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National Action Plan on Climate Change: A critical appreciation, Shri R V Shahi, Former Secretary, Ministry of Power

The Prime Minister of India launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change on June 30, 2008. Several groups of experts have worked in formulating this document which has now been proposed for a wider discussion and debate. While launching this document the Prime Minister himself said "The plan should be the subject of national debate. It will evolve and improve through a much wider interaction than has been possible so far." As we are aware, in the month of August 2007, the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out and it created, on a global basis, the desired response. The report has projected the implications of climate change throughout the world in next several decades and has presented rather a scary picture of consequences of climate change. Responding to these developments - and as a matter of fact the global concerns that have emerged particularly in last two years - the Prime Minister set up "Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change" with representations from various stakeholders and from all the concerned Ministries and Departments. Finally the draft report prepared by the Council has now been placed for, as mentioned above, a wider discussion.

The report rightly emphasizes that the threat of climate change emanates from accumulated green house gas emissions generated through long term and intensive industrial growth and high consumption life styles in developed countries. Subsequently in the report this point has been brought out with facts and figures saying that the per capita carbon dioxide emissions, in terms of metric tonnes, is as high as over 20 in case of the U.S.A., 9.40 (European Union), 9.87 (Japan), 11.71 (Russia). Even the global average is 4.25 tonnes while in India it is marginally above 1 tonne. India's position, thus, is very comfortable and even if we proceed with the energy development programmes as projected in the Integrated Energy Policy (2006), for the next 25 year period, the per capita carbon dioxide emission is not likely to be beyond even the present day world average. However, it cannot be India's case that since we are so favourably placed, we should not be doing things which we need to and ought to do to address the rising trend of CO2 emissions. Therefore, the National Action Plan has correctly laid down the following guiding principles:

  • Inclusive and sustainable development strategy, which should be sensitive to climate change, for protecting the poor and vulnerable sections of society.

  • A qualitative change in direction which enhances ecological sustainability leading to further mitigation of green house gas emissions.

  • Cost effective strategies in respect of Demand Side Management (DSM).

  • Deployment of appropriate technologies for adaptation and mitigation of green house gases emissions at an accelerated pace.

  • Development of innovative market structure and mechanism to promote sustainable development.

  • Strategies for effective implementation of various programmes through involvement and participation of society and local government institutions as well as through public private partnership.

  • Facilitating International cooperation for research, development and promotion of new technologies.

The action plan stipulates a Mission mode for adaptation in relation to and mitigation of climate change concerns. This would indeed be the right approach. In the past it has been seen that if a task has been brought to be implemented though a Mission and if sufficient support has been provided to the Mission, invariably things have happened. The Action Plan provides for (a) National Solar Mission, (b) National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency, (c) National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, (d) National Water Mission, (e) National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Eco Systems, (f) National Mission for Green India, (g) National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture and (h) National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change. The report has also dealt with the issue of implementation through these missions and Institutional Arrangement for managing the climate change agenda.

While we will discuss and analyse the objectives, strategy and Action programmes of each of these Missions as described in the Action Plan, it appears relevant to comment upon the implementation mechanism for the agenda. In the report the organization chart for the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change provides for roles for the core Negotiating Team alongwith the multi Ministry Technical Support Group to assist the Negotiating Team, a long term research agenda to be looked after by the Principal Scientific Advisor alongwith specific units of Ministry of Science and Technology and other concerned Ministries. A Coordination Unit for implementation of the National Plan of Action has been put with the Ministry of Environment and Forest. No doubt, Ministry of Environment and Forest is the nodal Ministry for the subject, however, this Ministry, as it is, is over burdened with the authority and responsibility relating to environment sanctions and clearances of projects concerning all sectors and also for forest clearance. This has been the general perception that with the rapid pace of developmental activities in all areas of economy and industry, it has not been possible for this Ministry to cope with the burdens and deal with the cases in an expeditious fashion. In any case, an agency which is a regulatory agency for environmental matters may not be the right agency to provide necessary coordination and be accountable for implementation of the National Action Plan on Climate Change. We need to think of a different mechanism which could function directly under the PMO and be accountable to coordinate with various Ministries, Departments, Private and Public Sector organizations, Industry bodies etc. and deliver the result. Perhaps a National Commission on Climate Change under the PMO, with the accountability not only for the implementation but also for providing necessary coordination with the core negotiating team and research agenda group to be pursued by the Ministry of Science and Technology and other Ministries, could be a more appropriate solution to implementing the National Agenda.

