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All eyes on India's climate policy ahead of 2015 climate summit

India's climate policy

What role will Prime Minister Modi’s government play in the run up to Paris 2015? Creative Commons: Al Jazeera English, 2009

As the world’s third largest emitter, India will be a crucial player in the success or failure of a new global climate treaty. With just 500 days to go before such a deal is expected to be agreed, all eyes are on the country’s new government and how progressive a force they could become towards the 2015 deadline.

Traditionally, the climate change negotiations have been split into two camps, creating a deadlock.

On one side, the developing countries – for example China and India – want developed countries, historically responsible for more carbon emissions, to make the first move. On the other side, the developed countries, particularly the US, Canada and Australia, are reluctant to come on board unless big emitters from the developing world also accept emissions cuts or caps.

But with the world’s two largest emitters – the US and China – showing signs of cooperation towards a 2015 deal, the focus is now likely to fall on India, and what role it will take over the coming year.

2014 budget gives renewables a boost

Announcing its first budget last week, the new Indian government – which was brought to power in a landslide victory in May – pledged to kick-start the economy with more foreign investment, bigger spending on infrastructure and a renewable clean energy boost.

The budget confirmed previously trailed plans for five billion rupees ($93 million) of funding to develop four “ultra-mega” solar farms in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Ladakh, while finance minister Arun Jaitley also announced plans to set aside up to 15 billion rupees ($250 million) for solar projects and grid upgrades; a bid to tackle blackouts that plague the country’s cities and rural communities.

Moreover, the budget also includes plans to slash duties on solar manufacturers, wind turbine developers, and biogas producers as the government seeks to nurture its domestic clean tech industry.

Krishnan Pallassana, India Director, The Climate Group, welcomed the move, saying:

The union budget 2014 has been by far the most promising for renewable energy sector by re-affirming its priority status. The budget has given the much-needed direction, clarity and significant financing toward our low carbon future. The budget aims not only to boost renewable energy investment, but also addresses power sector modernisation through clean technology.

And while supporting the development of clean energy, the budget will also see taxes on coal almost double to 100 rupees per metric tonnes, raising doubts amongst those commentators who believed Prime Minister Modi’s rise to power could see the country turn its back on climate change initiatives.

More money was also allocated to climate adaptation; with $18.5 million announced for a national adaptation fund to help farmers tackle the impacts rising temperatures and extreme weather are having on their businesses.

Continued rise in coal

While a number of groups are celebrating the emphasis on renewables, some commentators warn that the new budget doesn’t go far enough to address India’s short or long-term challenges, describing investment in adaptation as a “mere token” from the government, aimed at proving its engaged in climate change.

Nitin Sethi, an environmental correspondent at the Business Standard in India told RTCC:

The real test of the government lies in funding and supporting the existing eight climate change missions, which includes adaptation in urban areas, water resources and agriculture sector besides ones on energy efficiency and solar power.

Meanwhile the green credentials of the latest budget must also be given some context.

In developing energy security, India aims to harness the power of renewables along with coal, oil and gas, and Jaitley also used last week’s budget to announce plans to enhanced coal production and exploit old wells for petroleum and natural gas.

With around 400 million people in India still without access to electricity, Modi came to power promising development for all, electricity for all and houses for all – and his new government looks set to pursue this promise through fossil fuels as much as through renewable energy.

Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia said:

India is going to remain dependant on coal for years to come. But simultaneously they are investing in renewable technologies. Unless they have a sustainable and reasonable option, then no country is going to switch over to cleaner technology.

For example, a delayed start to the year’s monsoon rains, likely the new normal thanks to climate change, is hampering hydro-power generation in India, and in response, the government is targeting more than 100 new coal mining projects.

India has the world’s fifth-largest coal reserves, and according to the US Energy Information Administration ranked third largest in terms of both production and consumption in 2012.

Forecasts are also predicting a record level of coal imports to the country his year.

India on the global stage

The international spotlight was also on India last week, as French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, met with Modi in New Delhi to explore ways to deepen co-operation ahead of the 2015 Paris Summit.

Saying he was “positively impressed” by the Indian approach to climate change, Fabius said France and India would work closely together on a proposed climate deal detailing key areas of engagement; the green sector, carbon-free energy, new tech, civilian nuclear energy, and water and urban development.

He further highlighted the important role that India would play in ensuring the success or failure of a new climate deal, and pledged $1.4 billion to help the country grow its green infrastructure and ensure urban development.

But while India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change Prakash Javadekar has vowed to strengthen the country’s climate change negotiation team and play a bigger role in the negotiations over the coming year, whether this is set to be a positive force is yet to be seen.

Speaking at a recent UN Environment Programme Summit in Nairobi Javadekar reiterated the age old position that India has a “right to grow” even if means carbon emissions increasing.

While agreeing that “we have to reduce our emissions”, Javadekar told the meeting that “I have not created the carbon emissions problems, which have been done by others”, highlighting the long standing divides that remain as the world works towards a new global agreement.

And while positive rhetoric came out of the the India/France meeting, just as it did the US/China meeting, is still too early to tell if such partnerships are long lasting enough to help end the climate negotiations logjam. 

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