Under Modi, India’s Climate Goals Tied to Clean Energy Development

India occupies a precarious position in the global climate change order. It trails only China, the United States, and the European Union in total emissions, but per capita emissions are far lower. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the 2014 elections on a strong pro-development platform and continues to wave this flag at all levels, making energy security a major priority and pledging to expand the country’s coal mining industry. But he also insists he will work with the international community on mitigating climate change. During a recent visit to France, Germany, and Canada, he declared, “India will set the agenda for the upcoming Conference of Parties” in Paris this fall.

The Paris conference is widely expected to be the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process’s best chance to produce a universal agreement among nations. It won’t be binding – each government has been asked to contribute pledges, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which they create themselves – but the theory is that any agreement is better than no agreement.

The Indian government chose not to submit its contributions by the loose deadline of March 31. Moreover, when they do come, they are expected to stress targets that can only be achieved with financial and technological assistance from richer countries. Modi’s statements about leading the Paris summit may therefore sound rhetorical, but what he has made clear is that he does not want the focus of the climate change negotiations to be on emissions cuts alone. Instead, he prefers to push a clean energy agenda – a concern as well as a demand that he raised with leaders while in France, Germany, and Canada.

Energy Access for All?

Not only is India heavily dependent on other countries for energy, but nearly 400 million Indians – equivalent to more than half the population of Europe – do not have access to electricity. Modi’s goal is to make the country self-reliant and set in motion a “saffron revolution,” following India’s green and white revolutions and invocating his party’s color, aggressively expanding nuclear, solar, wind, and biomass energy generation, while improving efficiency and conservation. “Generate More, Use Rationally, Waste Less,” as the slogan goes.

The goal, Modi says, is that every household will have uninterrupted 24-hour power by the time India celebrates its 75th year of independence in 2022. As a part of this target, India plans to quadruple its renewable power capacity to 175 gigawatts over the same time period, according to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. 100 gigawatts are to come from solar, 60 gigawatts from wind, 10 gigawatts from biomass, and 5 gigawatts from hydro.

These targets are also India’s main bargaining chip at the climate negotiations. Although several questions remain, such as the lack of vital infrastructure (the existing power grid is in poor shape) and land acquisition, such an ambitious target indicates the government’s keenness to work towards definite renewable energy goals.

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