India’s INDC (Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution) was released just before the 1 October deadline for COP21. This article voices some preliminary observations.
India’s INDC is ambitious and relies largely on external funding. While targeting an increase of 3.5-5 billion tons of tree-based carbon sequestration by 2030, the INDC supports “Make in India” and invites investments for low carbon growth– as the per dollar emissions reduction is greater in India than in developed countries.
With current emissions less GDP-intensive than developed countries historical emissions, India believes in the common but differentiated responsibility but agrees to reduce its emissions sharply, subject to funding. India also speaks of increased vulnerability, loss and damage due to extreme and creeping weather events to livestock, coasts, crops and health- particularly increased malaria and dengue; leaving the door open to negotiate funding at Paris.
India aspires to increase its Human Development Index (HDI) and access to infrastructure while preserving and improving the environment. As “a large forest cover provides huge ecological benefits, but there is also an opportunity cost in terms of area not available for other economic activities and this also serves as an important indicator of fiscal disability”, 7.5% of the state’s grant (approx. 7 Billion USD) from the federal tax pool will be based on the forest cover. This incentive to preserve and increase forest cover does not seem to prevent old growth forests from being replaced with younger trees. In fact, the current government is a strong advocate of a compensatory afforestation scheme that does not prohibit this.
Another concern is the creation of national industrial corridors and streamlining environmental and forest approvals. First, the INDC seeks to increase sequestration through forests, and also to increase forest cover by 5 million hectare per annum (plus 5 million hectare p.a. of non-forest tree cover) through the Green India Mission. Some of these proposed industrial corridors will cut through biodiverse forests and result in urban sprawl. Second, the INDC and the administration wants to “streamline environmental and forest approvals” (emphasis added- read, clearances) and its proposed streamlining dilutes environmental law by removing checks and balances and enabling a scheme of compensatory afforestation that may deter the carbon sequestration goals and may not account adequately for change in land use.
By being willing to increase sequestration and fund part of these efforts, India has postured itself as a proactive climate actor, whose plan can only fail because of the lack of funding- an external failure arguably not attributable to India. This INDC, instead of seeking increased emissions, commits to reduction subject to funding and will shape the north-south debate on climate action at Paris.