People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 26

July 06 , 2008


India's Climate Action Plan:  Many Points, No Direction


THE prime minister, who heads the PM's Council on Climate Change, released the much-anticipated National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) on June 30. The NAPCC was expected to lay down a national strategy on climate change with regard to adaptation and mitigation (reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) both domestically and in the context of global arrangements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The NAPCC has been several months in the making, unfortunately through a highly confidential process with not even an attempt at seeking opinions of a broader community of experts and other knowledgeable and concerned sections. In the past, drafts of some important new policies, such as the New Environment Policy, were made public, suggestions invited and even some consultations held before finalisation, even if this process lacked in sincerity. This time around, there was a thick veil of secrecy. After all, the issue of climate change is not like the nuclear deal… or is it?

Maybe all the secrecy was prompted by the government's experience with the nuclear deal where so much informed debate took place in the public domain much to the government's discomfiture. One cannot ignore the fact that the prime minister's special envoy for the nuclear deal, former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, is also the designated special envoy and leader of the “Core Team” for international climate negotiations for which the designated nodal ministry is the ministry of external affairs!

The timing of the NAPCC's release is no coincidence either. The prime minister's office (PMO) attaches as much importance to taking the NAPCC to the G8 Summit in Japan later this week as it does to declaring there that it is going ahead with the nuclear deal. The US and other G8 nations have been pressing India hard to come up with some promises and action on tackling climate change, especially since the earlier G8 summit at Heiligendamm in Germany, and they expected delivery at this summit.


No vision  

Regrettably, India's NAPCC is replete with high-sounding but vague goals, shows some good intentions in parts and a few sound suggestions especially with regard to technologies, but has no vision to speak of and reveals little political will to translate it into action.

NAPCC proclaims its intention to constitute a “national strategy to firstly, adapt to climate change and secondly, to further enhance the ecological sustainability of India's development path”. But it does not address the first in any rigorous or detailed manner while the second, going so far as to declare “a directional shift in the development pathway”, is simply a tall claim.  

NACPP expectedly reiterates India's adherence to the Kyoto principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, thus rightly underlining its rejection of binding emissions reduction targets. At the same time, clearly aiming at assuaging increasingly shrill demands from the US and others, NACCP has a major focus on mitigation even at the cost of adaptation, prompted by the need to show that its approach is “compatible with our role as a responsible and enlightened member of the international community” ready to make contributions to tackling a global problem including fulfillment of the obligation of all parties under UNFCCC including developing countries to “formulate and implement programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change” short of binding targets. At least formally, India can now claim she has done that.

The hand of the traditionally timid and, of late, markedly pro-US and pro-Western thinking of the external affairs ministry (the nodal ministry for climate negotiations) is then visible in stating what it expects from developed countries: very little indeed! NAPCC only calls upon them to “affirm their responsibility for accumulated GHG emissions and fulfill their commitments under the UNFCCC”. No demand that the US join the Treaty or a statement that humanity may be doomed if the US stays out. No demand that developed countries agree to and be accountable for “deep cuts” far exceeding their existing Kyoto commitments as called for by the IPCC but with targets dropped from the Bali Declaration at US insistence. Clearly NAPCC has been drafted and shaped with the US as key target audience.

Commitments of developed countries under the UNFCCC are in fact seen as being solely “to transfer additional financial resources and climate friendly technologies to… developing countries.” This has been India's unfortunately consistent and extremely weak contribution to the entire process of global climate negotiations: to convert the entire discourse into one about money, about transfer of financial or knowledge resources from the political-economic North to the South. The climate battle is not primarily about money, however important the demand is for resource transfers as a legitimate part of the ecological debt owed by the developed countries. Reversing climate change will require a fundamental re-ordering of global developmental structures, but there is no hint of this in NAPCC. If that's too much to ask for, let us turn to the specifics.

No strategy

The operational thrust of NAPCC is in the shape of eight Missions on Solar Energy; Enhancing Energy Efficiency; Sustainable Habitat (embracing energy use in buildings, municipal solid wastes and urban transport); Water Resources; Himalayan Ecosystem; Afforestation; Agriculture; and Climate-related R&D or what is termed Strategic Knowledge.

Two things are striking at the very outset.

Firstly, NAPCC sets very few quantitative targets except in one or two cases which we shall discuss. We are not speaking of binding targets under UNFCCC but targets set internally for ourselves to achieve. Can one talk of Missions without defined mission statements or goals? There is no statement of a baseline of current emissions and projected trajectory under a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, against which targets are set or achievements over and above the normal trend could be assessed. There is also no overarching target or goal that knits NAPCC together.

Contrast this with China's National Climate Change Policy (CNCCP) which, although criticised by some environmentalists for not going far enough, certainly makes a good beginning with measurable goals. As an overarching goal, set against baseline figures of emissions, energy use and other parameters, it targets a “20 percent reduction of energy consumption per unit GDP by 2010, and consequently reduce CO2 emissions” and then goes on to specify 2010 targets for renewable energy, afforestation in terms of percent cover and also carbon sink quantum, renewable energy etc. NAPCC contains no comparable overall goal or target of, for instance, lower rates of inevitable emissions growth or lower energy intensity of the economy or lower carbon-intensity. While elsewhere the NAPCC speaks of the importance of “benchmarks for enforcement and monitoring”, it fights shy of applying this to itself!


