India’s strong position on climate change was reaffirmed this year at COP-14. It remains staunchly focused on a ‘common but differentiated’ principle, whereby those who are historic emitters of GHGs should be the mitigators under an international climate policy regime. As a result, India refuses to take on emissions caps or cuts. So what is India doing to combat climate change within this position? Is it feasible for it to do nothing?

Well, no, not really. Both politically and environmentally it is still required to slow its growth of emissions so that it doesn’t become the net historical emitter in years to come. Like many of the rapidly industrialising countries, India launched a National Climate Change Action Plan in 2008. Much of it focuses on low-carbon and clean growth, especially the use of renewables in energy.

By 2030 India wants to have 49% of energy from renewable sources, including 15% from hydro. In addition, to promote its focus on energy, India is hosting a Green Energy Summit in March 2009, where it hopes to showcase its leadership on clean energy growth.

The context for this focus on energy growth is India’s soaring demand for energy; it is expected that by 2030 India will require 400,000 MW of power, up from 130,000 MW today. Such demand is putting considerable pressure on existing energy sources and so is making the use of renewables more attractive.

India’s climate plan also allows India to continue growing and filling its energy needs, while at the same time reducing future emissions from future ‘dirty’ growth.

However, while having an energy-dominated climate package suits India politically and economically, it is unlikely to be so simple in practice. There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, within India. These energy projects, which are extremely large, need to be funded. India wants a significant portion (we don’t know the exact number) of this to some of this to be through the CDM. However, if renewables are part of government programmes and targets then CDM projects are not necessarily additional–that is, they may not actually be reducing emissions more than if the project had not been financed by CDM. All CDM projects must be additional, a rule that is designed to prevent countries simply using the climate change framework to fund growth that they need and would have paid for themselves. Is India simply using climate change finance to fund an energy plan it was going to implement anyway?

Secondly, outside India. There is concern from parties, such as the USA, that focusing climate efforts on energy policy in the fails to deal with other key areas. At his press conference in Poznan, John Kerry outlined that the new US Government will want to see comprehensive plans from major developing countries. India’s focus on changing energy supply rather than tackling energy efficiency and use might not be what one would call ‘comprehensive’.

At the domestic and international scales India will need to show that its action on climate change is more than an energy plan dressed with climate change politic. At present it is China, Mexico, and Brazil that are seen as at the forefront of developing country action precisely because of the more comprehensive nature of their plans–including reducing existing emissions. India risks being separated from this group further if ‘climate’ doesn’t become more than ‘energy’.

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