Mausam 5
. . . talking climate in public space

by India Climate Justice Collective

first published 5 November 2015

In early December 2015 in Paris, at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries aim to finalise a new international climate agreement. The new treaty will include the actions each country intends to take after the year 2020 to address climate change – the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) already being weaker than the legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions agreed under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

This special issue of Mausam magazine explores India’s INDC in depth, providing detailed but accessible analysis of India’s energy sources and consumption. A PDF of the issue is available upon request from The Corner House.

India intends to reduce by one-third not its carbon dioxide emissions, but its emissions intensity as a percentage of GDP. Because the government is striving for economic growth, the country’s emissions will actually shoot up under the plan rather than diminish. Indeed, the INDC categorically refuses to commit to a peak emission level, unlike that from most other major economies.

The emission increases have been justified on the grounds that India – “a complex, stratified society that has become more unequal over the last few years” – needs to develop. But although India’s electricity generation capacity has trebled over the past decade, one-quarter of its people still have no access to electricity while another quarter get supply for only a few hours a day, suggesting that most of the electricity generated caters to the already wealthy.

The INDC claims that electricity will increasingly be generated from non-fossil fuels, but Mausam’s analyses show that in fact nearly 80 per cent of it will still come from fossil fuels, particularly coal – a massive projected expansion in coal mining and burning has bizarrely been turned into the country’s “salvation logic”.

The INDC also proposes a ten-fold expansion in nuclear power generation, and continued promotion of large hydroelectric dams in the ecologically and geologically fragile Himalayan range.

In addition it aims to create the world’s largest carbon offset project from forests and tree plantations to sequester (supposedly) carbon dioxide – in practice, a blueprint to privatise the country’s forests and handover land to large private companies that will only encourage and strengthen “a corrupt and feudal-colonial forest bureaucracy, at the cost of Indian forest communities.”

As the Indian government is not putting enough of its own money behind the plan, it intends to experiment with market mechanisms and get external finance and credit facilities to pay for it but provides no detailed financial strategy of how it will go about this.

Mausam’s contributors conclude that India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution was not nationally determined and does not contribute to solving the climate crisis: “if anything, it can only help worsen the crisis . . . In reality, the world will be committed to great climate chaos in decades to come. This is the real nature and value of the INDCs.”

While “a comprehensive dialogue about the nature, pace and route of transiting away from fossil fuels in this country is necessary and urgent”, the INDC didn’t facilitate such discussions. There was little or no mention or debate about it in the public domain or in Parliament. The contributors affirm that:

“A more democratic INDC would have paid heed to the enormous resistance to coal mining, power projects, hydro power, industrial corridors and other projects exploding in every corner of this country in recent years . . . The only way that governments can be pushed to act with greater urgency is from stronger, wider and sustained resistance by people’s movements, at all levels, and by effectively linking anti-capitalist struggles with those of climate justice.”