India announced its much awaited post-2020 'climate action plan' promising to reduce emission intensity by 33-35% by 2030 over the 2005 levels, boost clean energy in electricity generation to 40% while adding carbon sinks - tree and forest cover to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - amounting to 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2. In keeping with its position that India's development needs cannot be delayed, there is no commitment to a 'peaking year' as to when emissions will be capped and there are no sector specific targets.

    Instead, India has outlined a plan to reduce emission intensity which is the ratio of greenhouse gases to GDP or emission per unit GDP. 


    India has argued that it cannot be compared to China, despite roughly similar population sizes, as its per capita emissions are much lower. According to the World Resources Institute, India's per capita emissions are 2.44 metric tonnes to China's 8.13 metric tonnes.

    Though India is the third largest emitter - fourth, if one counts EU as a single entity - it accounts for less than 7% of greenhouse gases (GHGs). While US and China have agreed to converge at 12 tonnes of CO2 per capita by 2030, India is still far lower that these emission levels.

    India told a UN body at Bonn in Germany that it intends to combat climate change by adopting the energy efficiency route and move on a low carbon growth path. But, India said it would seek the assistance of developed nations - with a historical responsibility for global warming - to help with technology and finance to meet an estimated $2.5 trillion needed to support climate change actions from now to 2030.

    The Indian government has stoutly argued that it is for developed nations and blocks such as the European Union to cut per capita emissions and "vacate" carbon space for a developing nation like India, as steep emission cuts at the current juncture will come at the cost of the poor and underprivileged who have a right to social and economic infrastructure.

    India said it will increase the share of clean energy in its total energy mix by about 40% by the year 2030 and take several other mitigation and adaptation measures. India stressed that its post- 2020 action plan does not bind it to any sector specific mitigation obligation or action, including in important sectors like agriculture.

    At present, the country is moving to achieve its earlier target of reducing its emission intensity by 20 to 25% by the year 2020 as compared to its 2005 level. It said this target would be achieved with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance including from Green Climate Fund (GCF).

    These INDCs, comprising mitigation (emission cut promises) and adaptation measures, will form the basis of climate negotiations in Paris during the 'conference of parties' (COP21) in November- December. 


    What is the difference between absolute carbon emissions and emission %intensity?

    Absolute emissions, as the name suggests, is the total amount of carbon released during a polluting activity, say the generation of electricity in a power plant. Emission intensity, on the other hand, is the carbon emitted per unit of energy produced during the activity. For a given intensity, the power plant would emit more carbon if its capacity is increased. But, at the same time, if the generation process is made more efficient, the plant's energy intensity can be reduced. On a national scale, emission intensity is often defined as the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP. 


    Why has India pledged to reduce its emission intensity but not its total emissions?

    India is at a stage of development where its economy needs to grow significantly if all citizens are to get a decent standard of life. Taking on absolute emission targets would make economic growth, of the scale we are talking about, prohibitively expensive even if it were theoretically possible. Also, India has always maintained that the advanced economies, which are  historically responsible for the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, should shoulder the maximum burden of limiting or lowering GHG levels.

    By pledging to reduce its emission intensity by 33%-35% from the 2005 levels by 2030, India would still have to make significant changes in the way energy is produced in the country. But it would leave room for India's total emissions to grow.

    Where does India stand in terms of carbon emissions? 



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