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Climate Change - Copenhagen & India, Shri R V Shahi, Former Secretary, Ministry of Power

Much awaited Copenhagen Conference has ended. There are mixed opinions and reactions both in India and abroad. A number of representatives from different countries were highly agitated. Just a day before the conclusion, it appeared that the Conference will end in complete failure and that there may not be even a political statement. On the concluding day, however, the United Nations took note of the political statement. There was no agreement as such. Feeling of failures emanates from the expectation, particularly among developing countries, that the industrialised nations would commit and agree to deep CO2 emission cuts which shall be binding on them. Since there has been no binding agreement, a large number of developing countries have returned disappointed.

We may evaluate the outcome of the Conference on the basis of a few issues:

  1. Has the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility" got diluted?

  2. What happens to the commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol?

  3. Per capita emission of carbondioxide has been consistently projected as a parameter of comparison; has this parameter been diluted?

  4. To what extent has the Group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) Initiative been a positive development? Has it helped India's position to be projected and strengthened?

  5. India's National Action Plan on Climate Change emerged as a major and comprehensive Government initiative, so much so that the Prime Minister could claim in various global fora that these actions on the part of India addressed adequately the environmental concerns. Is there a shift in the Government position during Copenhagen Conference?

  6. India's Integrated Energy Policy covering period upto 2032 was prepared taking into account the suggestions and concerns of various stakeholders. To what extent the so called non-binding commitment about reduction in CO2 emission intensity of GDP would stand in the way of implementing the India's Integrated Energy Policy.

(a) Impact on the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility

Kyoto Protocol (1997) was a landmark Agreement. It established the principle of common but differentiated responsibility among the nations. It listed the industrialised countries whose carbondioxide levels were substantially higher and who were expected to reduce the emissions as per specific targets with reference to 1990 level. The developing countries were not expected for implementation of any carbon reduction targets. All the advanced countries, with the exception of U.S.A., ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Response of many advance countries, mainly in Europe, has been comparatively more encouraging towards the commitments for reduction in CO2 emissions, though it is a fact that no advanced country has been able to fully meet the committed reduction. In fact, in most cases the CO2 emission levels have increased.

After the Fourth Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out, in last about two years the issue of global warming assumed much greater proportion and received attention of top most levels in the Governments of different countries. It is this phenomenon that gave rise to the expectation all over the world that in the Copenhagen Conference there would be definite outcomes, that major polluters will agree to undertake deeper emission cut targets, that industrialised nations shall agree to finance emerging technologies, so that developing nations are in a position to enlarge their energy production base through more energy efficient and environment friendly technologies and that the actions across the globe by different countries would be agreed in quantitative terms.

Copenhagen Conference, in the opinion of many, marks the beginning of the end of common but differentiated principle approach. To this extent, it negates what has been a major theme over last many years around which environmental action plans, mitigation and adaptation measures etc. were being structured and implemented. An attempt seems to have been made that the distinction between developed and developing countries may not exist as no legally binding commitment has been taken by anyone. It is precisely for this reason that countries which are underdeveloped and also those which are on fast track of development, are, by and large, dissatisfied with the outcome of the Conference.

(b) Impact of the Conference on Kyoto Protocol

Industry groups and environmentalists both were expecting that not only Kyoto Protocol will be reconfirmed but also there may be further improvement on the intensity and seriousness of actions, for reduction of CO2 emission, that various countries would undertake. However, it is also true that there were other more pragmatic people who were quite apprehensive of the outcome of the Conference. Their assessments about various countries were perhaps more realistic. Since the validity of the Kyoto Protocol is till 2012, various CDM Projects undertaken in last two years or so have been under considerable uncertainties about what would happen beyond 2012. Just a few years back, there was an upsurge in the carbon market. In the recent past uncertainties about extension of Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 have dampened the enthusiasm.

