India submits 'strong' national climate action plan, committing to cut emissions intensity by up to 35 per cent

James Murray
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Final INDC from a major economic power commits India to cutting carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 33 to 35 per cent against 2005 levels by 2030

India has become the last major emitter to submit a detailed national climate action plan to the UN ahead of December's Paris Climate Summit, committing to cutting the emissions intensity of its economy by 33 to 35 per cent against 2005 levels by 2030.

The new emissions target is the centrepiece of an eight-point plan that forms the country's so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). It also features a commitment to secure around 40 per cent of the country's power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, a goal to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tonnes through new forest cover, and measures to enhance India's climate resilience and secure external funding to support climate-related projects.

A target that allows the country to cut emissions per unit of GDP would allow for India's overall emissions to rise through to 2030 as the country's economy grows. However, observers hailed the new plan as a "strong" commitment to curbing emissions that would drive further expansion of the country's already significant wind, solar, and energy efficiency sectors.

"India's strong climate plan offers a comprehensive approach to curb the worst impacts of climate change," said Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. "Its commitment to renewable energy will pave the way to sustainable economic growth that creates jobs, protects natural resources, and provides cleaner air and water for Indian citizens. India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy, and is poised to play an active and influential role in the international climate negotiations this December."

India's INDC highlights that the country faces significant on-going development challenges, but it argues that curbing emissions can help it meet its goals relating to poverty eradication, food security, education and health, while also protecting it from significant climate risks.

It also notes that it remains on track to meet its existing voluntary target to cut the emissions intensity of the economy by 20 to 25 per cent against 2005 levels by 2020. It argues that a "slew of policy measures", including its high profile commitments to accelerate the roll out of solar power and improve the efficiency of its coal power plants, has meant that "the emission intensity of our GDP has decreased by 12 per cent between 2005 and 2010".

"It is a matter of satisfaction that United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in its Emission Gap Report 2014 has recognised India as one of the countries on course to achieving its voluntary goal," the document adds, noting that "the energy intensity of the economy has decreased from 18.16 goe (grams of oil equivalent) per Rupee of GDP in 2005 to 15.02 goe per Rupee GDP in 2012, a decline of over 2.5 per cent per annum".

The action plan also proposes to "put forward and further propagate a healthy and sustainable way of living based on traditions and values of conservation and moderation". As such, the introduction to the INDC highlights how conservation forms a key part of Indian culture, quoting Mahatma Gandhi's instruction that "one must care about the world one will not see".

The announcement comes at the end of a week that has seen tens of INDCs submitted, and falls on the same day as Argentina and the Philippines became the latest large economies to put forward their action plans.

The Philippines said it planned to cut emissions by around 70 per cent by 2030 against a business-as-usual scenario for the period from 2000 to 2030, while also investing in enhanced climate adaptation measures.

Meanwhile, Argentina said it would cut emissions 15 per cent against a business-as-usual scenario for 2030, but would upgrade the target to 30 per cent in the event of it securing "adequate and predictable international financing; support for transfer, innovation and technology development; [and] support for capacity building".

The flurry of submissions will further fuel hopes that the system of INDCs can provide the basis of an ambitious new international climate change treaty.

Mark Kenber chief executive of The Climate Group NGO argued the clear commitments to depart from a business-as-usual development path represented another major boost to the prospects of an ambitious climate treaty being agreed in Paris.

"India's INDC follows a week where climate has dominated headlines for all the right reasons," he said. "We've seen Brazil and South Africa make commitments, states, regions and cities set new carbon targets, and organisations representing no fewer than six million companies say they all back a deal in Paris. This is a world apart from where we were going into Copenhagen.

"The wind is clearly in our sails. But we now need to turn this momentum into a ratcheting up of ambition and confidence that a strong deal will have significant economic and financial benefits... The goal, as signaled to us by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar this week, of transforming India's economy into a leading global clean tech hub and delivering the country's economic development strategy on the back of this, is further evidence that the center of gravity has fundamentally and irreversibly shifted."

However, the latest submissions also came as a new analysis from the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) group of research bodies suggested the emissions reductions pledged so far through the INDCs would still not meet the internationally agreed goal of limiting temperature increases to 2C.

The study calculated the plan would limit average temperature increases to 2.7C by 2100, marking an improvement on the 3.1C projection estimated based on emissions pledges made by last December, but still short of the 2C goal.

"We're below three degrees for the first time," Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, which is part of CAT, told news agency Reuters. "We're obviously far from where we need to be, but this is a signal that the process can work."

The findings will provide further ammunition for those countries calling for the Paris Summit to deliver an agreement that contains a "ratchet mechanism" that allows countries to increase their emissions pledges over time to deliver on the 2C goal.

 

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC

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