Climate – The Development
Connect and the Equity Imperative

The Context of India

Climate change is a global challenge posing varied consequences for all the nations of the world - for the developed countries to sustain their development, for developing countries to achieve their requisite growth and for least developing island countries to save their existence. Gravity of the challenge has intensified in the last few years with research proving ‘Limited Time’ and ‘Limited Carbon Space’ available for the world to contain global temperature within 2 degrees Celsius.

The changes have already started appearing in the form of extreme weather events and natural calamities. They are increasing exponentially and are jeopardising the progress made across different spheres impinging on sustainable development of communities, societies and economies. The adverse impacts of climate change will be most striking in the developing nations because of their dependence on natural resources and their limited capacity to adapt to a changing climate. Within these countries, the poorest, who have the least resources and the least capacity to adapt are the most vulnerable’ (African Development Bank et al., 2003).

India has been hit hard by climate change. IPCC AR 5 noted that India’s high vulnerability and exposure to climate change will slow its economic growth, impact health and make poverty reduction more difficult. This needs to be understood from a development perspective. People in India are afflicted with multi-dimensional poverty. They suffer from overlapping deprivations in education, health and living standards. The Human Development Index (HDI) ranks India at 135 among 187 countries with mostly African countries under it. A recent report by the UN body Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) titled ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015’ states that India is home to the highest number of hungry people in the world at 194 million. Although India has made substantial progress in dealing with poverty, yet according to the MDG India Country Report, India is yet to meet the target of eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

Some three hundred million Indians – more than the entire population of the United States - survive on less than a dollar a day. India still needs to light up nearly 400 million households. Widening of gap between the rich and the poor is a stark picture of the Indian social fabric. The issues of exclusion are becoming starker. On the one hand is an emerging middle class with high aspirations and on the other hand the farmers are being pushed out as farming is becoming more difficult in the context of commercialisation of the farming economy.

India’s current model of development follows a ‘trickle down’ approach. And hence the approach has been to intensify the fossil fuel based industrialisation process by undertaking huge infrastructure projects and overusing natural resources to serve the aspirations of the growing middle class and the elites. It comes as no surprise that IMF has forecasted that India will become a US $2 trillion economy this year and will surpass the US $3 trillion boundary by 20191. How do these massive growth numbers translate into equitable growth? This remains a key question.

In recognition of the above, any climate response within the country has to take into account the development imperatives of the marginalised majority. This also goes to say that the development choices made by the country in its business as usual scenario would influence GHG emissions that would further increase vulnerabilities and increase the burden of adaptation. Therefore the phenomenon of climate change and India’s response to the climate crisis has to be situated in the context of equity and justice framework.

Climate Goals under the SDGs

This year presents what could be called once-in-a-generation opportunity as it sees the culmination of several important negotiating processes - the post-2015 process on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs - which replace the MDGs) and the UNFCCC process on climate change (following the Kyoto protocol).The SDGs will continue the fight against extreme poverty, but will add the challenges of ensuring more equitable development and environmental sustainability, especially the key goal of curbing the dangers of human-induced climate change2. Decision on these will define the development trajectory the world shall take for the times to come.

Goal no 13 of the SDG’s relates to climate change, which calls for combating climate change and its impacts. Since the risk of climate change is largely a function of total cumulative GHGs in the atmosphere, therefore for keeping global warming within 2°C or less requires that countries prepare national deep decarbonisation strategies from now until 2050, covering all sources of GHG emissions including energy, industry, agriculture, forest, transport, building and other sectors. These strategies are required to be transparent and should detail how countries intend to achieve deep emission cuts (including for energy-related emissions), how to reduce energy consumption, decarbonise the power sector and electrify energy uses (in particular the transport and building sectors).

A deep decarbonisation scenario for India seems unlikely in the current context, as enhancing energy access and energy supply, providing lifeline services and infrastructure which are the key objectives of its BAU national development strategy would increase emissions. US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that India’s per capita energy consumption is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 2.8% through 2040, increasing its emissions. Much of the emissions are contributed by two key sectors- the power and transport sectors. To achieve the levels of emission reductions necessary to limit the global temperature increase to 2°C or below requires dramatic reduction in the emissions associated with the provision of these energy services. For India, both these sectors however show a multifold jump over the next few years.

This calls for a development trajectory away from the mainstream, a trajectory which decouples development from GHG emissions. This offers immense opportunities for embarking on a low carbon pathway which is consistent with development and inclusion. This makes even better sense, given the shrinking carbon space available for developing economies. IPCC AR5 has estimated that for temperature increase to remain below 2°C of pre-industrial levels the world can emit only about 2,900 Giga tonnes (Gt) of CO2 from all sources from the industrial revolution till 2100. Till 2011, the world has emitted 1,900 Gt of CO2, thus already consuming around two-thirds of this budget. This means that out of the budget of 2,900 Gt, only 1,000 Gt remains to be used between now and 2100.(It is to be noted that different countries are at different stages of development, and have had different emission trajectories in the past. On a per capita basis, India is one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. India’s contribution to cumulative global CO2 (1850-2011) was a meager 3% as against 21% by the USA and 18 % by the EU).

Prima facie, it can be said that while India’s energy emissions are likely to shoot up, it is only in India’s interest to aggressively pursue an agenda for making a paradigm shift that would usher it into a low carbon economy. This does translate into an opportunity for India to leapfrog to a robust renewable energy framework such that it fosters growth alongside promoting climate resilient development.

While every climate action has a cost, the first thing that is needed is for developed countries to increase their mitigation ambition and recommit to supporting adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building for developing and least developed countries. This aside, India must focus on improving domestic resource mobilisation through polluter pays, implementation and collection of carbon tax while simultaneously operationalising funds like NCEF, Adaptation fund, reforming conventional fossil fuel subsidies, changing investment guidelines for national banks etc.

Looking Beyond 2015

If we want to live in a world by 2030, where ‘no one is left behind’ and crucially, where ‘no SDG target is considered met unless met for all’ then we need to ensure that countries ensure inclusive and equitable development. The post-2015 development agenda and climate actions will ultimately take form in the villages, towns and cities. In order to be effective, the development indicators nationally should be tailored to the needs at the sub-national, local and community level through participatory and multi-stakeholder processes led by local authorities, in both cities and rural areas. Phasing in a community-owned and controlled renewable energy future should be the key objective. This in India’s case can be envisioned through linkages across State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCCs), National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While responding to the SDGs, some reflections that seem to make practical sense is that the SDGs should stay away from addressing each goal distinctly in a targeted manner. The focus should be on designing policy strategies that addresses clusters of goals such that policy actions are able to realise multiple targets across different goals. A similar strategy should be identified which relates to improving coherence between different funding streams that better connect finance with countries’ climate change and sustainable development priorities.

Eradicating poverty alongside building climate resilience and restructuring the global economy to hold global temperatures below 2°C are mutually reinforcing goals that, acted on together, can provide prosperity and security for the current and future generations. It’s tempting to focus all our energies on securing the deals in September (SDGs) and December (climate talks) this year, but our success in changing the course of sustainable development will be judged not just on what is declared this year but what is delivered by 2030 and beyond. So we need the public pressure, the political buy-in and engagement far beyond the New York and Paris negotiating spaces if we are to see these deals defining climate resilient and inclusive sustainable development for the coming decades. q

Ajita Tiwari Padhi
National Facilitator,
Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC),

Peer Reviewed by
Zeenat Niazi
Vice President
Development Alternatives



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