QUANTUM LEAP: Taking action on global warming

India has finally announced a set of goals it intends to achieve on the environment front in order to ward off adverse impacts of global climate change. 

This is an international obligation under the climate talks which have been going on for close to two decades now. 

In the diplomatic jargon, this commitment is called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ (INDC), which is nothing but a set of voluntary actions different countries intend to take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 2021 and 2030.

 

Once all the countries make their commitments and this data is collated, we will know if these intended actions would actually help prevent the planet from becoming warmer and if that will help prevent catastrophic impacts of climate change. 

INDC was devised as a compromise during climate talks two years ago because countries have consistently failed to agree on mandatory targets. 

One of the key commitments that India has made is to reduce ‘emissions intensity’ of its gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level. Simply put, emission intensity is the ratio of emissions to GDP. 

However, it is possible that while a country’s emission intensity may reduce, its actual emissions may be increasing due to several factors. 

Since all major polluters are talking of reducing emission intensity – not emissions per se – India has also done the same. 

Another goal India has committed is to produce about 40 percent of its electric power from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030, subject to help in the form of transfer of technology and low cost finance from Green Climate Fund and other sources. 

In addition, more trees will be planted to act as sinks of carbon to the tune of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes. 

The goal on renewable energy appears ambitious, given the slow progress of renewable sources like solar and wind in the past. The inclusion of hydro and nuclear power in non-fossil list is problematic because hydropower generation through large projects is not climate-friendly and can cause large scale ecological harm if not properly implemented. 

Nuclear power has a long gestation period, safety issues, and social costs given negative perceptions about it. In addition, availability of nuclear fuel is subject to geopolitical factors. It is also not clear which renewable energy source will account for how much in the 40 per cent power from non-fossil sources projected by the Ministry of Environment in the INDC document. 

Regarding the role of forests to act as carbon sinks, it is puzzling that on the one hand existing forests tracts are being cleared for coal and other mining, infrastructure projects, and industry, and on the other the government is promising to enhance forest cover for climate mitigation. 

Overall, it seems the goals are clear but the pathway is diffused. For the sake of this planet, we now need real action on the ground to reduce emissions and not clever carbon accounting systems. 

Climate-friendly actions are needed in every sphere of activity – from industry and transport to agriculture. That’s the only way to prevent climate catastrophe in future.

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