doubting that the renewables ramp up is achievable. Moving from 4 to 100 gigawatts in only 7 years requires an unprecedented expansion. Here India’s record is patchy, with previous plans to deliver significant increases from sources such as nuclear, as well as coal-fired power itself, struggling in the face of political obstacles. The bureaucracy involved in conducting large numbers of solar auctions and signing myriad new power agreements remains formidable. Even so, few disagree that a major increase in solar generation is likely. Sumant Sinha, chief executive of renewable energy company ReNew Power, says a dramatic ramp-up towards the end of this decade could even bring the 100 gigawatt target within reach.  “I see no reason why this should not be achieved,” he says.

To hit its targets, India needs both money and technology, two areas are likely to be a source of tricky negotiations in Paris

A green future subject to funding 

The second set of doubts focuses instead on what happens after 2022. If indeed Mr Modi can hit his earlier renewables target, hitting the newer goal for 2030 should be straightforward, making the INDC targets seem unambitious. “Reaching the higher target from there [2022] is not a huge increase, my sense is they have given themselves plenty of room,” Mr Sinha says. The fact that India, unlike China, has so far not put forward a data at which it expects emissions to begin falling has also been criticised by some climate activists. More generally, to hit its targets, India needs both money and technology, two areas are likely to be a source of tricky negotiations in Paris. Funding is a major problem. India says meeting its climate pledges requires an investment of $2.5 trillion. Some of that will be found domestically. But in common with other developing economies, it expects much of it to be provided by wealthier nations. In theory, these industrialised economies have pledged to put $100bn per year into an initiative called the green climate fund, but contributions are currently running at a tiny fraction of that level. Much of that money would fund the development of new technologies, another controversial topic. Mr Ghosh argues new tie-ups are needed to push forward technologies such as energy storage and power management. Although increasingly controversial in Europe, clean coal should be a priority to too, he adds: “Coal will remain an important part of the energy system. The question isn’t coal or no coal, it is coal versus cleaner coal.” Yet persuading industrialised economies either to stump up cash or to share advanced technology remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a deal in Paris. Overall, climate scientists are sanguine even about what even a relatively successful deal in Paris might achieve. Totting up all of the pledges made in the various INDC documents, few think the summit can achieve a plan to limit global warming to 2 degrees.

At present, even with heightened contributions from countries like India and China, a deal capable of hitting slightly less than 3 degrees is more likely. Even so, given the failures of past negotiations, many believe Paris can be the beginning of a process which could hit in time bring about the more ambitious target, with countries like India playing a full role. “If you want to compare things with the past, i think what India in planning is quite ambitious, but if you want to compare this to what we need to do, we are not doing nearly enough,” says Mr Huq. “We need to be thinking about the next phase after this, of ratcheting up more….. But if we all start with this level of ambition, and get a deal, then it will easier and easier to do the next stage.”

about the author
James Crabtree
James Crabtree is the head of the Financial Times’ Mumbai bureau, where he leads the paper’s coverage of corporate India, having previously worked on the op-ed page as Comment Editor. Before joining the FT, Mr Crabtree was Deputy Editor at Prospect, Britain’s leading monthly magazine of politics and ideas. Prior to returning to journalism, he worked as a policy advisor in the U.K. Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, and for various think tanks in Britain and America. He also spent a number of years living in the U.S., initially as a Fulbright Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.