What India plans to do

Print edition : December 11, 2015

Power generation capacity and fuel capacity: Projections for 2031-32. Photo: COP-21 Background Press Briefing, GOI, Nov 5

Greenhouse gas emissions and emissions intensity for India. Photo: COP-21 Background Press Briefing, GOI, Nov 5

THE main quantitative target contained in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on October 2 (October 1, according to UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time) is the reduction in emissions intensity (EI) in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) by 33-35 per cent by 2030 from the 2005 level (see figure). EI is defined as the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (measured in tonnes of CO equivalent) per unit of GDP.

One important way of achieving this is by changing the fuel mix in the energy basket and moving towards non-fossil fuel-based energy sources. According to the submitted document, India plans to achieve a 40 per cent share in its energy basket from solar, wind, hydro, biomass and nuclear energy.

In January 2010, as part of the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action under the Bali Action Plan of COP-13, India announced a reduction in its EI by 20-25 per cent by 2020 from the 2005 level as a voluntary measure. According to the document submitted, as a result of a slew of policy measures, the EI decreased by 12 per cent between 2005 and 2010, and so India was well on its way to achieving that declared goal by 2020.

A quantitative analysis by researchers of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) shows that even a business-as-usual scenario, based on growth trends in different economic sectors (and the corresponding growth in their contributions to the GDP) and the trend of change in the fuel mix in the energy basket up to 2008 itself, should be able to achieve an EI reduction by about 45 per cent.

Specifically, the analysis assumes a 2.6 per cent growth in agriculture (contributing 6.5 per cent to the GDP), a 6.6 per cent growth in the industrial sector (contributing 25 per cent) and an 8.1 per cent growth in the services sector (contributing 68 per cent). Clearly, the services sector, which is less energy (and emissions) intensive but contributes the greatest share to the GDP and is also the fastest growing, is the key factor in the EI reduction and does not really call for any overly ambitious plan towards increasing non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources.

But, as the analysis points out, if the industrial sector were to grow at a faster rate (say 9.5 per cent like China, as indeed the Twelfth Plan envisages) and contribute about 40 per cent to the GDP, the EI target would require a greater share of less emissions intensive energy sources: renewables and nuclear. In both scenarios, it is assumed that a continuous improvement in energy efficiencies (similar to the trend during 1998-2008) would be achieved, which may be difficult in reality. That too would need to be offset through a higher share of renewables. The current share of non-fossil-fuel-based energy is 31 per cent of the total installed capacity of about 240 gigawatts (GW). The current annual per capita electricity consumption is about 650 kilowatt-hours (kWh), and the projected demand in 2030 (for a high-end rate of economic growth) is 1,700 kWh, assuming a population of 1.5 billion by then. According to the government’s background press briefing in the run-up to COP-21, the projected installed capacity in 2030 to achieve this is 800 GW. A 40 per cent share of renewables in power generation (see table) amounts to about 300+ GW of installed capacity (compared with the current 35 GW).

Renewables together are expected to contribute 175 GW by 2022 and 250+ GW by 2030. Of this, solar power alone is expected to reach 100 GW and about 150 GW respectively from the current capacity of about 4 GW. From the current share of 1-2 per cent, solar power is expected to jump to 18 per cent of the installed capacity in 2030. This will entail enormous challenges in terms of investment, both domestic and external, and access to new and more efficient solar energy technologies. The INDC document lists several technologies in the renewable energy sector that India would require to meet the technological challenges in achieving the target.

The share of nuclear energy is given as just 2 per cent, which, even with the high-end projection of 800 GW, works out to only 16 GW of nuclear power by 2030. This is just one-fourth of the Department of Atomic Energy’s projection of 63 GW by 2032. The same figure is also quoted in the INDC document, which says: “Efforts are being made to achieve 63 GW installed capacity by the year 2032, if supply of fuel is ensured” (emphasis added). The current installed nuclear capacity is 5,780 megawatts (MW) and six more reactors with an installed capacity of 4,300 MW are at different stages of commissioning and construction, which would take it to only 10,000 MW (10 GW) by about 2020.

“That [about 16 GW] is what we realistically expect in the nuclear sector,” said a senior official of the government involved in climate change matters. The caveat regarding fuel supply will actually not be the real reason for not meeting the target. Since a large fraction of plants are expected to be installed through foreign nuclear suppliers, the real reason will be the lack of movement forward on that front because of civil nuclear liability constraints imposed on suppliers by the domestic Act of 2010. Given the higher cost of imported nuclear plants (Rs.12-15 crore/MWe as against Rs.7-8 crore for domestic plants), availability of adequate finance will also be a serious constraint.

A major constraint

In fact, access to finance will be a major constraint for all non-fossil fuel energy sources. An estimate by researchers at the TISS puts the total investments required to achieve the 40 per cent goal as Rs.30-35 lakh crore (about a third of India’s annual GDP) over the next 15 years. According to the document, NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) has estimated that the cost towards mitigation activities for moderate low carbon development, which would include investments towards renewable energy sources, would be around $834 billion (about Rs.50 lakh crore) up to 2030.

The third major component of the INDC India presented is the creation of an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to three billion tonnes of CO equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. According to the Ministry, forests and tree cover has increased from 23.4 per cent in 2005 to 24 per cent of India’s geographical area (which is about 330 million hectares) in 2013. In terms of carbon sink capacity, this is stated to be an increase by about 5 per cent, from 6,621.5 million tonnes of CO equivalent in 2005 to 6,941 million tonnes in 2013. The INDC document says that initiatives like the Green India Mission aim to further increase the forest/tree cover to the extent of 5 million ha and improve the quality of forest/tree cover on another 5 million ha of forest/non-forest lands, which is expected to enhance the carbon sequestration by about 100 million tonnes CO equivalent annually towards the stated goal for 2030. And, eventually, 33 per cent of the total area will be brought under forest cover, says the document. As in the case of power generation, there is an apparent contradiction here too.

As D. Raghunandan of the Delhi Science Forum points out in an article posted on the DSF website: “[The document] also continues to bracket this with tree cover and casually speaking of ‘compensatory afforestation’ for various infrastructure or industrial projects.” Indeed, according to the document, there is a proposed devolution of about $6 billion under compensatory afforestation to the States. “The ecological services performed by a forest are not merely carbon sequestration in trees but also by the vast diversity of flora and the soil. Loss of forest therefore simply cannot be ‘compensated’ by planting trees somewhere else,” says Raghunandan. “Contrary to the rosy picture painted in the INDC, the present government is pursuing policies for dismantling environmental regulations, especially pertaining to forests, in order to favour extractive and other industries, infrastructure such as highways, and so on,” he adds.

He also severely criticises the proposed implementation through the back door of the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee Report, which had been rejected by the relevant parliamentary committee after a public uproar. The new government recommendation is that only those areas with over 70 per cent canopy constitute “no-go” forest areas. “This,” he says, “would open up forests to ruthless exploitation supposedly to be offset by planting trees elsewhere.” Referring to a recent government circular that recommends handing over so-called degraded forest land to industries for commercial forestry and other purposes, he asks: “How can the 33 per cent forest cover target be taken seriously in such circumstances?”

R. Ramachandran

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