Indians are likely to be among the worst affected victims of climate change, with average temperatures in north India potentially rising by 2.9 to 5 degree celsius by 2080. With 60 per cent of India’s population dependent on agriculture, and its long coastline threatened by erosion, global warming is a high impact risk. With concern over climate change rising, international treaties, like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have emerged as a preferred mechanism to set binding emission limits. The ongoing 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference at Paris seeks to codify the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as bottom-up policy instruments to mitigate climate change.

Achieving these targets requires negotiating over the remaining “carbon space”, with an emissions grab currently underway. The United States has committed to reducing its emissions by 25 per cent in 2025 (over 2005 levels). China has committed to a peaking year of 2040 — an about-face on emission caps that indicates the emergence of a new energy landscape with opportunities in green technology. It has focused on reducing its emissions intensity (carbon dioxide emissions to GDP) by 65 per cent, while preparing a national emissions trading scheme, covering electricity generation and heavy industries — signalling the emergence of carbon trading across Asia (Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy). The “carbon space” for developing countries to develop continues to shrink.
India is the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, accounting for 5.7 per cent of total emissions. However, India carries little, if any, responsibility for historical emissions, contributing just four per cent of global cumulative emissions since 1850 (US:16 per cent; China:15 per cent; WRI Climate Insights — Nov 2014). In 2012, India’s annual per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were just 1.6 tonnes per person (1/3 the world average) — by 2030 they would have reached five tonnes per year (half of China’s rate). Given the need to provide electricity to 300 million citizens, India’s emissions are projected to increase by 85 per cent by 2030 — absolute emissions will increase from 1.48 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2005 to seven billion in 2030. India needs its equitable carbon space to grow.

India has not lagged in action against climate change. India’s current Five-Year Plan, while focusing on achieving eight per cent annual economic growth, plans to add 300,000 MW of renewable capacity annually. To meet its growing energy demands, India’s climate change stance (rated by Climate Action Tracker as better than the US offer) offers to achieve 40 per cent of installed capacity from renewable resources, financed partly through technology-transfer and low-cost project financing. It plans to conduct significant afforestation, to create a carbon sink of 2.5 to three billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030, while offering a commitment to reduce its emissions intensity by 35 per cent by 2030.

To shift to renewables, India’s infrastructure requires an investment of $2.5 trillion by 2030 (over 25 times larger than the Copenhagen Accord pledge by developing countries). The UNFCCC has enshrined the principle of developed countries transferring funds to developing countries to support adaptation, ensuring the emergence of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

The Global Solar Alliance, pushed by the government is a welcome initiative, but government spending and negotiations cannot bridge this gap — private investment remains critical. Consider Egypt and Jordan, which have grown their renewables sourcing through investor-friendly policies. Egypt is seeking to source 20 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020 — it has utilised a feed-in tariff scheme to incentivise solar and wind projects, reaching 4,300 MW in two years.

India has lost 26 million hectares of forest land and 20 million hectares of grasslands/shrublands between 1880 and 2013. This trend continues, with India losing 1,991 km of moderately dense forests between 2011 and 2013. Urbanisation and changing land use consumes an average of 135 hectares of forest land a day. India’s environmental governance requires significant change as well, as evident from the state of pollution control boards and wildlife trusts. Insufficient coordination between the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) has led to institutional apathy towards alarming air pollution in the metros, led astray by double subordination and the administrative influence of the state government.

While India will do its part in afforestation, multilateral incentives can help. Norway has helped Brazil conserve the Amazonian rainforest through an Amazon Fund, disbursing $1billion between 2008 and 2015. Today, India hosts 172 globally threatened species, mostly in reserve forests with little meaningful protection, given inadequate budgeting for anti-poaching, wildlife crime and forest protection.

India has significant discrepancies in forest area estimations (Forest Survey of India estimates 66-69 million hectares, MODIS-IGBP estimates 24-40 million hectares). Even forest cover definitions vary with MODIS-UMD and MODIS-IGBP considering an area with greater than 60 per cent canopy cover.

Adaptation to ongoing climate change will require developed countries supporting climate justice — incentivising developing countries like India to give up development through coal for a leap towards renewables. Expansion of joint research and development partnerships can help facilitate the development of India specific demonstration projects. The successful EcoPartnerships program can be replicated, with India’s emerging smart cities paired with “green” cities in the West to address common environmental challenges. For India to decarbonise, the West needs to reaffirm its financing pledges.