The minimum one would have expected from the Copenhagen Conference is that, pending any other formal Agreement, the validity of Kyoto Protocol could have been extended for a further period of five years or so. Atleast a number of projects which are being taken up in various countries, and which qualify for CDM benefits, could have been pursued and many other such projects could have been brought into implementation. Lack of clarity would obviously cloud and eclipse many such initiatives. It needs to be mentioned that in a number of developing countries, the energy efficiency projects and new technologies of energy generation becomes cost effective only if the benefits under CDM are available. These countries may not be able to afford the high costs that are associated with such projects. Even in India, a large number of micro-hydel projects, wind power plants, bio-mass power generation systems etc. on the electric generation side and energy efficiency projects like Bachat Lamp Yojna are commercially sustainable only if benefits under CDM Schemes are made available to them.

Uncertainties about validity of Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 will also lead to tremendous difficulties in financial closures of new projects. Thus, in the area of Demand Side Management through energy efficiency projects and in Supply Side Management in respect of efficient technologies of energy generation, instead of moving forward, this Conference appears to have created a set back. One may only hope that in the 2010 Mexico Conference uncertainties are adequately addressed.

(c) Per Capita CO2 Emission or Carbon Intensity of GDP

Ever since Kyoto Protocol was signed, distinctions in respect of carbon emissions in different countries have been viewed with reference to per capita emission of carbondioxide. How else could it have been better assessed? Will the absolute tonnage of CO2 produced in a country be a better parameter of comparison? There are a large number of countries with different geographical areas, population etc. An absolute tonnage can obviously not indicate a reliable comparison of intensity of CO2 emission. The principle of per capita emission formulated, and widely accepted, was perhaps in recognition of the fact that every individual human being must be allowed, in an equitable manner, a reasonable amount of environmental or atmospheric space. Even otherwise, in respect of many other parameters of development, per capita principle is an established and acceptable mode of comparison. For example, per capita income, per capita electricity consumption, per capita telephone density etc. better describe the state of development of a country or of a region. Even within a country different regions or States are compared in terms of per capita income, energy consumption etc. In the recent months, there have been opinions suggesting that just because population of a country is large (for example China and India) and is also on the increase, should the per capita carbondioxide emission still continue to be a valid parameter of comparison. Proponents of this theory have advocated that there is a need for parameters like carbon intensity of GDP or carbon intensity of energy etc. Even if we do not depend on the argument that, for years together, per capita emission has been discussed and has been taken as an accepted mode of comparison among the countries, a simple principle of equity requires that individuals should have a claim on environmental space. Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in his address at the Copenhagen Conference, did mention about the approach of equity and atmospheric space to be made available to the people including of the developing countries in an equitable manner. The absolute values of CO2 emissions and per capita emissions of the top twelve countries are as follows :


Million Metric Tonnes of CO2

Per capita Tonnes










Saudi Arabia



























Source : Union of Concerned Scientists/India Today December 21, 2009

Among the twelve countries mentioned above, except for China and India, others were expected to cut emissions as per the Kyoto Protocol. U.S.A. did not ratify Kyoto Protocol. Australia did so as late as 2007, just before the Bali Conference. Canada instead of reducing emissions, has increased by 30% since 1990. U.K. had promised financing energy efficiency projects for developing countries, but nothing significant was done.

Obviously the approach of comparing countries on the basis of per capita CO2 emissions was uncomfortable for the developed countries. They have been voicing for comparison based on other parameters such as CO2 emissions compared with GDP. We need to note that GDP's in the developed countries are obviously large and, therefore, if CO2 emissions are computed per dollar of GDP, the figures for them will work out much less. Underdeveloped countries, whose GDP's would be much less, even though CO2 emissions may be less, if it is divided by GDP as the denominator, their emissions intensity would appear to be higher. This effort of developed countries to change the parameter has been continuing for sometime. International Energy Agency also started publishing and projecting carbon intensity of GDP as a parameter of comparison among the countries. India is not one of the undeveloped countries. But it is also not among the developed nations - neither on absolute value of GDP nor on per capita income, nor on human development index, nor on per capita energy/electricity consumption, nor on any other economic or social development index. Therefore, CO2 emissions per unit of GDP for India only means a great disadvantage. This will be clear from the following Table which gives GDP of a few important countries.


