India Defends Emissions Targets as Modi Heads to Paris for Talks

  • India's top priority is electricity for all, spokesman says
  • Study shows India meeting its fair share more than U.S., EU

India’s government rejected criticism that its climate targets could be met without any new policy commitments, saying its goals are sufficiently ambitious considering the country’s stage of development.

"Our overriding imperative is to ensure access to adequate and affordable electricity to all of our citizens," Ajay Mathur, spokesman for India’s official climate delegation and director general of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joins some 130 leaders in Paris starting Monday to try and seal a climate treaty binding all nations to limit emissions and halt global warming. In the lead up, most nations have submitted pledges outlining the steps they’re ready to take as part of the new pact, so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

Four separate independent assessments of India’s submission showed that it could reach its targets with previously announced policies, even though nations were asked to come up with more far-reaching goals in Paris. The research groups included the Brookings Institution in Washington, the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, Climate Action Tracker and environmental data company Performeks LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

Mathur cited a separate analysis by more than a dozen civil society groups, including Oxfam and the World Wildlife Fund, which found that the pledges of most major economies fall far short of their "fair share" of emissions cuts based on how much they’ve polluted historically and their financial capacity to mitigate.

Mathur said India’s submission was based on the premise that poor people who burn wood for energy would move to fossil fuels in the future, which would reduce pollution but increase carbon dioxide emissions. Currently, about 60 percent of India’s power comes from coal.

"India is neither unaware of the social costs of coal nor is it lax in promoting renewables," he said.

Modi boosted India’s renewable energy target by nearly fivefold after taking office in May 2014 -- a push that lies at the heart of its emissions pledge. India’s submission also set a target for getting 40 percent of its electricity capacity from non-fossil fuels -- including "clean coal" -- by 2030.

"The fact remains that we are reliant on the developed nations for the development of, and access to, affordable storage and balancing technologies" to reach those renewable targets, Mathur said.