Contributed by Robert Lyman ©2017


The discussion about whether Canadians must sharply reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to avoid human-induced catastrophic global warming often lacks a sense of context. “Context” refers to the setting, or broader circumstances, in which an event takes place. For example, as the (alleged) problem is a global one, how much Canadians should do and spend to reduce emissions partly depends on what other countries in the world will do.

The largest GHG emitter in the world is China. According to the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), China’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from fossil fuel burning, cement production and natural gas flaring were 2.7 gigatonnes (Gt), almost twice those of the United States (1.43 Gt). In third place stands India.

2014 Global Emissions Pie Chart

Source: Boden, T.A., Marland, G., and Andres, R.J. (2017). National CO2 Emissions from Fossil-Fuel Burning, Cement Manufacture, and Gas Flaring: 1751-2014, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2017.

This note will provide information about what India is now doing and is likely to do with respect to GHG emissions as one element of the context within which Canadians should consider their choices.

India’s Economy

India is renowned for its large and diverse population and for the significant economic transformation it has made in the last thirty years, especially since adopting a more market-based approach to economic planning in 1990. It is a developing country with a per capita GDP of around USD $1,408 per year. It is also the second largest country in the world in terms of population (1.2 billion); it may soon overtake China in this regard.

Despite its recent economic progress, India remains a very poor country. It has the largest proportion of the global poor (30%) and around 24% of the global population who have no access to electricity (304 million). About 30% of the world’s population relying on solid biomass (wood and dried animal dung) for cooking live there. Ninety-two million Indians lack access to safe drinking water. About 363 million Indians live in desperate poverty, lacking most of the things that people living in Canada take for granted. The country faces an immense infrastructure deficit. In short, it has many priorities for its population other than reducing GHG emissions.

Energy & Emission Trends

According to the British Petroleum Review of World Energy, in 2016 India consumed 724 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoes) in primary energy. Consumption was divided among coal, with 412 million Mtoes (57%); oil, with 213 million Mtoes (29%); natural gas, with 45 million Mtoes (6%); hydro-electricity, with 29 million Mtoes (4%); biomass and other renewables, with 17 million Mtoes (2%); and nuclear energy with 9 million Mtoes (1%).

Over the period 2006 to 2016, primary energy consumption grew from 414 million Mtoes to 724 Mtoes, an increase of 75%.

Coal has experienced the lion’s share of the growth in energy use. Coal consumption grew from 219 Mtoes in 2006 to 412 Mtoes in 2016, an increase of 193 Mtoes, or 88%. Over that period, new coal plants entering production added 143 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. In 2015, India surpassed the United States to become the second largest coal consumer in the world (after China).

This promises to continue well into the future. Sixty-five gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired generation are now under construction, with an additional 178 GW in the planning stage. A recent press report noted that India’s construction of new coal plants and other generation capacity has gotten ahead of current demand projections, and that 13.7 GW of planned capacity additions have been cancelled While this was treated as news that India had forsaken coal for solar energy, it only meant that about 8% of the planned construction has been deferred. A massive expansion continues.

Consumption of “other renewables” (including wind, solar, geothermal and waste) also increased sharply but from very low levels. In 2006, consumption was 3.3 Mtoes, and this increased to 16.5 Mtoes by 2016. Although this was a large increase in percentage terms (400%), by the end of the period these renewables still constituted only 2.3% of primary energy consumption.

While energy consumption has increased, the energy intensity of the Indian economy decreased from 18.16 grams of oil equivalent (goe) per Rupee of GDP in 2005 to 15.02 goe per Rupee of GDP in 2012, a decline of over 2.5 % per year. This is due to increased energy efficiency, urbanization and a government mandate that all new large coal-based generating stations must use highly efficient supercritical technology.

India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)

Under the 2015 COP21 agreement, all participating countries must submit “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDC’s) stating their plans to reduce GHG emissions, and to update these plans every five years. In its INDC provided to the United Nations in the fall of 2015, the government of India stated that it planned to substantially reduce the “emissions intensity” of the economy.

