On World Environment Day, it is integral to assess what India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (initially with the prefix ‘Intended’) at the Paris Agreements actually imply.
The NDC targets as ratified per the Paris Agreements are-
1. To reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33 percent–35 percent by 2030 below 2005 levels.
2. To increase the share of non-fossil based energy resources to 40 percent of installed electric power capacity by 2030, with help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund (GCF)
3. To create an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030
Firstly, India aims to reduce its “emission intensity of GDP by 33 percent-35 percent by 2030, below 2005 levels”. Emission intensity in the simplest terms is ratio of Greenhouse Gases to GDP.
Reducing the emission intensity of the GDP as per the INDC targets (which is to reduce this share to 60 percent, given that coal and Natural Gas have very high carbon intensity) in the next 13 years is a monumental task, requiring policy-makers and citizens to actively reduce their dependency on these fossil-based sources by personally consuming less electricity and fuel, or making the investment required to shift to renewable sources of energy. In both ways, a conscious behavioral change is required, over the next few years. Another part of the INDC target talks about increasing the share of non-renewable sources of energy to 40 percent, from its current 30 percent, requiring “26-30 percent of the population in 2030” to shift to renewable sources of energy.
That means 30 percent of the expected population in 2030 has to become more environmentally conscious, reducing their energy demands (if not just their non-renewable energy usage) to help India achieve that goal by 2030, which is more than 35 percent reduction in emission intensity of the GDP. To break this down: India is the 5th largest consumer of energy in the world, today in 2017. The growth of electricity consumption is 23.53 percent. India’s population is set to overtake China’s by 2035 with the rising population growth rate, and out of the estimated 1.6 billion people in India then, 0.48 billion have to use renewable sources or become environmentally conscious in some manner, since 40 percent of the populations means 0.48 billion people.
Assuming the rural-urban ratio to decrease, with 68 percent of India still living in rural India which is largely dependent on non-renewable energy sources, the conscious shift to renewable sources of energy in rural as well as urban households will require a tectonic shift in terms of behavior and thought. India’s per capita income and per capita emission seem minimal in comparison to the developed, Western society. But three of the nine planetary thresholds have already been crossed, and looking at emissions as a stock concept, due to its cumulative and ever-lasting impact, India has not been a major contributor in the crossing of the planetary thresholds.
However with a large part of its population still living in poverty, it still has to provide basic amenities like electricity to a large part of its population still deprived of it, which will naturally raise its emission rate further. India’s emission and energy growth will be fuelled by urbanization transition (30-50 percent in 2030), demographic transition and dividend (10m new entrants to the workforce), infrastructure transition, cooking fuel transition (700m people transitioning to commercial fuels), income effect (vehicular ownership and growth in appliance) and technological effects.
For this it will have to adopt various lifestyle changes and demand side shifts (lesser fossil fuel usage, waste creation, sustainable agroforestry, as well as recognize that poverty alleviation and reaching a just, social foundation is a major priority (other than protecting the planetary thresholds).
So while in many ways the scrutiny on India for climate action is unfair, it has to participate on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility based on respective capability’ and reduce its emission intensity by 35 percent by 2030 (from 2005 levels), achieve 40 percent of electric power installed capacity from renewable sources by 2030 and create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 through forest and tree cover by 2030. Therefore it is integral for India to have an inclusive, sustainable growth model, which deals with the trade-off between poverty alleviation and environmental protection properly, without undermining any of these goals.