India to focus on clean energy and air quality rather than GHG emissions

On Monday (April 6) at the Conference of State Environment and Forest Ministers, two weeks after the first formal deadline for UNFCCC post-2020 climate pledges (March 31), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that he would not succumb to foreign pressure to commit to carbon emission reductions, Reuters reported. Rather than follow the rest of the world’s guidelines and parameters on climate change, Modi told Indian citizens, “we can lead the world,” as “respect for environment is in our DNA.” In Modi’s plan the focus is less on emissions cuts and more on clean energy and traditional methods to fight climate change. Modi said that development and environmental protection can go hand in hand.

The Indian government would like to emit more in order to industrialize and bring its citizens out of poverty. India has long held the position that developed nations are responsible for most of the extra greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere today and therefore should take on the major responsibilities in mitigating climate change. However, India is the world’s third largest emitter of GHGs, and any real global progress on climate change would require India’s support. Many argue that the world does not stand a chance at against climate change unless major emerging economies like China and India agree to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. With China having committed to begin cutting emissions after a peak year around 2030 in an agreement with the US last year, and the US having already submitted their INDC together with the European Union, all eyes are now on India.

Whether or not India makes a plan to limit emissions will be very relevant in the UNFCCC climate talks in Paris later this December. There has been some indication that India might submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in August-September, yet this has not been confirmed by Modi. What India plans to include in its INDC is also still unclear. Two months ago, in February, Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change said at a conference in New Delhi organized by the think tank Council for Energy, Environment and Water, that the government was considering the idea of submitting two INDCs – one covering what it could do with its own resources, without financing and free technology transfers, and another covering what could be achieved with help from developed countries.

In the meantime, India has taken measures to address air pollution. An air quality index was launched on Monday, April 6 at the Conference of State Environment and Forest Minister, following last year’s World Health Organization survey finding that thirteen of the top twenty most polluted cities of the world are in India, with Dehli holding the number one spot. The new index will initially provide real time information on pollution levels in ten cities: Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. It is planned to extend the index to more than sixty cities. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the air quality index “may prove to be a major impetus to improving air quality in urban areas, as it will improve public awareness in cities to take steps for air pollution mitigation.”

UPDATE: During the visit of Narendra Modi to France, Francois Hollande announced €2 billion in clean energy and efficiency funding for India, RTCC reports. Hollande says “we need India” for this year’s climate talks in Paris to be a success. Projects to receive funding include smart cities, renewables and nuclear.

(Image: PM Shri Narendra Modi at the Conference of State Environment & Forest Ministers, in New Delhi on April 06, 2015. Photo credit: Narendra Modi official website)