Once the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency technologies has been plucked in order to meet India's 2020 commitment to reduce emissions intensity, the country will find it difficult and expensive to reduce any further, according to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment.

In January, India told the United Nations that it had made a voluntary commitment to reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 20 to 25 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. CSE researcher Chandra Bhushan studied 164 projects in the six most emission intensive industrial sectors — power, steel, cement, aluminium, paper and pulp, and fertilizers — to see just how feasible that commitment is.

The study explored the various emission reduction options and emerging technology pathways of the future and plotted both a business-as-usual and low carbon growth trajectory for each sector.

It concluded that, contrary to common perception, Indian industry is already quite efficient, driven mostly by high energy costs. By changing some of their raw materials and switching to better technologies, these sectors can meet the commitment to reduce emissions intensity — but at a high price.

“Yes, it can be done, but we must recognise that the costs are high and the technologies are expensive,” said CSE director Sunita Narain.

“We must also recognise that despite all the talk of leapfrogging, there is only so much that technology can do…which means that by 2020, we may have exhausted many options. There is no real way to reduce emissions further without impacting the current growth model once we cross that technology threshold.”

She pointed out that after 2020, when climate change experts are calling for a peak in emissions, India's unavoidable emissions growth will stand out. “That is why India must insist on equity in climate change negotiations, because the costs of transition will be high,” she added.

Interestingly, the study showed that whether Indian industry follows a low carbon pathway or not, the strain on resources will continue to escalate. Both growth scenarios envisage a tripling of water consumption, and new land acquisitions of over a million hectares, which is problematic, given that most mineral resources lie in heavily-forested, tribal-populated areas.

“In fact, the resource constraint seems to be a bigger problem for Indian growth than the carbon constraint,” said Ms. Narain.

An expert group set up by the Planning Commission to map a low carbon growth strategy is also likely to draw upon the findings of the CSE study. The group is headed by former Planning Commission member Kirit Parikh, who says an interim report will be released by mid-May.

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