By ELLEN BARRY and CORAL DAVENPORT
OCTOBER 1, 2015
NEW DELHI — Under growing pressure to join in an international accord to battle climate change, India on Thursday announced its long-term plan to reduce its rate of planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution and to aggressively ramp up its production of solar power, hydropower and wind energy.
India, the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, was the last major country to issue its plan before a major summit meeting in Paris in December aimed at forging a sweeping new accord that would for the first time commit every country on earth to enacting new policies to cut fossil fuel emissions.
At the heart of the Paris deal will be the plans put forth by each government detailing how it will help its economy make a transition to low-carbon energy sources.
For years, India has been viewed as an intransigent outlier in global climate-change talks. Indian leaders have long argued that their priority was lifting a vast population out of poverty, and that this could not be done swiftly without the rapid expansion of coal-fired power, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas pollution.
They also maintain that rich countries like the United States bear moral responsibility for global warming and should not deny poor countries the chance to build their economies.
Under the plan, India does not commit to an absolute reduction in carbon emissions levels, unlike other major polluting economies, including those of the United States, China, the European Union and Brazil. India’s emissions would continue to rise, but at a slower pace than business as usual.
Still, some environmental advocates praised the plan’s commitment to renewable energy and said that, if enacted, it could put India on track to reduced carbon emissions in the long run.
“This is a really significant step for India,” said Anjali Jaiswal, director of the India program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group in New York. “It puts renewable energy at the center of the plan and positions India for further reductions in emissions going forward. It is a shift from what we’ve seen.”
Other analysts were critical, saying that by resisting an absolute decrease in carbon emissions, policy makers in New Delhi were swimming against a global current.
“This is a very conservative approach,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, a research center with offices in Washington and Geneva.
At the core of India’s proposal is a commitment to reduce the intensity of its fossil fuel emissions 33 percent to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, while producing 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil-fuel sources such as wind, solar power, hydropower and nuclear energy by the same year.
Under the terms of the plan, India’s economy would grow roughly sevenfold by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, while its carbon emissions would triple. Yet if India took no action, emissions would also grow sevenfold.
Significantly, the pledge to reduce the pollution rate is not conditional on financial contributions from wealthier countries, a move that climate policy activists praised as a major step forward from India’s earlier positions.
However, in rapidly expanding the use of renewable and other zero-carbon forms of technology, the Indians do demand the “transfer of technology” from other countries, as well as aid from the Green Climate Fund, an entity established by the United Nations to solicit donations from wealthy countries to help poor countries adapt their economies to lower-carbon technologies.
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Obama discussed their climate change plans at a bilateral meeting in New York. Behind the scenes, people familiar with their talks say, the two leaders may be moving toward making a joint announcement involving the exchange of United States-developed low-carbon technology.
Before meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Modi toured companies in Silicon Valley.
Mr. Modi is expected to make a formal announcement of the plan in New Delhi on Friday, in an event timed to coincide with the celebration of the birthday of Mohandas K. Gandhi, India’s founding father. But the Indian government posted its 38-page plan to a public United Nations portal on Thursday evening. It includes poetic references to yoga and directly cites Gandhi.
“Much before the climate change debate began, Mahatma Gandhi, regarded as the father of our nation, had said that we should act as ‘trustees’ and use natural resources wisely as it is our moral responsibility to ensure that we bequeath to the future generations a healthy planet,” it reads.
In 2011, before he took office, Mr. Modi published a book that presented the moral case for action on climate change. He has positioned himself as a progressive on the issue. Yet he has also made plain that his top priority for his nation is economic growth, leading millions of people out of poverty — even if that means increasing the use of cheap, coal-fired electricity.
The pledges released on Thursday represent a sort of compromise: both strikingly ambitious on renewable energy and adamant in a refusal to actually diminish emissions.
In an interview this week, India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, illustrated that tension.
“Poverty reduction is our top priority. Providing power in the next 2,000 days is our priority. We want faster development. My people have a right to grow,” he said. But he added: “Climate change is also a priority. We have the world’s largest renewable energy sector. We want to clean our air, our water, our energy, our environment. It’s not because someone else is saying so. We want that.”
Even though all the major economies have submitted climate change plans, experts say the plans’ collective impact will not be enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
An analysis released Monday by researchers at the group Climate Interactive shows that the collective pledges would reduce the warming of the planet at century’s end to about 6.3 degrees, if the national commitments were fully honored, from an expected 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit, if emissions continued on their present course. That is a long way from meeting their own shared target, set in 2010, of limiting global warming to about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
That level of warming, while potentially producing dire effects on agriculture, sea level and the natural world, might at least be tolerable, some experts say.
Ellen Barry reported from New Delhi, and Coral Davenport from Washington.