Another issue which needs to be commented is with regard to the observed changes in climate and weather in India. In the report it has been clearly brought out that there are some observed changes in climate parameters in India, but, "No firm link between the documented changes and warming due to anthropogenic climate change has yet been established." This statement has been made in the report in relation to the observed changes in respect of surface temperature which is reported to have increased by 0.40C in last one century. It has also been observed that there is a trend for warming along the West Coast, Central India and North Eastern India. Cooling trend, however, has been observed in North West India and parts of South India. Therefore, even as per these observations there is no definite trend of warming across all regions of the country. Similarly, trends have been observed in respect of rainfall and increase or decrease is not uniform across the regions. While in certain regions there is an increasing trend in the last 100 years, in certain other regions the trend is decreasing. Instrument records over last 130 years do not indicate, as mentioned in this document, any marked long term trend in the frequencies of large scale draughts and floods. From these descriptions it is clear that in the Indian context no definitive conclusions could be reached about trend of increase in temperature, in rainfall, extreme weather conditions etc. attributable to anthropogenic change.

In spite of the above conclusions on the trends of the past, the report has made some projections of climate change over India for the 21st Century. And, it says "Some modeling and other studies have projected the following changes due to increase in atmospheric green house gas concentrations arising from increased global anthropogenic emissions." This statement is somewhat contradictory to what has been stated earlier that no firm link between the documented changes and warming due to anthropogenic climate change has been established. The question therefore arises that if we have been unable to establish any firm correlation based on last 100 years data how is it that we can take these predictions of a few studies for next 100 years. These conflicting statements in Action Plan therefore need to be addressed and reconciled. What may perhaps be necessary to add is that while projections of climate change over India for the 21st Century have been made on the basis of a few studies, the conclusions and possible impact of projected climate change will need to be further studied before any conclusive statements could be made about the impacts. By now we know that there are different groups of Scientists and institutions who have differing opinions about the IPCC latest report. While a group of Scientists and Institutions have supported the findings of IPCC, which are in fact a collection of researches done by various institutions, there are other groups of Scientists who have very strongly contested these conclusions. In the National Action Plan therefore a disclaimer to the above effect could be necessary.

Solar Energy has been rightly given the first priority in presentation of the Report and a National Solar Mission has been suggested. Our experiences with these Missions have been rather mixed. If right support has been provided by way of financing inputs, organizational frame work and placements of right people, they have delivered. On the other hand, there are examples where these Missions have not been so effective. Harnessing Solar Energy is at a stage of technological development, not only in India but globally, that it will require a really very powerful boost. Unless medium and long term strategies with definite Action Agenda, with promised deliverables, are worked out, it is apprehended that the desired objective may be difficult to materialize. Corporate structures under the Government of India in many spheres have delivered good results. Top most power generating companies under the Central sector, some of them from the State sector (if they so volunteer), couple of them from the private sector (if they are keen) and the premier power equipment manufacturers could be approached to create an institution which should be expected to deliver this result. It may not be difficult for organizations like NTPC, BHEL, Tata Power, Reliance Energy etc. to create a joint organization with sufficient amount of fund to take this initiative. Similarly large finance organizations like banks, financial institutions, PFC, REC etc. could also be encouraged to participate in this process. This type of a corporate structure is likely to deliver in a predictable way, an outcome which may be difficult to achieve only through a Mission.

In another sense also, these power generating institutions and similarly the manufacturing organizations, which have mostly been concerned with conventional technologies, owe a responsibility towards the society that they must make visible contribution through harnessing Solar Energy. In couple of years, India would be producing 1000 Billion Units annually more than 25% of which (i.e. 250 Billion Units) would be by NTPC. We should expect that in next 5 to 7 years or so the above group should be asked to produce at least 5% that is about 12 Billion Units from solar system. At higher volumes, price of solar power could also come down. On research these organizations could provide, say about Rs. 2,000 crores and equal amount could be given by Government of India and more funds could be arranged through financing agencies. Solar Technology has got to be made cost effective in the long term range but it could be achieved in phases and progressively. Higher price of solar power pooled with lower price of conventional power could provide an affordable solution for which Regulators will need to be in sync with the overall approach.

