29 September 2009

Healthy internal debate on India climate stand missing

By: Kaavya Nag

The Indian high command has been gunning for a change in image and a slight shift of position on climate change. In what is internationally being acknowledged as a welcome move, minster of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh has been globe trotting and publicising India's actions and future plans on climate change.

In China he said India could benefit from Chinese collaboration on climate. Back home in India he agreed we had a long way to go. Soon after in the United States, at the UN climate summit he vociferously emphasised India was keen to be a deal-maker, and show leadership on climate issues.

Apart from speaking of  domestic plans, he publicly stated the possibility of a national bill on climate mitigation, implicit or soft targets, and the possible formation of a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority, that would direct and guide mitigation efforts and aspirational targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. There has also been recent reference to making the process of reporting on mitigation cuts more transparent and accountable. These are welcome moves that show that India can be a leader in the climate debate.

However, Opposition silence on this key issue is worrying. Agreed that the UPA has a strong majority in Parliament - enough to silence any serious dissent. But amidst all this frenetic political activity, a robust dialogue on this hot issue is seriously lacking. The opposition has neither welcomed the move, nor slammed it. They only 'unofficially' or 'softly' think that politicians are undermining the 'hard-fought' stand on climate change, and that there is little political discussion or consensus before taking a decision on such vital matters.

Surely the BJP (after handling their internal crisis) and the Communists can voice their concerns at the least? Or is the future of 500 million people by 2050 not worth the effort of debating? Jairam Ramesh says internal political dialogue and consensus is an essential - it is most important that future governments carry forward the stands and positions taken now. Flip flop in 2020 is not an option clearly, so why the silence?

24 September 2009

India puts its weight behind climate deal

By: Kaavya Nag

It is possible that with all the numerous high-level international summits taking place this month, with Japan's new Hatoyama Initiative, and China's serious pledges on climate action, the international community missed out a rather important development in India changing its position on climate.

No, India hasn't yet made a complete turn around. It hasn't said it will agree to legally binding emission cuts on a deal that could be made at Copenhagen. But it has said what it has consciously refrained from even stating, in the past fifteen odd years.

The big shift is in India publicly stating that it agrees to pursue unilateral voluntary measures (no values on the table as yet) for 2020. In a move welcomed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, our environment minister Jairam Ramesh said 'we are now talking of voluntary unilateral implicitly targeted mitigation outcomes, not just actions with specific quantitative targets enshrined by law'. He also mentioned a 'per capita emission plus'.

Always one to shy away from legally binding targets, and one of the key players to push for an equitable treaty mirorring historical responsibility (necessary and key guidelines of climate negotiations today), India had probably gained the reputation of a deal-staller. Word has it that India's negotiators talk tough and have talked tough ever since the Kyoto Protocol came into action. India and China's refusal to change their negotiating position despite the need for a compromise, even after the EU's commitment to big emission cuts, has meant that Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the United States would not commit to any ambition. This was clearly visible in Australia and New Zealand's caveats to cut even 10 percent emissions from 2005 levels 'on the condition...'.

China in the mean while, has quietly become the world's largest emitter, but also has the largest installed wind energy capacity, solar photovoltaic manufacturing units, and has reportedly planted twice the number of trees as compared to the rest of the world. They have also calculated their current and projected emissions, say they will peak by 2030, and have committed to participating meaningfully at the climate negotiations.
Clearly, it is time for India to bite the bit. India is now angling for a change in international perception. But patience wears thin as talk (and no action) on our National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and other domestic actions to cut emissions have remained on paper. The secretive draft of the solar mission suggests it will be released on 14th November 2009, everything else is 'proposed to be out by December'.Surely we are rather famous for Missions, Policies, Missions and Policies?

Only recently has the rhetoric changed, with the PM asking India to be a deal-maker, not a deal breaker.
The PM has spoken of a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority (NCCMA) - that will help realise implicit targets, and Jairam Ramesh has been speaking of a proposal to introduce an overarching central law that will guide the process.Opposition from the opposition is an drama we must expect once our ministers ready for the November session of Parliament. But as Jairam Ramesh says, we need to have everyone in the country on our side before we push for international commitments.

At this point in time, with a real climate crisis looming large (non-believers please see the IPCC report and anti-alarmists please read the papers), global collective cooperation is of utmost importance. This opportune moment will pass us by in a few years from now, and that would really make us 'the age of stupid'.

