Securing energy supply and tackling climate change: the view from India

26 April 2007

His Excellency Shyam Saran, Special Envoy to the India Prime Minister and former Indian Foreign Secretary, said that India’s challenge was to balance trade and protect the environment, adding that he recognised that the country’s decisions on maintaining energy security in an environmentally sustainable way would have a global impact.

However, he stressed that despite the need for economic growth, India’s population understood how important it was to safeguard the environment, as the notion that nature was like “a mother” and a “source of nurture” was deeply engrained in tradition, and contemporary India “understood the relevance of this wisdom”.

India’s per capita energy consumption is currently far below that in the developed world, so if it is to maintain the 8% growth rate needed to eradicate poverty, energy supplies must quadruple to meet consumption - increasing from about 180,000 megawatts a year now to 800,000 megawatts by 2031.

In the short term, India will have to generate 50% of its energy for commercial consumption using coal, so the country is working to increase the use of clean coal technologies, to construct zero-emission power plants and to develop carbon sequestration. In the long term, it plans to shift to non-fossil and non-conventional energy sources, but will need international cooperation to help with the technological transfer and financing to do so, said Ambassador Saran.

Improving energy efficiency

The government is also working to improve the country’s energy efficiency, as well. While India’s present consumption rate is 0.16% equivalent per dollar of GDP, which compares favourably to the world average of 0.22%, the government believes it can reduce this by another 25%, bringing it down to the Scandinavian or UK equivalent of 0.14% per dollar of GDP.

Nuclear power also has an importance place in the country’s long-term plans. India is planning a three-stage programme - beginning with uranium-based power reactors, moving onto the plutonium fast-breeder reactors, and eventually developing nuclear reactors using thorium (a more commonly found natural mineral than uranium), of which India has one of the largest deposits in the world.

However, to expand its nuclear programme, the country again needs international collaboration to help it develop its technology.

Also in the nuclear field, India is anxious to develop fusion energy, and has become a partner in the EU-originated International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project.

In the alternative energy field, India is investing in a number of areas, including hydropower (a relatively clean energy source, which could vastly increase energy supplies), solar power, biogas and wind energy. The last of these has been a “great success story”, he said, and is scheduled to produce 6,000 megawatts of power in the near future.

Addressing the “environmental challenge”

Ambassador Saran stressed that with the renewed international focus on global warming and climate change, and predictions that developing countries will be worst affected even though they pollute less, India was keenly aware of the need to address the “environmental challenge”.

India was involved in the complex negotiations resulting in the Kyoto Protocol, which had been based on the principles of “equity and the polluter plays”. However, said the Ambassador, industrial countries (denoted as ‘Annex 1 countries’ in the Kyoto Protocol) now describe their agreed targets for cutting emissions as unrealistic because they are not prepared to accept the decline in living standards this would involve, and want developing and emerging countries to agree to the same cuts.

In fact, since Kyoto, some industrialised countries, such as the US, Canada and Australia have actually increased the amount of greenhouse gases they are producing, said the Ambassador.

“The impact of global warming requires adaptation,” he added, “and why should India bear the greater burden?” Nevertheless, he said India was working to reduce emissions and was collaborating with the EU through the EU-India Energy Panel on Clean Development and Climate Change, which discusses issues such as clean fuel, nuclear energy and energy efficiency.

“A new paradigm”

At the 2005 Gleneagles Summit, which focused on climate change, India had presented a paper on A new paradigm for international action on climate change. This proposed redefining patent protection, (as stipulated under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement) for clean energy technology; providing additional incentives to finance the use of clean energy technologies in developing countries; and forming CLEAN-NET, a research network between industrialised and developing countries.

Unfortunately only the UK had taken up this initiative so far, said Mr Saran, but he was hopeful that this issue would be raised at the G8 + G5 summit this summer.

India is currently the world’s largest recipient of the $12 billion worth of funding available under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in the Kyoto Protocol. This mechanism allows industrialised countries to invest in emission reducing projects in developing countries to offset their own emissions.

While Ambassador Saran hoped that this might signal the potential for business opportunities, he said the CDM had been hampered by the artificially low world price for carbon, and stressed the need for a more efficient and effective market in carbon.