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Journalist Nitin Sethi answers readers’ questions on climate change and India


 Nitin Sethi - Senior Associate Editor, Business Standard

Nitin Sethi, Senior Associate Editor, Business Standard
DATE: September 02, 2015
SUBJECT: Should India distance itself from China on its climate change policy?

ASKED BY: RANJEET KUMAR

The biggest hurdle in tackling climate change is finance in a developing country. Although, India is ready to adopt the process of mitigation and adaptation, we do not have money to implement this. Nevertheless, we have launched many ambitious plans to tackle climate change like installation of 100 GW solar power and wind etc, however it looks impossible. On the other hand, developed countries dont seem to fulfill their commitment of $100 billion green climate fund. So sir how do you see solve this problem? My second question is do we really equate china with us knowing that the have reached at par with them on industrial revolution but we even have not properly started it our “per cepital emission” is lowest in the world in that scenario. How can we make any BINDING COMMITMENT?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Ranjeet you ask two questions. Let me try to answer both separately. On finance – If the G77 group of countries can stick closer together at the climate negotiations they should be able to drive a harder bargain at Paris and get some of the committed finances flowing. Its going to be uphill as the ongoing negotiations at Bonn are reflecting. But it is an essential make or break issue now for the Paris talks everyone realises. On India’s ambitious targets – While many experts have also warned that some of these targets are too ambitious they at least provide a good signal to market and investors as to which direction we are moving. We may not say achieve the 100 GW target in the scheduled time but even if we achieve say 60-70 GW it would have been a great leap. And who knows if technology prices would substantially reduce as we scale up to make these targets achievable in a bit longer a run

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ASKED BY: RANJEET KUMAR

Sir, should we also make a similar binding and peak year commitment as China in its deal with the US and what is submitted to UNFCCC?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Ranjeet. At this stage of development it does not make sense to provide a peaking year, such as the one given by China. Our peaking year would be somewhere around the 2040s. One cannot predict the vast amount of structural changes in the economy or the technological breakthroughs that can happen between then and now. In my view, its good to bend the curve ambitiously right now – go below the business as usual emissions trajectory but not provide a peaking year. Its too far beyond to be of consequence to the Paris agreement.

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ASKED BY: RAHUL DUBEY

It appears that India’s role will be very crucial in Paris, probably as important or more than that of China. Why? Is it building substantial pressure on India?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Mr Dubey. No. China is not building pressure on India. In fact, the climate talks are one of the few multilateral forums where China and India coordinate very closely as partners. This is because several economic and strategic interests of the two – at the moment – are similar in nature and extent. India, China and US would all three be critical at Paris. EU naturally is the other big boy at the table

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ASKED BY: CHARITH

Mr. Sethi, Do you think India is in a position to announce a peak year for emissions (as China did) given that we have ~180 million people below the poverty line and ~250 million people without electricity? Do we even know our growth potential?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Dear Charith, as i answered to a question before, no. India is in too early a stage of development to be able to provide a short peaking year. It would be – at current technology and growth trajectories – around 2040s. It does not make sense to provide a date so far away. But yes, India should project an ambitious set of activities to tackle climate change commensurate with its capacity and responsibility

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ASKED BY: RK SINGH, NEW YORK

What’s your view on Obama’s climate change plan and do you Indian PM understands what Climate Change is? Most of Indian cities are so polluted?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Dear Mr Singh, The US has stepped up to take its responsibility on climate change rather late in the day – remember it sat out during the entire life of Kyoto Protocol. It now has taken what the world sees as important but baby steps. By all measures the actions US is now taking to fight climate change are rather limited compared to their share of the responsibility and capability. One can understand the US’ dilemma in suddenly jumping in to the deep end of the pool. It wants to delay the tougher actions on climate change in to the second half the century. Unfortunately that may not be good enough if what science currently tells us is true Sorry to add to your question on the ability of PM Modi to comprehend the challenge: There are two concerns here, at times linked and at others not. One is the global challenge of climate change and second is the domestic issue of pollution loads. Most countries have gone through similar challenges during this stage of economic development. India’s challenge is to not go down the same path but find a more suitable growth route up. Is the PM focused on the domestic environmental issues ? No unfortunately the government sees several of these only as impediments on the road to growth. The abuse of environmental laws is a fact but throwing out all regulations and monitoring in the name of reforms is dangerous as well.

