October 7, 2015

India's Conditional Unconditional Climate Pledge

Stephen Eule

India released its climate pledge on Friday, and as we expected, it doesn’t amount to much. That hasn’t stopped environmental groups from praising it, though, in hopes it will generate further momentum for a post-2020 deal in Paris later this year. Let’s face it, at this point, just about anything will do.

We’ve read over India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), and to be honest, it’s something of a muddle. You would expect that a national plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions would actually include data on greenhouse gas emissions. In this case, you’d be wrong. Anyway, we’ve done our best to sort things out and fill in the gaps, and here are the main points to consider:

India has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) 33% to 35% between 2005 and 2030. This may sound like a lot, but it’s not. Indeed, India reports that from 2005 to 2010, its emissions intensity fell 12%. So in 2010, 10 years before the start of the post-2020 commitment period, India had already achieved about a third of its goal.

India also said it would “achieve about 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 . . .”—here’s where things get a bit conditional—“. . . with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund.”

First, it’s important to note that this goal concerns generating capacity, not generation, and moreover, “non-fossil capacity”, not (as has been reported), “renewable capacity.” This means the goal includes nuclear power, which the country is really making a push to ramp up. And this doesn’t mean that renewable generation will approach anywhere near 40% of electricity generation. Coal will still be the main source of power production.

As Indian Minister for State for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy Piyush Goyal said earlier this year: “Just as in all other countries, including the developed world, coal will continue to remain the mainstay of our energy related needs for the foreseeable future. In all fairness, it would not be correct to say or to expect India to move away from coal when we are at the cusp of our developmental journey.”

India also vowed to create an “additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.” We figure that this will have a modest impact on emissions, maybe 200 to 225 million metric tons of CO2 by 2030.

Based on projections we’ve seen, these goals really don’t nudge the country’s emissions trajectory that much below business as usual—similar to the conclusion we drew about China’s pledge. Using the information provided in the Indian pledge, we estimate that even if India meets its goals, its emissions in 2030 will reach about 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalents—about an 80% increase from the current level—and possibly quite a bit beyond that.

India’s pledge also includes the following: “The successful implementation of [India’s] INDC is contingent upon an ambitious global agreement including additional means of implementation to be provided by developed country parties, technology transfer and capacity building following Article 3.1 and 4.7 of the Convention.” This is UNese for “none of this is going to happen without funding from developed countries.”

Oh, and what’s India’s initial cost estimate for its 15-year climate pledge? A cool $2.5 trillion.

To be fair, the Indians have been consistent on this financing point for years, so it’s really no surprise. We’ve said over and over again that developing countries are much more interested in advancing their economies than doing something about climate change. We’ve seen nothing in this and the other developing-country INDCs released to date that would make us change our minds.