22 September 2009

India does more climate homework

By: Kaavya Nag

Makes 'nuanced shift' on climate position

He may not have made one bolt-from-the-blue statement that got him in trouble and on prime-time news although he may have come close. But many would agree that Jairam Ramesh, our Minister of State for Environment and Forests, has managed to keep the environment and his Ministry in the news every single day since the time he assumed office – whether owing to the introduction of new legislations, statements or interviews.

This in itself is a record for any environment minister in India till date. But Jairam Ramesh hasn’t stopped at that. He has exercised thought leadership in making the ministry more accountable, transparent and accessible, and in his efforts to bring in policies that will live on after he leaves office.

Sure enough, Mr. Paryavaran Bhavan has made his ministry a much more interesting and ‘happening’ place to be in. But intentional or not, he hasn’t stopped at that either. Right from the time UPA 2.0 took effect, Mr. Ramesh has been towing the government line on India’s position at the international climate negotiations. India has long maintained that developed nations must bear historic responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, that they must act first and fastest on the issue, and that they must pay developing nations for using up their ‘development space’, for adapting to climate change, and to buy expensive but cleaner technologies.

But August and early September saw the PM himself urging India to be more proactive in climate discussions, and for India not to be viewed as negotiation blocker. This resulted in a ‘greening the face’ of India’s negotiating profile and position. There has been a steady increase in policies that can dually benefit sustainability and emission mitigation. A slew of independent publications on India’s emission trajectory also boosts the greening move, and provides indigenous food for thought on the climate debate.

At the core of it, India’s international position has changed little. However, Ramesh accepts there is a ‘nuanced shift’ that India is ready to make, by agreeing to possibly quantify cuts in emissions into a ‘broadly indicative number’.

By a ‘nuanced shift’ Ramesh means that India is ready to set itself non-binding targets to cut carbon emissions, through the use of implicit targets – say a mandatory fuel efficiency law and building codes by 2011, or that 50% of all coal power must come from clean coal. To bring this into effect, Ramesh has proposed an overarching central legislation to help guide actions that will cut emissions. While this may well be a difficult proposition – it involves stepping on the toes of the heavyweight ministries of power, urban development and agriculture and the opposition, just to mention a few, the wily politician in Ramesh realizes that there needs to be enduring political consensus within the country which can then result in successful international agreements.

The Prime Minister has also proposed to set up a National Climate Change Mitigation Authority (NCCMA) that will assign and monitor green targets to be achieved by 2020 and after.

This slow volte-face is the first time ever that India has talked of quantifying emissions, or of making moves to reduce them. These developments are also refreshing in that one is reassured that India’s positions on climate neither are staid rhetoric nor cast in stone. They indicate that the debate is still evolving, moving towards a promising balance between adaptation and mitigation, and that this is a rather momentous achievement.

15 September 2009

Wanted! Renewable Energy Policy for India

By: Kaavya Nag

Renewable energy is today, the fastest growing energy sector in the world, with the capacity to supply half the energy needs of the world by 2050. It continues to remain a top candidate for a safe and optimal development strategy that decouples high-carbon technologies from economic growth.

Nations that can afford to invest in renewable energy unilaterally are making strong choices; several have even enacted renewable energy laws as early as 2000. India too, as a major developing economy, is taking similar strides, although not at comparable speeds. 

In recent years, India has emerged as favourable destination for renewable energy investors, and continues to introduce promising policies that will bring down the cost of renewable energy technologies, and make it on par with coal-based power in a decade or two from now.

However, a glaring gap in India’s grand renewable energy plans is the lack of a National Renewable Energy Policy, still under development through the MNRE. International trends indicate that in spite of electricity laws, countries like Germany, China, Australia and Austria for example, have renewable energy policies and laws that build stability and security that investors seek in making the required large-scale investments for renewables.

Nevertheless, particular positioning still gives India an advantage.  A latest McKinsey report suggests that 80 percent of 2030-India is yet to be built. In addition, India currently has an installed capacity of 13.2 GW of renewable energy, but at full stretch and owing to its tropical geography, has the potential of generating 90 GW of energy from renewable energy sources. The combination of geographic position and being at an initial stage of growth give India a unique opportunity to deploy low-carbon and energy efficient technologies that will strengthen the country’s energy security and leapfrog inefficient technologies. But this is an advantage we will not have by 2030 or even 2020.

