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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

CK Mishra interview: ‘India to achieve its emissions and renewable energy targets before time’

India, being the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is crucial to the global plans to fight climate change.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Published: December 2, 2019 3:11:48 am
C K Mishra, Environment Secretary, Government of India

The 25th annual climate change meeting is opening in the Spanish capital of Madrid today. India, being the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is crucial to the global plans to fight climate change. Ahead of the meeting, Environment Secretary C K Mishra spoke to Amitabh Sinha on the actions that India had taken to combat climate change.

Somehow there is an expectation from the global community that India needs to do more on the climate front

We are already doing much more than what we should be doing if we look at the historical responsibilities of countries in creating this problem. We are definitely doing better than most of the other countries. There have been some recent assessments from independent international organisations which show that India is among a handful of countries, barely four or five, whose actions are compliant to the target of keeping the global rise in temperatures below 2 degree Celsius. India is the only large country in that list, the only one among the top emitters.

By 2030, India has promised to reduce its emissions intensity (emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product) by 33 to 35 per cent over 2005 levels, to ensure at least 40 per cent mix of non-fossil fuel sources in power generation by 2030, and to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes. Where are we on our specific targets?

There is absolutely no doubt that we will not just achieve these targets but will overachieve them. On emission intensity target, we had been hoping to reach 25 per cent reduction by 2020 and 33 per cent by 2030. Our latest estimate is that by next year, we would touch 30 per cent reduction. On the second target, about the renewable mix in electricity generation, we will achieve 37 per cent by next year. The 40 per cent target will be achieved in another couple of years. So we will actually be ahead of our schedule. The only doubt that has been expressed is about the forestry target, the creation of carbon sink, but that also will be achieved.

But why is there a question mark on the forestry target?

There isn’t a question mark. There is a point of view that only the activities that happen inside a notified forest area should be counted towards this target. But there are lots of trees and plantations outside the forest areas, which also add to the carbon sink. And other countries account for that.

Additionally, there is a huge contribution from the agriculture sector which we are not factoring in. At some places, change in agricultural practices have led to the creation of additional carbon sink. Degraded forest land when used for agriculture also create new carbon sink. Then there is a question of baseline. All our other targets are benchmarked to the 2005 baseline. Somehow, the forestry target was assumed by some to have a 2015 baseline when we submitted our targets. If we take the 2005 baseline, we would have already achieved the targets. But we want to do more.

In fact, the latest forest survey exercise is currently on and we will know its results by December. Initial indications are that our carbon sink, only from the forests has been growing at the rate of about 75 to 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. This is much more than the earlier estimates. And, if this is the case, then we should be comfortably on our way to achieve our targets.

What about our adaptation efforts? We do not even have a very credible threat assessment for the country.

You are right. A comprehensive threat assessment for the country has not been done yet. Many sectoral assessments have been made and are ongoing as well. But we do need a composite and comprehensive threat assessment because the impacts of climate change are already visible. And we need to take pre-emptive adaptation measures. Some of it is happening. For a country like India, adaptation is extremely important. That is why we keep stressing on that even at international negotiations.

Four new climate missions were announced at the start of 2015. We have not heard about them after that.

Two of them, one on health and the other on coastal management, have just been launched about four-five months ago. Work has begun on them. So now we have a total of 10 climate missions operational. I do not have an immediate update on the other two that were announced in 2015

What about the private sector? Is it aligned to India’s climate change objectives?

Now, this is not very well appreciated or reported, but there is a lot happening in the private sector as well which is extremely encouraging. There is a huge amount of innovation happening, induction of new climate-friendly technologies. There is this race in the private sector to go green. It makes them look better too but ultimately it adds to the country’s contributions. The cement industry, for example, is now adopting the best standards globally. Most of the industries are reaching near the zero liquid discharge norms, or are at least trying to. Significant improvements have happened in stack monitoring of emissions. This is not to say that there are no laggards. There are, but overall there is a positive movement towards becoming green. Look at the new buildings that are coming up, both residential and commercial. So many of them, even in smaller towns and cities, are now equipped with rooftop solar and water harvesting mechanisms. These are good signs for the country.

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