Indigenisation of technology innovation — both products and processes — will be critical to resolving the climate-development nexus.

post-Paris, India, climate innovation, climate justice, climate finance, climate change, renewable energy, climate infrastructure, pollution, CBDR

Fletcher Forum: How do you propose an amenable bridge between global responsibilities of combatting the legacy of historic emissions from OECD countries versus controlling increases in current (and future) emissions of BRICS nations? 

Samir Saran: The pre-Paris paradigm of “strict” differentiation with regards to mitigation responsibilities has now evolved into that of “universal action.”

However, the induction of the term “climate justice” still attempts to ensure the existence of a bridge between global historical responsibilities and the future emissions of developing and emerging economies. Climate justice, defined as the recognition of equitable rights to use the atmospheric global commons, is weighed in terms of mitigation and adaptation costs. Any effort to redistribute the emissions between the OECD and the global south will need to account for the cost of differential impacts caused by reduction or avoidance of emissions. In many ways, climate justice takes forward the moral arguments of the CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibility) and Equity debate while discarding the rigid politics that have evolved around these concepts and made agreements impossible.

That being said, there are four distinct yet overlapping future potentials of “just” climate action:

One, developed countries will have to achieve their self-designed pledges on climate finance and support for technology transfer. Greater political leadership and action from the global north will encourage developing countries to walk an extra mile in meeting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). For instance, Indian and Brazilian NDCs have mentioned additional commitment to climate action provisional to availability of finance and technologies from the industrialised economies.

Second, a global set of rules could be developed to tax or regulate the higher emissions by corporations, institutions, and other parties across the globe, irrespective of their country’s development status. This type of normative framework must be universally agreed upon. All corporations above a certain size in certain sectors and irrespective of their geographical location must adhere to a framework of efficiency and climate awareness.

Thirdly, technology transfer from the west won’t be enough to strengthen climate action to the level that is required to limit global temperatures at two degrees or below two degrees Celsius. Indigenisation of technology innovation — both products and processes — will be critical to resolving the climate-development nexus. A more transparent knowledge sharing approach along with technology transfer will have to be put in place to support long-term climate resilience.

Fourth, “loss and damage” in the longer term must be operationalised. The Paris Agreement’s weak language regarding loss and damage, mainly the exclusion of a non-liability clause, was perhaps part of an effort to generate consensus on minimum level of commitment. Going forward, we can’t escape from setting an institutional apparatus to compensate for climate related losses that especially affect Small Island States, Least Developed Nations, and developing countries.

Global per capita emissions are negligible for India, but 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. What is your take on the environmental policies undertaken by some of the state governments? Do you feel there is sufficient political intent to address environmental concerns at the central level, particularly on issues like forest cover?

SS: Environmental policies alone cannot resolve India’s urbanisation challenge. There is an underlying structural and political issue, which gets veiled under the supposed “techno-managerial” clarification. A case in reference is the odd-even license plate scheme in Delhi aimed to decongest traffic and reduce air pollution. In the absence of robust infrastructure and comprehensive regulatory measures, the odd-even scheme hit a dead end. Lack of an efficient public transport system, misdirected notions of how the mega-city’s transport system should work, and the conception of the scheme itself, wherein the focus was on the number of vehicles on the road rather than the time they spent, are a few shortfalls that failed the broader intended impact of the odd-even scheme. But as I have written elsewhere, this scheme needs to be re-introduced accompanied by a slew of other measures including ‘congestion charge’, ban on diesel vehicles, rationing of vehicles per household and relooking at the notion of ‘home office’ which becomes increasingly an attractive option with communication technology and digital connectivity.

Such structural problems are mirrored by the water and waste management sector. Yamuna Action Plan I, II, and III, and the latest “Maili se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalisation” Project 2017 have endeavoured to clean one of India’s most polluted rivers. None so far have produced the desired results. This is a result of infrastructural shortcomings for waste disposal, derisory and fraudulent penalties and punishment for polluting, and growing waste generation. So we now have a situation where judicial and socio-environmental activism has maintained the pitch of the debate, but political deafness to the challenge is palpable.

How would you suggest enacting reforms in India’s overburdened and inefficient utilities or the coal sector? 

SS: The Indian coal power sector is growing. In 2015–2016, coal production rose to 638 million tons (from 70 million tons in 1970s), and imports dropped by 43 percent from the previous year. The current government’s thrust on modern technologies combined with reforms in coal imports, auction, mining, extraction, and evacuation have started showing signs of sectoral improvement. However, an ambition to double coal production to 100 crores tons by 2020 will require massive improvement in the efficiency of both the product and process. Investments in research and development for clean coal technologies, improvements in boiler efficiency, and super critical technology are the lowest hanging fruits. Two aspects are critical in this sector from a climate perspective.

First, since OECD countries are neither investing in nor are mandated to develop coal technologies, the emerging economies will have to pick up the baton on research on mining technologies and boiler efficiencies. Second, every percentage gain in coal energy across the mine to power plant value chain will reduce Indian annual emissions equivalent to the entire annual emissions of some countries in Europe and elsewhere. This is a low hanging fruit that is not being bagged due to the evangelical anti-coal sentiment that is blind to its inevitable use in OECD countries and developing world.

There is much enthusiasm surrounding India’s focus on renewable energy — what lessons can India provide to other countries to develop their renewable energy sector? 

SS: India’s renewable energy development trajectory presents a unique case. The country is endowed with an estimated 896 GW of renewable energy potential in the form of biomass, solar, wind, small hydro, and tidal. Besides this, the energy deficit in rural areas, increasing energy demands, and climate concerns have been the key drivers of renewable energy development in India.

To exploit this potential, India created a separate Ministry of New and Renewable Development, set national goals for biomass and solar generation, and made ambitious targets to increase the share of renewables in the total energy mix from 32 GW (2014) to 175 GW by 2022.

To provide further thrust to the sector, Prime Minister Modi along with France launched the International Solar Alliance in Paris in 2015. This group of 121 countries aim to mobilise one trillion dollars for solar investments by 2030 and improve access to solar technologies.

While it too early to present India as a successful case to learn lessons from, its vision to balance green growth along with the sovereign obligation to meet at least the lifeline energy needs of its population is an endeavour with no precedence. In a country of 400 million energy poor people, renewables offer only a fraction of a solution for energy security and economic growth. Yet, an impressive 175 GW target from renewables demonstrates the new ambition of India’s political leadership and the sense of responsibility towards global climate action. To put this ambition in perspective, India is seeking to install more renewable capacity in the next decade than the total capacity installed in Germany over multiple decades of industrialisation.

If India can pull this off, its model will be unique. India would be the first country in the world to move from a low-income society to a middle-income economy, driven significantly by renewable energy and climate conscious infrastructure. It would also be a model that is exportable to other countries similarly placed on growth ambitions and development priorities.

This interview originally appeared in The Fletcher Forum of International Affairs.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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