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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 50, November 28, 2009

India Steps Up Climate Change Efforts

Saturday 28 November 2009, by Sunita Vakil


India’s commendable action of promoting environment friendly economic development provides more hope for the Copenhagen climate talks.

As the countdown to Copenhagen has begun, India is fast positioning itself as a resourceful and responsible leader ready to meet the climate change challenges head on. The fact that the country has already set up a Ministry to promote alternative sources of energy and has targetted to cut carbon emissions by 2020 demonstrates that it takes the climate change issue seriously. By focussing on the issue from the perspective of both adaptation and mitigation, New Delhi is coming out with a strong climate agenda to strengthen its position as a negotiator at Copenhagen in December.

In continuation of its official approach of taking a broader perspective on measures to fight the menace, the Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, has spelt out a series of measures that are slated to go some distance in reducing India’s emissions. “India is going to aggressively take on voluntary mitigation outcomes. We are now going to go for domestic legislation which will enshrine some targets,” he is reported to have said in an interview to The Guardian. These include a mandatory fuel efficiency cap in 2011, an energy efficient building code to start by 2012 and an increase in electricity produced from renewable sources to 20 per cent by 2020. The government also remains commited to stepping up efforts to stop deforestation, raising its target for treecover to 15 per cent by 2020. This positive approach could mean that India has upped its own profile for Copenhagen, a fact that has been reiterated by Ed Miliband, the British Climate Change Secretary, who said that the tangible move made by India had improved the chances of a comprehensive global warming deal at Copenhagen.


It goes without saying that global warming presents one of the greatest challenges of our time having catastrophic repurcussion for humans. Indeed, global warming may be taking place at a swifter pace than initially thought. The latest reports indicate that climate change is already impacting the lives and livelihood of individuals and communities across the globe. The Arctic ice is melting at a much faster rate. In fact, the report of the World Wide Fund For Nature, released sometime back, indicates that the summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean could completely disappear between 2013 and 2040. This could lead to disastrous rise in sea levels as well as snow fed rivers which will in turn displace thousands of people living in hills besides the migrating coastal population. Scientists have warned that unless drastic measures are adopted, low lying states like Bangladesh as well as Kolkata, Mumbai, London, San Fransisco, Manhattan and other metropolitan areas could go under water by 2050. In India Himalyan glaciers are also melting at a threatening rate. The rate of retreat of the Gangotri glacier has almost doubled from around 62 feet per year between 1935 and 1971.

Various studies have concluded that climate change has a profound effect on the weather patterns across the world. Due to this, extreme weather conditions have become frequent in recent years. Changes in monsoon pattern have resulted in severe droughts and intense flooding in many parts of India. Given this prospect, India’s growth is likely to suffer enormously in the crucial agriculture sector.

Though rapidly receeding Himalayan glaciers, stagnating agriculture yields, increasing dry spells and unpredictable monsoon make the country highly vulnerable to climate change, the good news is that it is taking meaningful action to counter the menace. Reports corroborating India’s green credentials have also been circulating of late. An earlier report saying that the country has consistantly greened its GDP since the 1980s with the energy intensity of India’s GDP falling from 0.3 kgoe per dollar of GDP in 1980 to 0.16 kgoe in 2004 buttress these assertions. Further, a range of policy initiatives announced by the Indian Government, for instance, a $ 22 billion solar energy programme, a $ 2.5 billion afforestation fund and a National Energy Efficiency Mission have earned plaudits from British Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband who put it aptly by saying during his trip to New Delhi on September 2 that India wants to be a dealmaker and not a dealbreaker in Copenhagen.


This country has demonstrated that it fully understands the consequences of climate change by drawing a micro action plan for adressing the climate change issue. The details of this plan were spelt out by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh at a South Asia Media Workshop organised by the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi some days back. It is commendable that the country has already increased its budget for Environment and Forests from Rs 3700 crores in 2008-09 to Rs 8300 crores in the current fiscal. There is also to be a workshop on Clean Develpment Management for capacity building of experts from SAARC nations. Additionally, the Minister has lined up an India Carbon Market Conclave serving as a forum for knowledge. This again speaks of positive action. As Ramesh firmly believes that adaptation measures are more fundamental than mitigation, he is going to convene a a global conference to define the roadmap for enabling technology development and as technology transfer to developing countries. “We are holding a Climate Change and Technology conference in New Delhi on October 22-23 with 190 countries participating. This will be one of our major contributions to Copenhagen,” he said. However, he declared that India will not take legally binding targets on emission level decrease at the Copenhagen meet.

The government also plans to introduce some strict legislatures to minimise the emission of Green House Gases in the near future. For instance, there will be energy efficiency standards for electronic appliances, which will come into effect from January 2010. Moreover there is another government plan for fuel efficiency standards setting emission norms for vehicles, expected to come into force in the next two years. The energy conservation building code that has already been introduced in Delhi will be extended to all other States. There are plans to outsource monitoring work to gauge the actual position of plantations done under afforestation drives as well. And last but not the least, the States, especially the Himalyan and coastal States, have been asked to prepare a comprehensive action plan before the December summit. Besides, it is for the first time that the government has decided to take youngsters to the Copenhagen meet.

Indeed, climate change is a matter of grave concern. Unless all countries accept responsibility, none of us will be spared its terrible effects. Due to the excessive burning of fossil fuel, deforestation and increased industrialisation, a scary situation is being created through global warming which is slated to affect the entire planet. Though it is true that economy needs to grow, it is also true that ecology has to be protected from the harmful effects of carbon emission.

The environment is not restricted to the boundaries of different countries. Indeed climate change due to its global manifestations demands a global response. Sadly the Western nations, which are exhorting India to take legally binding commitments to control carbon emissions, have not even met the commitments they had agreed to under the Kyoto Protocoal. Despie being the main culprits behind the accumulation of Green House gases, the rich countries are seeking to kill Kyoto and gain cheap credits outside Kyoto. This was manifest at the Bangkok talks that concluded recently, there several countries like the US, EU, Australia, Japan, Canada and others got together to demand scrapping of Kyoto and the benefits of offsetting their targets against credits.

As there is no point in shifting blame about who is responsible for climate change, India’s assurance on the eve of the UN Climate Summit of world leaders that “we are not part of the problem but we want to be a part of the solution” aptly sums up its optimism about reaching an agreement at the climate negotiations at Copenhagen. All negotiators would do well to remember that the fate of every nation on this planet hangs in balance and much dpeneds on the outcome of Copenhagen meet in this regard. Since there is little time for action, the need of the hour is to move beyond posturing and do something concrete on the issue.

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