So far, although steps in the right direction include policy-level, top-down drivers and soon-to-be-announced missions, we show our desire to move along the low-carbon track with a typical Indian inertia capable of flummoxing any fast-acting nation.

While the Energy Conservation Act 2001 and the Electricity Act 2003 exist for electricity and energy conservation in India, most renewable energy sources do not come under the purview of any law. To add to this glaring lack of general direction, constitutionally, electricity is a state subject. This means that rules and policies vary between states, and renewable energy promotion is left to individual states. In total, this has translated into fewer incentives for investment in the sector.

Efforts to streamline policies are already under way – the outcome of the National Action Plan on Climate Change has been a Renewable Energy Certificate Mechanism (REC) and the proposed National Renewable Portfolio Standard, both due to be released by December 2009. Both these aim for a holistic approach and integrated energy planning, while accommodating pre-existing laws and policies.

However, large-scale and ambitious development and deployment of renewable energy is only possible with government legislation, policies, and financial and other incentive mechanisms that then create and build the necessary environment for investment and business opportunities. The Indian juggernaut must move forward faster and capitalize completely on this dually beneficial opportunity.

References: 1.Handbook of Best Practices for the Successful Deployment of grid-connected Renewable Energy, distributed generation, cogeneration and combines heat power in India. USEA for APPCDC, 2008; 2. Overview of Renewable Energy potential of India. Meisen P. 2006. Global Energy Network Institute; 3.Environmental and Energy Sustainability: An approach for India. Mckinsey & Company 2009; 4. India Wind Energy Outlook 2009. Global Wind Energy Council; 5.Climate Change and India – Some Major Issues and Policy Implications. Prasad H.A.C. & Kochher J.S. 2009. Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India; 6.Identifying optimal legal frameworks for renewable energy in India. 2008. Baker & McKenzie.

11 September 2009

Climate Security: Himalayas on Thin Ice

By: Kaavya Nag

Climate change is no longer just about tackling and solving an environmental and social crisis. Nor is it just about changing the energy challenge. It is also being recognized as a challenge that carries serious implications for international peace.
With seven nations, two economic giants, mountain territory, unclear and contested borders and a fair number of ongoing disputes, the Himalayan region is a potent mix of elements already on thin ice.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), the mean annual temperature in the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayan region is expected to go up by 3.8 °C.  Will rapidly melting glaciers and permanently ice-covered regions alter high-altitude battlefields, and exacerbate conflict to even higher heights? Will global warming change the dynamics between India, China and Pakistan – the three key players in the region?

The Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau are regions with large-scale military presence, and have been marked with the sounds of war ever since India’s Independence and the formation of Pakistan in 1947, and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1949.

Whether on the Aksai Chin, the Baltoro, Siachen, Kargil, Arunachal, Sikkim, Sino-Bhutan border, Tibet, or the Karakoram, the Abode of the Gods has always been a hotly contested region. War at 14,000 feet has always been strategically too important to too many nations to give up without a serious fight.

Given the history of high-level conflict in the region, de-militarisation is out of the question in the foreseeable future. However, the Himalayas are strategically sensitive for more important reasons. Seven major rivers are fed by Himalayan glaciers - their waters feed an estimated 1 billion people. The ice that feeds them is melting fast, and this also has serious implications for glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and landslides in the region.

Access to water is likely to become a key security issue for India, China and all Himalayan states, as they try to maintain high economic growth rates and sustain large agrarian populations.

That is not all. Climate refugees are likely to be a serious issue to deal with especially in the high altitudes. High altitude disasters will become more frequent with climate change, and armed forces play an important role in providing timely aid, rescue and in rebuilding infrastructure - a role that will possibly take up a considerable portion of their time in the near future.

A report published by Indian military think tank, Institute for defense studies and analyses (IDSA) attempted to understand the geopolitical dimensions of climate change.

The Indian government has announced its willingness to cooperate with Pakistan on the issue of climate change. India has also initiated work with China on glacier research, although it is wary of ‘Chinese scientists walking all over Indian glaciers’ (read caution after 1962).

These processes mark the start of crucial trans boundary dialogues outside of border disputes that will play an important role in de-escalating overt security tension in the Himalayas and hopefully moving towards a more secure region.

Ref: Pai, N; April 2008; Indian National Interest Policy Brief.