GDP at Current Prices (Billion Dollars)

















Source : Outlook Business, December 26, 2009

From the above Table it may be seen that the GDP of U.S.A. is almost Twelve times that of India. Even GDP of China is more than four times that of India. The fallacy of CO2 emission per unit of GDP is fully exposed from the vast differences in the GDP's of developed countries vis-?-vis those of developing and underdeveloped countries.

If China declares a comparison yardstick in terms of emissions per unit of GDP, one could understand that it helps them. Its GDP is more than four times of India. But, if India blindly follow suit and unilaterally declares the CO2 intensity of GDP, it is nothing more than shooting in its own leg. Unilateral declaration for a 20-25% cut in CO2 emission intensity of GDP by the Minister of Environment has been widely commented in the Press and Media. While in a section of Press it has been appreciated that it is a bold move, others have criticised on the ground that if India gets nothing why was it necessary for the Government to announce it and that such an announcement prior to negotiation really weakens the negotiating team.

Much before to this Conference, Prime Minister of India had made a very bold statement, clearly highlighting the proactive position of India that India would take all possible steps to see that its per capita emission of CO2 never increased beyond the average of industrialised nations. This commitment itself is a great challenge, but it really put India in a very good position, reflecting adequately that its intentions on controlling carbondioxide emission are laudable. Perhaps we could have continued to stay on this position and reiterated this. Even though the Environment Minister made an announcement in India, the Prime Minister's Statement at Copenhagen could have avoided reference to our position on CO2 emission intensity with GDP. Every other aspect of the Prime Minister's statement, which included desirability of continued commitment to Kyoto Protocol and to Bali Action Plan, was appropriately placed, but for the reference to CO2 emission per unit of GDP.

In this regard, we need to examine another important consideration which is being advanced in appreciation of India's declaration of 20-25% cut by 2020. It is said that there would be no difficulty in achieving this as our growth profile will be much higher than profile of CO2 emission over these years. It is true that we will more than achieve this. But, the point which is being missed is that the difference between India and developed countries, on this parameter will narrow and any future negotiation will obviously be constrained by this.

(d) BASIC Initiative and its impact on India's position

The initiative to form the group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China has indeed been a good move diplomatically. If it helps India in consolidating its position in the global framework. However, to what extent our association with China, in the context of climate change could be useful to India, is difficult to establish. Though we have, in the recent years, done well on economic growth, we are not anywhere near China. In electricity consumption per capita India is less than one third of China. In steel production we are about one tenth of China. In power China has over 700 GW, India has 154 GW. In GDP China is more than four times of India. Similarly even on per capita CO2 emission while China is now beyond the global average at 4.58 tonnes per capita, four times of India as we are at 1.16 tonnes.

China has really joined the league of developed nations in almost every aspect, in fact, ahead of a number of advanced countries in most of the economic parameters. To catch up with China it might take India almost 15 years. Global pressure on China regarding CO2 has to be different. Therefore, the consideration that China will have, on issues like CO2 emissions, would be different from what we need to have. It may be recalled that our Environment Minister made an announcement about 20-25% cut in CO2 emissions with reference to GDP, just some weeks ago China had made similar announcement for cuts in emission intensity of GDP. They did it because it suited them. Their GDP base in last 20 years has expanded at an annual growth rate of almost 10%. We have struggled to come to 8 to 9% only now. Any parameter, which puts GDP in the denominator, cannot be of advantage to India when it comes to making comparison with developed countries. Therefore, our association with BASIC has been of limited advantage. No doubt, India got the advantage of a highly visible presence, because the President of United States found it handy to talk to this Group and disregard the G-77 nations.

