Shankar Sharma: A quick Analysis of India’s INDC to UNFCCC

India submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to UNFCCC in Oct. 2015 as a part of its obligation to the global community.

A high level understanding of the efficiency and harnessing & distribution of our natural resources within the country should indicate that India can and must do much more to reduce GHG emissions not only as its obligations to the global community but also to ensure sustainable welfare measures for all sections of its own society. On the same account it should also be mentioned here that every country, except perhaps very poor African countries, can and must do much more to reduce the GHG emissions.

At the global level scenario the total commitments by 140 odd countries so far, including India, is estimated to be far below the needed levels of GHG reduction commitments as projected by IPCC. Hence it should be a matter of great concern to all of us.

A quick read of the official INDC document provides a set of contrasting statements and facts. Whereas there is a talk of high moral grounds, great tradition of our ancestors, simple life style, poverty of our people, inequitable distribution of wealth within the country etc., the INDC seem to make a claim that the country has the right to pollute even more for many more years in burning more of fossil fuels, as has been done by the developed countries during the last 150-200 years. But the gigantic impacts of extracting and burning more fossil fuels on environment, social and health aspects of our communities has not been fully acknowledged.

It is not enough if the emission intensity of our economy is reduced or percentage of renewable energy is increased. What we need is the reduction in absolute levels of total GHG emissions as early as possible. But this is unlikely to occur with the intentions mentioned in INDC.

It is almost impossible to see any economic rationalisation in continuing with coal power plants anywhere in the world, including India; especially since the last 15 years when the health and environmental impacts of coal power have become clear, and when solar power cost has plunged. It is much more so in the case of India keeping in view that we already are suffering hugely from the air and water pollution impacts. Taking a rational look at the overall efficiency of coal power cycle, it was difficult to see any rationality with coal power even before year 2000. Few years ago some one had commented that it may be more efficient / economical to hand over lumps of coal free of cost to people to use at their homes rather than supplying them coal based electricity through a grid network. So horrible has been coal power’s economic rationality all along.

Hence, even if India becomes successful in realising 40% of it’s power through non-fossil fuels by 2030, we may end up seeing a massive amounts of total GHG emissions because of the vast increase in the total installed power production capacity by then in a business as usual scenario. A lot of coal power capacity would be added (a total of 800,000 MW power capacity is projected by 2032 in the Integrated Energy Policy of the Planning Commission) by 2030. Even assuming that all the future coal power plants in the country are located on the sites of old coal power plants, and are much more efficient with super critical or ultra critical boiler parameters, we will have much more total GHG emissions from the coal power sector than it is now in a business as usual scenario.

What is needed is the reduction in total coal consumption, which is possible only if we considerably reduce the number of coal power plants and their total capacity; reduce the petrol and diesel consumption; and assist our poor people with efficient energy systems such as efficient stoves and renewable energy systems. Additionally, we must stop diverting our remaining patches of forest lands and do all that is possible to increase our green cover. All these are entirely feasible, and most importantly essential for the true welfare of our people.

As per INDC scenario by 2030, even though the total GHG emissions in the country can be some percentage points less than what would have been otherwise, it will be much more than that of 2005 levels because of sheer numbers of additional human activities such as coal power plants and auto-mobile vehicles. The efficiency in various sectors of our economy also is unacceptably low. There is no indication that the number of auto-mobiles will come down in the near future; and the number of polluting industries is only increasing.

When we consider all the associated issues of Climate Change from a true welfare perspective, it should become amply clear to even a common man that high levels of total GHG emissions, which is invariably linked to unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources, can never be in the true interest of our people. Since this is not acceptable, even from global warming perspective alone, India’s INDC target of 40% electricity from non-fossil fuels will not be good enough. There should have been a clear statement about peak GHG emissions and/or peak coal consumption. Given the necessary political will and effective participation from various sections of our society, it should be entirely feasible, techno-economically, to keep our total GHG emissions to a level even below that of 2005 by a suitable combination of measures such as energy efficiency, Demand Side Management, energy conservation, and wide spread usage of renewable energy in next 15 years. Hence India’s INDC can be termed as a disappointment. It should have been much more ambitious and practical at the same time.

Let us hope things will only improve from the present level for the benefit of not only our own people, but for the sake of entire humanity.