India vows ambitious green targets but defends coal use

India vows ambitious green targets but defends coal use
PHOTO: Reuters

NEW DELHI - India set out a series of ambitious environmental targets Friday including reducing its carbon intensity by 35 percent by 2030, but rejected calls to curb coal use, saying developed countries were mostly to blame for climate change.

In an action plan submitted to the UN ahead of a major environmental conference in Paris, India also pledged to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within 15 years.

"We are confident we will achieve the 35 percent (target) by 2030," Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said, adding that "it is a huge jump for India, therefore it is a very ambitious target".

Yet India also vowed to continue expanding its use of coal - it plans to double coal production to one billion tonnes by 2020 - saying it was vital to meet the needs of its burgeoning economy, which grew seven percent last quarter.

"The developed world has polluted the Earth and we are suffering. Still, we want to become part of the solution and give results," Javadekar said, adding that wealthy countries "historically responsible for climate change must walk the talk".

The goals, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) were submitted to the UN ahead of the COP21 meeting in November, which will seek to forge a global agreement on curbing Earth-warming emissions.

India, the world's third biggest carbon-emitting country, did not promise any absolute cuts in emissions, but vowed to slash carbon intensity - the amount of pollution per dollar of GDP.

While the new goals would take India's capacity for renewable energy by 2030 to more than double the 175,000 megawatts currently targeted, coal will "continue to dominate power generation" in the future it said in its UN submission.

Unlike the world's top two emitters, the United States and China - which has pledged to cut carbon intensity by 60-65 percent over the same period - India has balked at committing to major emission targets.

India argues that tougher targets would compromise efforts to boost living standards of more than a quarter of its 1.2 billion population who live in poverty.

"We are an emerging economy but we are still a poor country. This fact cannot be changed," Javadekar said, emphasising the country's first priority was to lift the living standards of the poor.

Coal plan 'baffling'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed to power last year promising to ramp up energy production to help end crippling blackouts and bring power to more than 300 million Indians currently without electricity.

US President Barack Obama has urged Modi to act on the environment, stressing during the prime minister's recent US trip that "India's leadership in this upcoming conference will set the tone not just for today but for decades to come".

Several experts lauded New Delhi's steps announced Friday, describing them as positive given the country's developmental challenges.

"From all angles, India's INDC is as good as China's and better than the US's considering that both these countries have higher emissions than India," said Chandra Bhushan of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.

The US and China were economically "more capable" of reducing their emissions and mitigating climate change, he added.

New Delhi estimates that at least $2.5 trillion would be required to achieve India's climate change goals, which include increasing forest cover, between now and 2030.

"Despite huge developmental challenges, India has put forward a climate action plan that is far superior to ones proposed by the US and EU," Sandeep Chachra, ActionAid India's Executive Director, said.

However, environmental campaigners criticised the failure to curb coal use, saying it would hurt green efforts and worsen problems such as air pollution, water scarcity and forest destruction.

"India's continued commitment to expand coal power capacity is baffling," said Pujarini Sen, a senior Greenpeace India campaigner.

"Further expansion of coal power will hamper India's development prospects." India sits on the world's fifth-largest coal reserves and already depends on coal-fired plants for more than 60 percent of its power, while the country's population is set to overtake that of Asian rival China in the next two decades.

Developing countries want rich nations to bear most of the burden for curbing emissions, which requires a costly shift from cheap fossil fuels to less polluting energy sources, and accuse them of hypocrisy in heaping demands on poorer nations.

In Paris, nations will aim to seal a pact to cap temperature rises at no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times.

The level is still expected to cause droughts and disasters but is considered by scientists to be comparatively manageable.

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