Acting on climate change

With a determined effort, the National Action Plan on Climate Change, unfurled on the eve of the G8 summit in Japan, can become something more than a formal bow to the concerns of the international community. Thus far official India can be said to have brought up the rear in this respect. Disappointingly, the action plan, to be implemented through eight missions in key areas of activity, refrains from setting a national emissions target for greenhouse gases, a demand made by some European countries. Nor are there sector-wise targets, which countries such as Japan have been calling for. Specific curbs on emissions are also absent in the document; such targets and restrictions are still viewed as impediments to growth in an energy-hungry economy. The Kyoto protocol exempts developing countries from absolute emissions targets but India may not be able to postpone a quantified reduction in emissions beyond 2012, when the first phase of the protocol ends. The action plan is positive only in the sense that it can help set targets for the future through the individual missions. On paper, the ‘national policies’ covering solar energy, enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable habitat and agriculture, water, the Himalayan ecosystem, green cover, and strategic knowledge-building are consolidated by the plan. The real task before the central government is to convince the States and local bodies, which implement policies in these areas, to get fully involved.

Effective national policy on greenhouse gas emissions can achieve a lot more than individual climate-friendly actions. Adopting clean coal technologies will translate immediately into big reductions in a sector that contributes the most emissions in energy production. Promoting mass transport, the goal of the National Urban Transport Policy, can bring about a transformation. But the reality is that few States have responded with policy changes in this area to infuse massive capital for scaled-up service and the modernisation of transport systems. The mission on sustainable habitat proposes to make the Energy Conservation Building Code, 2007, mandatory, but success will depend on enforcement by the States. Raising energy efficiency through mandated usage reduction targets for designated industries and labelling of consumer gadgets can produce useful gains. Among the most promising missions is the one on solar energy, which, combined with innovation in lighting devices, can significantly reduce energy demand. The missions must quickly identify the best climate-friendly technologies and ensure their deployment.

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