Heading into the December global climate talks in Paris, India’s leaders continue to assert they will not announce when their greenhouse gas emissions will peak.
One leading Indian politician, however, former Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, recently said that the country could plateau emissions starting in 2025 or 2030. Ramesh, a former self-described “economic hawk,” called this goal “doable and necessary for India.”
For many years, India had been teaming up with China in international climate negotiations to argue that the rapidly developing countries did not need to take major early action to constrain emissions since the rich countries were responsible for the vast majority of cumulative emissions. This argument has become progressively weaker as the reality of human-caused climate change made the dangers of inaction more and more obvious — and as the price of renewable power just kept dropping.
The big game changer, though, was the U.S.-China climate deal announced last November. The United States committed to a 26 to 28 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2025 compared to 1990 levels — and China for the first time committed to peak in carbon pollution by 2030, if not sooner.
At the same time, China announced it would “increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.” That requires China to build another 800–1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar, and other zero-carbon power generation by 2030 — “more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States. Shortly thereafter, China added that it would peak in coal use by 2020.
Certainly India is not in the same development stage as China and many other countries, as this World Resources Institute chart makes clear:
Yet, China’s impressive carbon-free energy target raises the following question: If China can build that much carbon-free power, over the next 15 years, why can’t India do, say, even half as much in the same time? After all, China’s commitment alone guarantees a continuation of the remarkable price drop in renewable power, a key driver of the ongoing global boom.
India is itself seeing price drops continue. BloombergBusiness reported just a few days ago that “India’s Largest Solar Power Auction Brings Further Drop in Costs.” A Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst explains, “This year’s weighted average bid price is likely to … be about 15 percent lower than the 2014 average.”
In late July, CleanTechnica ran an excellent two-part series, “How Solar Power Is Transforming India’s Energy Market.” China’s solar market is accelerating rapidly, adding perhaps five gigawatts this year and seven to 10 gigawatts next year, well on its way to the government target of 100 gigawatts of solar by 2022. The recent drop “brings utility-scale solar in India to a point where it may no longer need government support.”
India also has a renewable target of “60 GW wind, 10 GW biomass and 5 GW small scale hydro” by 2022. As I reported after my visit to China, it’s clear that China is beating its even more aggressive renewable targets — and it’s now a widely held view in the Beijing climate community that China will peak its carbon dioxide emissions around 2025. China may already have peaked in coal.
It is entirely possible that India will not commit to an absolute CO2 target before the Paris climate talks end. Even so, the commitments by all the other top global emitters should be enough to make a deal possible — and at that point the pressure on India will increase greatly. If not at Paris, then I would expect India to make such a commitment some time in the foreseeable future — due not just to global pressure, but also the ongoing price drops in renewables and the growing reality that dangerous climate change is already here.