India Seeks $2.5 Trillion to Curb Fossil Fuel Pollution by 2030

  • Target to cut emissions intensity by 33-35% submitted to UN
  • Modi seeks to generate 40% of power from clean sources

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said India needs at least $2.5 trillion by 2030 to reduce the growth in fossil-fuel pollution under a program that stopped short of setting a target date for when emissions will fall.

The nation will reduce the intensity of fossil-fuel emissions, a measure of pollution released per unit of economic growth, by 33 percent to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to a document released by the government in New Delhi and submitted to the United Nations. It also pledged to boost the amount of power coming from non-fossil fuel sources to 40 percent from about 30 percent.

India is the last major economy to submit its plan for reining in greenhouse gases in time for a round of UN talks on climate change due to culminate in December in Paris. Modi’s decision to forgo setting a goal for beginning to cut absolute emissions, which China has promised, reflects pressure to balance India’s needs for economic growth against its desire to clean up some of the world’s most polluted cities.

“When I say before the world that by 2022, when India completes 75 years of independence, India will have 175 gigawatts of renewable capacity, the whole world is amazed at this number,” Modi said in Jharkhand, eastern India, on Friday in a speech coinciding with the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern India. “The whole world congratulates us over this ambition, which will protect the environment in future.”

India’s pledge, 38-page document infused with references to Mother Earth and the ancient Indian practice of yoga, arrived at the deadline set by the UN for countries to file their pollution-cutting plans. The commitments form the heart of a deal nations hope to complete in Paris in December.

Rising Pollution

India has resisted any measures to limit its energy use, emphasizing that richer nations are responsible for the bulk of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that they must move first in fixing the problem. Modi’s pledge indicates his support for the UN talks, which aim to limit emissions in all nations for the first time.

The country’s “strong climate plan offers a comprehensive approach to curb the worst impacts of climate change,” said Rhea Suh, president of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. “India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy, and is poised to play an active and influential role in the international climate negotiations.”

The Indian submission to the UN also indicates the scale of investment needed to overhaul the economy, which relies on coal for almost two thirds of its electricity. Those needs are well in excess of the $100 billion a year that industrial nations have pledged in climate-related aid by 2020 for developing ones.

Modi maintained his position that the burdens should not fall hardest on developing nations, an indication that friction remains in the UN talks. The document, which made reference to Gandhi several times, noted that India has 17.5 percent of the world’s population and one of the highest proportions of those classified as poor.

“Nations that are now striving to fulfill this right to grow of their teeming millions cannot be made to feel guilty of their development agenda as they fulfill this legitimate aspiration,” the document from India said.

Peak Not Identified

Unlike other major countries like China and the U.S., India’s plan doesn’t commit the country to an absolute reduction or peak level for carbon emissions. Instead, the plan acknowledges that India’s pollution will grow, albeit at a slower pace.

More controversially, coal will continue to dominate power generation, a point of friction with environmental groups that want the most polluting fuel phased out. Coal-based power currently accounts for almost 61 percent of India’s power generation capacity.

“India’s continued commitment to expand coal power capacity is baffling,” Greenpeace India said in a statement. “Further expansion of coal power will hamper India’s development prospects by worsening the problems of air quality and water scarcity as well as contributing to the destruction of forests and the displacement of communities.”

Though Modi has vowed an aggressive expansion of renewables such as wind, solar and hydroelectric capacity, the challenges remain huge. Currently, India has as many people with little or no access to electricity as there are Americans.

Burning Coal

Under one scenario presented by the International Energy Agency last year, coal demand in India is projected to more than double between 2012 and 2040.

While India’s emissions of carbon dioxide are about one-quarter China’s and one-third of the U.S., its release of global-warming gases is accelerating. India’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy use rose 8.1 percent in 2014, making it the world’s fastest-growing major polluter, according to a report from BP Plc.

The results are profound. According to a World Health Organization report, India is home to 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities. At a press conference in New Delhi , Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar called on richer nations to make good on the promises they made in 2009 to step up climate-related aid.

“The developed world should walk the talk on global climate fund of $100 billion,” Javadekar said. “The world as a whole, including the developed world, needs to act more ambitiously towards climate change.”

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