On the role of Nuclear Power, in the overall energy strategy of the country, the Report has excellently covered the optimistic scenario of expansion of the Nuclear based power generation capacity. It is at present less than 3% of the total installed capacity and the long term scenario upto 2050 has projected this capacity to go beyond 2,50,000 MW. Even upto 2030 the capacity projected is in the range of about 50,000 MW as compared to the present capacity of 4,200 MW. As per a recent report (refer Hindustan Times, July 06, 2008), through a research carried over last two years, Stanford University Professors have established that if India installed 20,000 MW of Nuclear Power by 2020, it would say 145 million tonnes of carbon emissions, and that this saving would be nearly as large as the entire commitment of the 25 European Union Nations to reducing emissions under Kyoto Protocol. They have further observed that if the capacity additions go upto 40,000 MW, as targeted, the carbon emission saved would be a whopping 300 million tonnes. While these calculations are obvious, perhaps they would need to be underscored in the report. What perhaps is also required to be highlighted is that these capacity projections based on nuclear fuel would be possible only if India went ahead with the Nuclear Agreement with the U.S.A and with the Nuclear Supply Group nations. The fact of the matter today is that even for the present installed capacity of 4,200 MW India does not have sufficient fuel and, as a result, these plants operate at less than 60% of their capacities.

The National Mission for Green India has outlined very ambitious targets of massive afforestation. But, for implementation, the report is largely depending upon the Joint Forest Management Committees. The concept of JFMC is laudable. However, experiences of implementation through this mechanism have been rather mixed. There are States which have achieved moderate success but there are many others where no visible outcomes are seen. Under the compensatory afforestation Policy of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, each project development agency is required to deposit funds to create twice the amount of forest uprooted i.e. for every acre of forest destroyed two acres of forest need to be developed. Large organizations in power and coal sectors have deposited huge funds over last 15 to 20 years. The implementation is required to be carried out through State Forest Departments. An assessment of implementation would reveal that progress has been far from being satisfactory. From the Ministry of Power an attempt was made right in the beginning of the Xth Five Year Plan to create a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a large corporation, which could be participated by major organizations in thermal power, hydro power and coal, with the task of delivering State level, Regional level and National level forests. Not much, however, could be achieved in view of not so encouraging response from various concerned agencies. If the Mission for Green India has to succeed we need to put in place the above mechanism, which should be entrusted with the accountability to deliver the predetermined outcomes.

The Action Plan has also emphasized on the need for larger power generating capacity additions through natural gas. Obviously, this is one of the desirable options to substitute, to the extent possible, coal based power generation capacity. But, only a few weeks back the approach paper on Gas Utilisation Policy drafted by Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has sought to accord lower priority for allocation of Natural Gas to power sector. I have written a separate piece on this, specially highlighting that it would give a wrong signal that our approach on climate change has not been appropriately captured in the draft Gas Utilisation Policy.

Decentralised Distributed Generation (DDG) holds enormous potential for not only addressing the extreme power shortage situation in rural India but also it would be a significant answer to the climate change issues. Both grid connected and off-grid solutions, relevant to the local conditions, will need to be pursued. Similarly, various technology options, as available today, and as can be further researched and developed will need to be deployed. Just as Solar Mission we need to have a Mission approach for Decentralized Distributed Generation. But the actual modality of operations, perhaps could be through a corporate structure rather than just a Mission like a Task Force. Rural Electrification Corporation alongwith other organizations could embark upon this task of electrifying large parts of rural India through Decentralised Distributed Generation.

On the whole, the National Action Plan on Climate Change is a well conceived, comprehensive and excellently articulated document. The Prime Minister while launching this document, emphasized "I wish to conclude by recalling Mahatma Gandhi's sagacious message not only to the people of India, but to the world at large - The earth has enough resources to meet people's needs, but will never have enough to satisfy people's greed." The National Action Plan not only brings out India's intent to follow both the adaptation and mitigation measures to address the climate change concerns but modality of implementation as brought out clearly highlights India's seriousness and commitment on this subject. Some of the issues which have been brought out in this paper could further refine the approach and assure better implementation and greater degree of outcomes. A National Commission on Climate Change as suggested in this paper will go a long way in ensuring that the objectives are fulfilled and targets are delivered.