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ASKED BY: BIRAJ PATNAIK

Dear Nitin, How close a parallel would you draw between what the CEA has proposed now and what Jairam Ramesh had when he was Environment Minister? Would you attribute the same source from which this line of thinking emanates from time to time in India’ climate negotiation and what might that be?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

I think the views of the ill-founded views of the Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian are pretty close to those once propagated by UPA’s then environment minister Jairam Ramesh. They both sought to alter India’s long standing positions claiming it would help India secure a seat on the UNSC – i would call that absolute bunkum. Both suggested India should be sitting on the high table with the big boys rather than working with the developing and poor countries in the G77 block. Again a silly black and white picture that any climate negotiator with a month’s experience would say is living in fantasy land. Third, they both tried to junk India’s scientific, ethical as well as strategically rock solid argument that countries must act based on both their historical responsibilities and capabilities and not just the latter. I think both advocated a position that the US would be very happy seeing us adopt and has demanded off us at various forums formally and informally. This bogey of moving away from China or closer to the US is silly because what a nation needs to think is what are its interests. And if our national interests and priorities have not changed why should our stance change. Who we chose as partners to help us achieve our national interest is a secondary question. The two, in my view, have mashed up the two ideas rather badly. Especially Mr Subramanian who got his basic facts and state of negotiations wrong as well

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ASKED BY: RSHI

Will India be able to reduce emissions while driving economic growth and improved standard of living for its citizens in the up coming Paris climate conference keeping in view that the share of renewables in India’s energy mix is less than 9 percent?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

India is capable of reducing the emissions intensity of its economy and I would predict that India would take a target of that nature soon under the Paris agreement. But an absolute reduction of emissions now is out of the question and i do not think any other country expects that of India at the moment.

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ASKED BY: RAHUL DUBEY

The Environment Minister seems to be very unclear on the entire issue and has made contradictory remarks in the past India’s commitment. How, in your study, Mr Modi views the whole issue, if at all he does? Are Indian environment, power and PMO united on the subject?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

The confusion in the NDA government, quite like that in the UPA govenrment, is because it has several prominent and influential thinking heads coming from different points of view, interests and inclinations – which may or may not have to do with a well grounded understanding of India’s interests at the climate talks or its implications beyond climate change negotiations. In this government the people to watch out for on climate change, besides the environment minister and the PM are Railways minister Suresh Prabhu, mandarins of Niti Ayog the two finance ministers and the chief economic advisor. So far I see a convergence in the views of various concerned ministries such as power, mea and environment but the talking heads seem to have differing views at times

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ASKED BY: VENKAT

Do you think the current targets in regards to the National Solar Mission and Green corridor are overly exaggerated considering the previous failures in implementation of the same? How do we proceed on the Urban emission targets considering that the air quality index of our major cities are seriously affecting our productive/human capital?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Achievements over previous years do not provide the confidence that we can meet these targets against the tight deadlines set by the government. But an ambitious target can send a good signal to players and the market to invest, which is good. On the issue of urban emissions i think we should be careful to segregate concerns about pollutants that impact immediate environment and public health and Greenhouse Gas emissions. Sometimes they can be tackled together but at times resolving one can exacerbate the other. Cleaning up the cities should be a high priority for reasons of domestic pollution concerns that are more immediate and solely India’s responsibility to resolve

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ASKED BY: ACHILLES

Can India reach China’s levels of manufacturing prowess without some compromises on the climate change front? Some Chinese cities are polluted but no more or less than Delhi or Mumbai.