(e) India's National Action Plan on Climate Change is Adequate

The National Action Plan on Climate Change, which was launched by the Prime Minister, is not only a comprehensive Agenda to mitigate environmental concerns and climate change issues, but also it would be a great challenge to implement all that have been envisaged in this document. As a follow-up, if we take the example of the target of 20,000 MW of solar power capacity, by any standard, it is highly challenging is not impossible. We need to keep in mind that India needs power but it also needs cost effective power for its industry to be globally competitive and for its rural population to have access to affordable power. Several Missions, which have been envisaged in the Action Plan, will need to deliver on specific targets. The issue for Copenhagen deliberation is whether India needed to go beyond this National Action Plan, which itself can be projected as a highly credible set of initiatives and as a solid answer to climate change concerns. Was it necessary to get into the issue of carbon emission intensity of GDP and to announce an emission cut target? Obviously this is a shift in India's position on the subject.

A question can be raised as to why India should remain stuck-up on provisions of Kyoto Protocol and whether it should not move beyond to appear proactive and progressive. It looks a very sound argument that we should move forward. But, we must consider that there are countries which have not cared to implement even what was provided in the Kyoto Protocol. In any case, India's concern on climate change comes out outstandingly among the nations. This concern is not only limited to the Government, but it has percolated and permeated across industry and among citizens. Outlook Business December 26, 2009 has presented a survey by the Washington based Research Centre. The extract given below highlights how India's concerns have been rated high.

"Climate Concern

India is more worried about global warming than China, says a survey by the Washington based Pew Research Centre. The Global Attitudes survey adds that 67% Indians are concerned that climate change is a serious issue against just 30% Chinese. The survey shows that there is a lot less concern about climate change in the three major polluters - US, Russia and China - than in other leading nations. Anxiety about global warming is also less pervasive among Israelis, Kenyans, Canadians and Indonesians. In India and Brazil, which have enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years, eight out of 10 people favour giving priority to the environment over rapid economic expansion. People in these countries are willing to make sacrifices to protect the environment, says the think-tank.

Citizen Support


Global Warming*











*Note : Percentage of people who support their government's efforts in climate control. "

In the light of the above, India did not need to go beyond its plans and programmes as contained in the National Action Plan on Climate Change just to satisfy the world about its proactive approach.

(f) India's Commitment and its Impact on Integrated Energy Policy

The Integrated Energy Policy which was finalised in late 2006, is today the most authentic and comprehensively prepared document on India's strategy for energy development during the period 2007-32. In the field of power, it has projected 8 to 9% growth. Even after depending heavily on the hydro-electric potentials, using the limited availability of gas, possible additions through nuclear route and full exploitation of other renewable energy sources, a substantial dependence on fossil fuels is inevitable. We must recognise that more than 50% of rural India is deprived of access to reasonable amount of electricity. An inclusive growth requires accelerated expansion of power sector which, in next 25 years, does not seem to be possible without major dependence on fossil fuels. The type of commitments that are now being made, or would be made, have to be examined to ascertain the impact that these would create on the Integrated Energy Policy stipulations. We have to have a harmonious balance between high cost technologies to mitigate the global warming challenge and at the same time meet the need for generating and providing affordable power. A comprehensive exercise is needed to re-visit the Integrated Energy Policy. Such an exercise should desirably involve all the stakeholders as was done in preparing the Energy Policy during 2004-06.


India must do everything possible to address the issues concerning global warming. Our energy development programmes, consumption pattern, transport systems, all need to be attuned to meet this objective. It is not the objective of this paper to emphasise that business as usual should be allowed to continue. The thrust of this paper, however, is about the strategy with reference to global negotiations. Kyoto Protocol was a landmark initiative. All efforts need to be made to structure various strategies around the central theme of this Protocol. We don't need to go very much out of way to convince others. What is needed is to convince ourselves and commit to mitigating climate change concerns.