There is no target set for increasing the proportion of renewable energy in the total energy mix. The NAPCC's Solar Mission promises to promote use of solar energy in homes, commercial establishments and for power generation through photo-voltaics, solar thermal and Concentrating Solar Power. The Mission does set a target of 80 per cent coverage for all low temperature and 60 per cent coverage for medium-temp solar energy applications in urban areas, industries and commercial but in the absence of any benchmark figures for current energy consumption in these sectors, there is no way to assess performance.

On conventional power generation, NAPCC discusses various options at length particularly as to introduction of available new technologies but little on increasing energy generation efficiencies in existing plants. Improving energy-use efficiencies especially in industry is also discussed but, while mentioning that authoritative studies have estimated that CO2 emissions from fuel and electricity use in industry could be reduced by about 16 per cent over BAU by 2031, there is no suggestion that increased energy efficiencies will be mandated. On the contrary, NAPCC hints at low expectations on this count by lamenting that these measures would involve incremental and investment costs and need for technology transfer from developed countries, hopes for more funding becoming available under Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or other multilateral arrangements, of which there is little chance, and leaves it at that!

Similarly in Habitat there are lots of homilies to promoting public transport, better urban planning and paying attention to water supply and sanitation but, apart from recounting estimates from the National Energy Map of India (2006) that energy savings could be as much as 30 per cent in new residential and 40 per cent in new commercial buildings, and that substantial savings could be garnered by shifts to public transportation and inter-modal shifts from road to rail, there are again no targets. The Plan relies on labeling, tax policies and credit mechanisms but no mandating or regulatory measures. The lack of political will and legislative or policy support is once again evident. NAPCC recounts that the Tenth Plan had set targets of 100 per cent water supply and 75 per cent sewerage/sanitation services in urban areas but does not say how much was achieved. It takes the welcome stand that municipal solid waste (MSW) management should be considered a public good or environmental service to be provided by government and not as a potentially profitable - even though current neo-liberal government policies particularly under the JNNURM are going in exactly the opposite direction - and pointedly remarks that this will require even more funds than provided for water and sanitation! On mass transportation, NAPCC laments that it would entail substantial costs and “diverting resources from other priority claims on fiscal resources”.

On water resources, the Plan admits that India is heading inexorably towards severe water scarcity, notably due to unchecked groundwater extraction indeed “mining”. But apart from a vaguely-worded promise to “develop a framework to optimise water use by increasing water use efficiency by 20 per cent”, it again fights shy of mandating and regulating extraction patterns and falls back on pricing mechanisms and marginal “solutions” such as urban water harvesting.

In agriculture, India is expecting huge impact at least till 2030 on food production, soil health, fertilizer use and the nitrogen cycle regardless of mitigation measures according to official estimates. Despite this, NAPCC devotes meagre attention to adaptation measures apart from long-term correctives.


So where is the “directional shift” and the “sustainable developmental pathway”? Where is the political will and coherence of governance?

The lack of funds is a recurrent theme in the NAPCC. While the Action Plan is slated to cover the next two Plan periods till 2017, it states only that wherever “the Mission calls for an enhancement of the allocation…, this will be suitably considered”, which is finance-ministry-speak for “don't ask us for funds”!  

If each government department is expected to “do what it can” within the funds, policy framework and institutional structures presently available, no wonder there are no targets and no wonder the NAPCC is full of regurgitated projections and promises from earlier reports and documents. Such as increasing forest cover to 33 per cent, a government target going back at least a decade, and a promise for afforestation of 6 million hectares of degraded land, for which funds have been set apart under Supreme Court orders as compensation for diversion of forest lands for commercial and industrial purposes!

Another recurrent theme is the problem of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in connection with technology transfer from developed countries. Regrettably, here too there is no recognition that the issue of IPRs in climate-related technologies is fundamental to the North-South conflict as well as to tackling the climate crisis, just as it has been seen in the case of major communicable diseases and pharmaceutical research. India should lead a demand by developing countries that all climate-related technologies should be placed in the public domain rather than seeking some coping mechanisms to deal with the privatisation and commodification of knowledge under monopoly capitalism.  

All this is not to take away from the several good sections in NAPCC, especially where research goals and future technology trajectories are discussed.  Some sound research goals, with quantified targets, are indeed put forward such as in renewable energy systems, local production of solar photovoltaic systems, in solar thermal power and in closed-cycle nuclear power. These strong areas in the NAPCC are clearly due to the overall guidance or prodding of scientific and technological agencies under the umbrella of the Principal Scientific Advisor, a key element in the Action Plan structure and which correctly recognises that technology is a key element in emissions mitigation strategies.

Unfortunately, technology by itself cannot achieve the desired objectives which require funding, a re-oriented policy framework with mandatory performance goals and corresponding regulatory, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms rather than reliance on market forces, and above all a political will. Regrettably these are absent from the NAPCC.

It is to be hoped that the promise that “the NAPCC will continue to evolve” is not merely lip service and that the NAPCC will be thrown open for wider consultation. Informed public opinion and mass campaigns should strive to re-shape the Climate Action Plan towards meeting the twin and complementary goals of climate change mitigation and sustainable development.