India’s commitment to adopt low-carbon pathways for development is welcome reaffirmation that it fully recognises its >role in averting dangerous climate change . In the statement of climate goals and plans — formally called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs — which has been submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Narendra Modi government has emphasised the expansion of clean technologies to generate power, greater energy efficiency in infrastructure, and a significant widening of forestry as key measures. There are several other actions that it will take in the areas of transport, buildings, agriculture and waste management in order to balance economic growth with carbon emissions. With all this, India promises to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030, from 2005 levels, while not committing itself to any absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. What is significant is that the national plans given in the INDC, ahead of the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015, depends on the “unencumbered availability of clean technologies and financial resource from around the world”. Such a position is consistent with the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ that guides climate negotiations. Yet, India cannot avoid addressing the internal contradiction — affluent citizens have access to cheap, abundant energy and mobility while the poor and the vulnerable are forced to fend for themselves — in facing the negative effects of climate change.
On the positive side, since much of India’s infrastructure is yet to be built, the Central and State governments can adopt the greenest technologies to ensure that the long-term impact on emissions is positive. This is particularly important in the design and construction of built structures, including housing and offices, mass transport systems and lighting, to name a few. New coal-based power generation facilities have a prolonged lock-in effect of high emissions, and it is vital to opt for the cleanest systems. Financing such a major effort requires massive funding; the INDC data estimate that between now and 2030, at least $2.5 trillion would be required for the country to meet climate change action requirements. Some of the funding could come from the taxing of fuels. As with the coal cess, there could be a climate tax on transport fuels — this would result in a tax-and-share arrangement where high-volume users would pay a tax to fund common facilities. Another area that needs support is in helping citizens scale up their contribution to renewable energy. Incentivising citizen-investment in roof-top solar installations would unlock private funds and help the country exceed the 100 GW it aims to generate from this source. That will be a world-leading achievement.