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Its a tough one for India. Also there are large questions still open about how India wants to see the structure of its economy change with time. If we want to add a stronger manufacturing base we shall be on a higher emission trajectory than the business as usual for the past decade. Yet there are several slices of the economy available where we can make relative improvement – in terms of energy efficiency and increasing the role of renewable energy sources

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ASKED BY: VENKAT

During the last few years, India’s role in leading the LDC’s and Developing countries at the International Forums like UNFCCC/WTO , India’s leadership seems to be diminishing and a shift is seen to favour the Developed Countries . While this may look favourable in near term, in long term our interests of growth might be stymied . What do you think India’s role should be going forward in such multi-lateral forums with regards to its approach and leadership?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

At the climate talks India has been strongly anchored in the G77 group but we must remember the G77 itself is a fractious one. the LDCs and SIDs are often considered sitting closer to the EU on several issues (sometimes called the Durban Alliance). At the climate negotiations India also works closely with a group of developing countries called the LMDC. This is a closer bound group and at the moment rather influential at the talks

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ASKED BY: VINEET

Will India’s ambitious plan to harness solar power help the country reduce depletion of natural resources and contain the severity of climate change in the near future?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Only some bit. Even with this ambitious target India’s energy requirements will grow to demand more fossil fuel based production. This is inevitable unless there is a silver bullet solution pops up tomorrow. The question is can we find a balance and can the government ensure a dynamic balance between the energy needs of the country, poverty eradication as well as maintaining environmental integrity of our growth. Very few countries I would think have been able to do so in the past.

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ASKED BY: MATHEW

Three part question, Mr Sethi. a) Any indication as to what will India’s INDCs be at the Paris COP? b) What kind of constructive role – if any – can India play at this critical Paris COP, given that it wants to stick to voluntary targets? c) Do you think a successor to the Kyoto Protocol is possible without India’s inclusion/consent/blessing? If no, do you see climate change agreements becoming more of a bilateral phenomenon (like the US-China announcement)?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Mathew. Journalists shouldn’t ideally predict but i shall give it a shot. a) It will have an energy intensity target in the range of 30-40% below 2005 levels by 2030. It could also provide a partial break down of how this would be achieved – suggestive or concrete targets for renewable energy, afforestation and others. b) I think its clear that the Paris agreement is a bottoms up approach with each country voluntaring its targets. The US had made it clear long ago that only this would be acceptable to it. India’s positive contribution would be to volunteer commitments that are commensurate with its responsibility and capability and as strongly work with other partners to ensure that developed countries provide the Means of Implementation – finance, technology and capacity building resources c) No its not possible. d) No. there have always been furtive and active bilateral and plurilateral dialogue between countries like the Major Economies Forum etc. But the formal negotiations at the UNFCCC are dependent on all countries coming on board. The larger players on the table of course have a disproportionate impact but that has been true since the beginning of UNFCCC and for that matter at all multilateral negotiations to some or greater exten

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ASKED BY: AMIT

Power generator are one of the largest users of natural resources in addition to the pollution. Other than wind and solar power is power generation through hydro and nuclear could be the feasible solution?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Our hydro production has stagnated over last few years. This is because of issues of land, displacement and the fragility of Himalayan region. This is unlikely to change in near future. Nuclear power capacity has been added at much slower rate than official projections since time immemorial. After the Japan disaster the concerns about nuclear power have only deepened especially with a lack of transparency in the nuclear safety and regulatory frameworks of the country. It would be difficult to imagine an energy mix where these two become a substantially bigger slices of the pie

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ASKED BY: PRASHANT SIRUR

My question is more generic. Is there a tipping point beyond which climate change will be rendered irreversible? How far away are we from that point in case it exists? Some environmental scientists also believe the global warming theory is hyped and not as frightening as it is made out to be. What is your take?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

Prashant : The one report on climate science that all countries and respective governments agree to is that of the UN IPCC. Their report talks about tipping points as far as temperature changes are concerned at a global level as well as regional specific impacts. Countries at the moment are arguing if the tipping point – for the purpose of the Paris agreement and action – be considered as 1.5 degree celsius or 2 degree celsius above industrial era. Now we must also remember that science keeps improving about how and how much the emission of different gases impacts the global temperature rise. The variability and uncertainty attached with projections makes it difficult for the political leaders to take calls on risking investments. I think its a tough one for any government to decide how to put its fixed resources in this game of risk taking

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ASKED BY: AMAREET

The ambitious ”Make in India” campaign is likely to boost many industries including chemicals, textiles, steel and other sectors. Does India has a comprehensive plan to contain pollutions levels in view of the same?

ANSWER BY: NITIN SETHI

To put it simply: No. Not at the moment.

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