South Asia

No US-India deal on climate change

Obama and Modi Image copyright AFP
Image caption There were smiles during the visit, but th leaders differ over climate change

US President Barack Obama's "historic" climate deal with China last November raised expectations that his visit to India would produce something similar.

The world's largest carbon emitter, China, announced for the first time that its emissions would peak by 2030.

The second biggest polluter, the US, said it would cut carbon emissions by 26%-28% by 2025 compared with 2005 levels.

All eyes were then on the third largest carbon emitter, India, for a similar commitment that could set the stage for a global climate deal to be signed later this year.

Solar power

Indian officials were, however, quick to argue that the development status of their country - where more than 300 million people have no access to electricity - was not comparable to China, and that they were also way behind even in per capita emission.

"The world does not expect India to make a similar announcement (like the US-China one)," Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told the BBC during the UN climate meeting in Peru last December.

"And yet, just one major plan to install 100,000 MW (megaWatts) of solar power will mean we will be delivering more than others in the global fight against climate change."

India's new government led by Narendra Modi had announced that the country would generate as much as 100 Gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022.

Limited goals

Earlier, Indian media had reported that the US was quite keen to have a significant climate deal with Delhi along the lines of the US-China agreement.

But the Indian government was not willing to make any commitment, particularly about when its carbon emissions may peak.

During the UN climate talks in Lima, countries agreed a March 2015 deadline to publicly state what actions they intend to take to keep any global temperature increase below the 2C which scientists say is a must to avoid dangerous climate change.

It is known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in UN climate jargon and is billed as the foundation for a global climate deal as it will have key information including when countries' emissions will peak.

Having realised that India was not going to talk about it now, the US apparently chose to endorse the Indian government's solar power goals.

"President Obama welcomes India's ambitious solar energy goals and encouraged India to continue its efforts to increase trade and private investment in this sector," the joint statement issued by the two countries at the end of their meeting reads.

"President Obama conveyed the potential availability of US government officials financing in this area."

Going for coal

The joint statement lists five clean energy programmes where the US will support India.

If all of them work, India could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions or, at least, avoid what otherwise would be emitted by fossil-fuel burning power plants.

But, in the meantime, it has already embarked on a major plan that would actually increase its carbon output.

The new government wants to double coal production - the dirtiest of fossil fuels - to one billion tonnes annually within five years.

"Increasing domestic production of coal will be a big step towards long-term energy security of India," Indian power minister Piyush Goyal, who also holds the renewable energy portfolio, tweeted earlier this month.

"India has the third largest coal reserves in the world, yet we import billions of dollars of thermal coal, impacting our foreign exchange reserves."

More than 80% of electricity generation in India comes from fossil fuels and the power sector consumed nearly 70% of the coal the country produced in 2011, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

With an installed electricity generation capacity of nearly 250 gigaWatts (gW), it plans to add more than 70 gW to its grid by 2017, with almost all of it from coal-fired power plants.

As India's National Planning Commission says: "The dominance of coal in the energy mix is likely to continue in foreseeable future."