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India steps up green agenda

As the Prime Minister talked with the European Union on Friday in Delhi to seek common ground on climate change, India is going ahead with its own plans to pare domestic emissions, incentivise companies to save energy and lead the way for the world. Samar Halarnkar reports. See graphics | See full coverage

india Updated: Nov 07, 2009 11:26 IST
Samar Halarnkar

As the Prime Minister talked with the European Union on Friday in Delhi to seek common ground on climate change, India is going ahead with its own plans to pare domestic emissions, incentivise companies to save energy and lead the way for the world.

“Let us take on aggressive commitments domestically,” Enviroment Minister Jairam Ramesh told the Hindustan Times. “Let us negotiate from a position of strength because we have a good story to tell the world.”

<b1>Some strands of the story are being woven together by experts and agencies trying to implement these ambitious and potentially profitable plans to keep India’s carbon emissions under check, independent of international commitments.

Policy makers are working on energy norms and a range of incentives for 714 of India’s most energy-intensive installations across nine sectors.

“Our goal is to ensure each tonne of energy, cement, steel uses less energy than the previous tonne,” said Ajay Mathur, Director General of the Union Government’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency and an Indian climate negotiator.

The word in the corridors of power is to make energy efficiency profitable for Indian industry. “We’ll have a national registry for energy-efficiency certificates, which will have a one-year tenure,” said Pramod Deo, Chairman, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission.

“They will work like shares, or carbon credits. They should be available from April 2010,” Deo added. Only after amendments to the Energy Conservation Act are passed by Parliament will it be clear if these carbon credits will be traded at a physical exchange or online.

Given the political heat over perceived kowtowing to the West, these efficiency measures will likely not be offered for international verification.

Singh, reiterating that India was not yet ready to quantify its targets, spoke of India’s efforts, which stretch beyond energy efficiency to growing more forests as carbon sinks.

“We have a very ambitious national plan to combat climate change,” said Singh after the 10th India-EU summit in Delhi.
“We have acknowledged there are ambition plans in India,” said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfeldt. “But we need action from everyone.” Sweden now holds the rotating EU presidency.

In many sectors, like steel and power — where emissions per unit are reducing — India already has some of the world’s most efficient units.

“What’s interesting is how quickly these are copied,” said Mathur, whose Bureau has successfully implemented energy ratings for refrigerators and airconditioners, first voluntary, then mandatory.

For instance, the summer of 2009 saw a five-week waiting period for five-star A/Cs, the rating for most energy efficient.
As it becomes increasingly evident that the effects of a warming planet are deeper and faster in India than previous thought, the Centre has also identified 127 research institutes — collectively called Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment — to study climate change as it affects India.

It seems clear there will be no agreement at Copenhagen, Denmark, where the world’s governments meet next month for a 11-day summit to discuss the contentious details of how the developed and developing world will cut carbon emissions and who will pay.

“There will be no legally binding agreement in Copenhagen,” predicted Ramesh. “Only a political statement, which will then be a mandate for negotiations.”

These statements, agreed other experts, would be legally binding to developed countries not developing countries.

“We must now work on the political statement,” he said. This includes building a national consensus, a process that was derailed last month by the leak of a letter Ramesh wrote to the Prime Minister. The leak wrongly implied that India was thinking of mandating domestic emission cuts and offer them as international commitments.

India is now the world’s fourth-largest emitter (China is first, the US, second and Russia third) of greenhouse gases warming the Earth, but each Indian is responsible on average for 1/20th the emissions of an individual in the West.