India commits to clean growth

India is the last major economy to present its climate targets in advance of the UN climate talks in Paris in December. Unlike the US and Europe, the government of Narendra Modi is not committing to an absolute reduction in CO2 emissions, but it will expand its use of renewables. Matthias Peer reports from Bangkok.

India submitted its climate targets to the UNFCCC. While the world’s third largest emitter has ruled out absolute emission reductions, it has pledged to expanding renewable energy production. (Photo credit: Judith Zimmermann)

India submitted its climate targets to the UNFCCC. While the world’s third largest emitter has ruled out absolute emission reductions, it has pledged to expanding renewable energy production. (Photo credit: Judith Zimmermann)

India continues to turn to the words of Mahatma Gandhi, even when it comes to climate protection: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” This famous quote was included in the 38-page climate commitment submitted by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UN climate organisation, the UNFCCC, in Bonn. It was the last major economy to do so.

Rapidly growing economy

Gandhi’s words run like a common thread throughout the climate targets, which India –the third largest CO2 emitter in the world – presented in the run-up to the UN climate talks in Paris: the Indian subcontinent does not want to sacrifice strong economic growth needed to better the lives of the large parts of its population still living in poverty. At the same time, it wants to curb its economy’s greedy pursuit of cheaper fossil fuels.

Modi’s government has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity over the next 15 years by one third compared to 2005. This means for every rupee made, India will emit less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it did 10 years ago. But as the Indian economy is growing strongly – it is expected to triple by 2030 – the country will generate significantly more emissions in the future that it does today. Its climate pledge is merely to slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

No absolute emission reductions

Unlike other major polluting economies such as the US, the EU, Brazil and China, India is not committing to an absolute reduction in CO2 emissions. “This is a very conservative approach,” criticised Durwood Zaelke, a climate change expert and president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, a research centre with offices in Washington and Geneva. “India could do much better.”

In the past, the Indian government has argued it is unfair that rich countries, which are largely responsible for climate change, now demand far-reaching concessions from poor countries to curb emissions and slow down climate change.

India also maintains that the statistics have been distorted: taken as a whole, India is indeed a major greenhouse gas emitter. But with a population of 1.3 billion, it is also the second largest country in the world. Calculated on a per capita basis, each Indian is responsible for a modest 1.7 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. By comparison, each American is on average responsible for ten times that amount.

Cooperation with Germany

With this in mind, some environmentalists even welcome India’s new self-restraint. Greenpeace calls it a step in the right direction, although it regrets that the country will continue to expand its use of coal-fired electricity in the pursuit of economic growth. At the same time, Modi has pledged a cleaner India when it comes to energy production: 40 per cent of the country’s electricity should come from renewable or other low-carbon sources by 2030.

In the next five years alone India will increase its production of renewable energy fivefold to 175 gigawatts. Modi hopes that Europe will support his efforts. At a meeting on Monday in New Delhi with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the two were expected to hold talks on deepening bilateral engagement on a wide range of subjects, including renewable energy.

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