In the INDC, India said it would:

  • Aim to achieve a target of 60 GW of wind power installed capacity by 2022.
  • Increase solar power capacity to 100 GW by 2022.
  • Increase biomass energy installed capacity to 10 GW by 2022.
  • Achieve 63 GW of nuclear capacity by 2022 “if supply of fuel is assured.”
  • Enhance energy efficiency.
  • By 2030, increase the share of “clean energy” in the total energy mix by “as much as 40%.”

According to the INDC, India has imposed a tax on coal equivalent to USD $2 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, recently imposed a tax on gasoline equivalent to USD $140 per tonne and one on diesel fuel of USD $64 per tonne.

The COP21 Agreement does not bind any country to achieve a specific emissions reduction target. While several governments have volunteered to pursue certain targets, India’s INDC makes it clear that it is not legally bound by its plan:

“It is clarified that India’s INDC do not bind it to any sector specific mitigation obligation or action, including in the agricultural sector. India’s goal is to reduce overall emissions intensity and improve energy efficiency of its economy over time and at the same time protecting the vulnerable sectors of economy and segments of our society.”

In the section on finance requirements, India’s INDC makes clear that its pursuit of emissions reduction depends on external sources of funding.

“Preliminary estimates indicate that India would need around USD $206 billion (at 2014-15 prices) between 2015 and 2030 for implementing adaptation actions in agriculture, forestry, fisheries infrastructure, water resources and ecosystems…An Asian Development Bank Study on assessing the costs of climate change adaptation in South Asia indicates that approximate adaptation cost for India in energy sector alone would roughly be about USD $7.7 billion in the 2030s… Estimates by NITI Aayog (National Institute for Transforming India) indicate that the mitigation activities for moderate low carbon development would cost around USD $834 billion until 2030 at 2011 prices.

India’s climate actions have so far been largely financed from domestic resources. A substantial scaling up of the climate action plans would require greater resources. A detailed and full-scale assessment of international climate finance needs will be finalized at a later stage and would depend on the gap between actual cost of implementation of India’s plans and what can be made available from domestic sources. While this would evolve over time, a preliminary estimate suggests that at least USD $2.5 trillion (at 2014-2015 prices) will be required for meeting India’s climate change actions between now and 2030.”

What This Means

Paul Homewood, the British analyst who writes articles on global warming in his blog Not a Lot of People Know That wrote an insightful piece on India’s INDC shortly after it was submitted in October 2015. He pointed out that:

  • No actual carbon dioxide emission reduction target was set.
  • India’s commitment (such as it is) is only to 40% renewables electricity generation capacity, not generation. As renewables have low rates of utilization, the amount generated by them will be much lower than 40%.
  • India’s plan is to reduce the carbon intensity of GDP by 33% by 2030, but almost half of this was already achieved between 2005 and 2015.

Homewood also provided a useful calculation of what it would mean in terms of actual emissions if India achieved its intended improvement in emissions intensity. India’s GDP in 2014 was 106 trillion rupees and the Indian government projects it to reach 397 trillion rupees by 2030. According to British Petroleum, India’s emissions in 2014 were 2,088 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This means that, if the economy’s emissions intensity does not change, India’s emissions by 2030 would be 7,820 million tonnes, but with a 19% reduction in intensity, emissions would be 6,334 million tonnes. In other words, even if India meets its emissions intensity goal, emissions would still be three times as high in 2030 as they are today.

Using BP’s methodology for calculating carbon dioxide emissions, in 2016 the United States produced 5,053 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and that total is declining. Under its INDC, by 2030 India’s emissions would far surpass those of the United States. Further, India has made no commitment that those emissions will decline after 2030.

India has been one of the most assertive of the less developed countries in demanding that western countries provide much increased assistance in the form of funding and technology transfer to help other countries reduce emissions. One of the principal mechanisms for transferring funds is the Green Climate Fund first approved at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. The Annex II parties to the COP21 Agreement, including Canada, are expected to pay $100 billion per year into this fund, starting in 2020. India’s estimate that it would need at least USD $2.5 trillion in financial assistance from 2015 to 2030 for its mitigation efforts means that India is staking a claim to $167 billion per year, far more than the Green Climate Fund calls for.

The withdrawal of the United States from the COP21 agreement means that the likelihood of the Green Climate Fund achieving its funding goals approaches zero.