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Saturday, July 26, 2008

India unveils national climate change action plan

The country lists an eight-point agenda for climate change mitigation efforts in various sectors but does not set emissions targets or provide policy direction on its climate change mitigation programme.

India has finally unveiled its much-awaited National Action Plan on Climate Change whose main thrust is increasing the generation of solar power and greater energy efficiency. But the document that outlines eight programmes to tackle climate change lacks any clear targets for curbing emissions of conventional fossil fuels. It only categorically states that India’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions will “at no point exceed that of developed countries”.

The plan will be implemented through eight missions that represent multi-pronged, long-term and integrated strategies for achieving key goals in the context of climate change. As well as a commitment to increased investments in solar power and improved energy efficiency, the action plan also commits India to launching new sustainable habitats, improving water resource management, safeguarding Himalayan glacier and mountain ecosystems, enhancing support for other ecosystems, adapting agricultural practices to make them more resilient to climate change, and establishing a body to research new agricultural techniques.

The government aims to save 10,000 megawatts by 2012 through energy-saving measures. To this end, it has set a minimum target of 5% renewable energy to be procured by power grids on a competitive basis, and included nuclear power as part of its energy basket. Five thousand megawatts’ worth of coal plants will be retired by 2012.

While the promotion of solar power and solar derivatives will reduce India’s dependence on conventional fuel sources, the plan also emphasises demand-side management by aiming to reduce consumption levels by both domestic as well as industrial power consumers. For this the government is expected to put in place specific energy efficiency targets for various industrial sectors.

The plan outlines a number of market-based measures to achieve energy savings and steer industry, manufacturers and businesses onto the low-carbon pathway. Appliance manufacturers that have higher energy ratings will get tax sops as will industries that adopt cleaner technologies. The auto industry will be expected to follow fuel-efficiency norms and also recycle waste and carbon-heavy components.

The plan makes it clear to the international community that India is taking these voluntary steps on a domestic level and reiterates that India will continue to push for a more equitable global climate pact that demands mandatory and greater emission cuts by richer nations.

Releasing the document in New Delhi on June 30, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh reiterated the Indian government’s stance that efforts to mitigate climate change would not come at the expense of the country’s economic growth. “Our vision is to make India’s economic development energy-efficient,” he said. “Our people have a right to economic and social development and to discard the ignominy of widespread poverty.”

He also signalled India’s support for the contraction and conversion model for curbing emissions, which argues that emissions from developing countries should fall to a point where per capita emissions have converged with those in developing economies. Singh insisted that, under the new plan, India would effectively conform to this model by ensuring its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would not exceed the per capita greenhouse gas emissions of developed industrialised countries. “This should be testimony enough, if one were needed, of the sincerity of purpose and sense of responsibility we bring to the global task at hand,” he said.

The document stresses that “India will engage actively in multilateral negotiations in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in a positive, constructive and forward-looking manner… Our objective will be to establish an effective, cooperative and equitable global approach based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and relative capabilities enshrined in the UNFCC”. It adds that the success of its efforts would be enhanced if developed nations fulfilled their commitments under the UNFCC to transfer additional financial resources and climate-friendly technologies to developing countries.

The launch of the document comes on the heels of reports claiming that the G8 group of industrialised nations is preparing to invest more than US$ 10 billion to support the development and deployment of clean technologies, primarily in emerging economies such as India and China.

Besides outlining a national strategy to curb climate change, the plan also makes some worrying predictions about India’s future if climate change accelerates at the currents pace. The document, which says India spends 2.6% of its GDP on adapting to the variables of climate change, projects a rise in temperature by 3-5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, with northern India getting warmer. In the last two years, northern India has been getting wetter and more humid too.

Based on climate simulations by the Indian Institute for Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, the plan predicts that rains during summer will become more intense by 2040, increasing 15% by 2100. Monsoon rains in northern India and parts of southern India have increased by 10-12% in the last 100 years, the action plan adds. This year, according to the IITM, rainfall has been higher than normal in northern India.

This scenario offers a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes throughout the year. A 3.8 degree Celsius increase in temperature and a 7% increase in relative humidity enable mosquitoes to remain active throughout the year, the plan says. This will cause an increase in vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria.

The plan also has bad news on the food security front that has already taken a hit with rising prices and falling yields in the past two years. It predicts that monsoon variability and seasonal rainfall could lead to a 10–40% drop in foodgrain yields.

An Indian Agricultural Research Institute estimate says for every degree increase in temperature, wheat production could fall by 4-5 million tonnes. Temperature rises, estimated to be up by 5 degrees Celsius, could impact India’s wheat production by 78 million tonnes in 2008.

A warmer India would mean more water in the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers because of faster melting of the Himalayan glaciers. If glaciers feeding these rivers melt by 2050, as predicted, northern India could be headed for a major water crisis. India may also have to cope with the threat of an increase in drought-prone areas and flood zones, with western India predicted to get warmer and northern and southern parts expected to receive more rainfall. Already, about 40 million hectares of land is flood-prone, including river basins in the northern and northeastern belts, affecting 30 million people every year.

Large areas in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and smaller parts in Karnataka, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal are frequently hit by drought. “Such vulnerable regions may be particularly impacted by climate change,” the report concludes.

Source: , July 1, 2008

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