The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of India will hold the 12th annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) from February 2 to 4. This year’s Summit is themed “Protecting the Global Commons: 20 years post Rio,” and will aim to develop a path forward towards consensus between industrialized and developing countries on governance of climate change, biodiversity, and forestry, among other issues. The Summit will assess the state of sustainable development 20 years after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in advance of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development this June. Featured speakersat this year’s DSDS will include several heads of state, among them Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as numerous ministers, government officials, and leaders from business, academia, and civil society.
Climate change and clean energy access will be among the focus areas discussed at the Summit, with a particular emphasis on the gap between global North and South in terms of development needs, access to technology, and responsibility for global greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a study by the World Resources Institute found that between 1850 and 2002, the United States contributed the greatest share of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions with 29.3 of the global total, followed by the European Union at 26.5 percent. Over the same period, India was responsible for just 2.2 percent of global emissions. While industrialized countries reached current levels of affluence by burning coal and oil, increasingly constrained fossil fuel resources and the threat of global climate change make this an unsustainable path for developing countries. While grappling with the impacts of climate change they largely did not cause, developing countries like India must also explore new paths for sustainable development.
In order to identify the major challenges and opportunities for sustainable development, Worldwatch partnered with the Centre for Environment Education based in Ahmadabad, India, to hold a high-level working group meeting entitled “Strengthening India’s Low-Carbon Growth Strategy” in September 2010 in New Delhi. The meeting brought together leading experts on sustainable energy and development from multiple sectors including government, academia, business, and civil society. Meeting participants generally agreed that a low-carbon development path built on energy efficiency and renewable energy development is the only option for India, with many emphasizing co-benefits including reduced air pollution, lower economic and security risks due to dependence on fossil fuel imports, and the advantages of being an early leader in the rapidly growing global green energy market.
Despite enthusiasm for a low-carbon growth path and praise for the Government of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (including its targets for energy efficiency and solar energy), many within India emphasize that equity – both internationally and at home – should remain at the forefront of any climate discussion. Demand for energy to feed India’s growing economy is rapidly increasing, and meeting this need with renewable energy sources will be a major challenge. In 2008, India had 177 gigawatts (GW) of installed electricity capacity, which fell far short of demand, and this is projected to grow by an additional 234 GW by 2035. India continues to maintain a strong position that any international climate agreement should be equitable, and views pressure from industrialized countries for comparable action as unjust and even a threat to national sovereignty. With regard to equity within India, a small, affluent percentage of the population is responsible for most of the country’s emissions, while one-third of India’s rural population does not have access to electricity. One meeting participant raised concerns that Indian policies, such as the National Solar Mission, focus too much on large-scale centralized infrastructure development, which will do little to improve sustainable energy access for poor and marginalized communities in remote areas with limited connectivity to the electricity grid.
India is moving forward to implement policies that encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy investment. However, coal-fired electricity capacity in the country is also expanding at an alarming rate to meet energy demand, despite rapidly declining, poor quality domestic coal reserves – in 2010, the Government of India approved plans for 173 coal plants which will add 80 to 100 GW of electricity capacity over the next few years, fueled largely with coal imports. Shortages in coal availability recently forced one Indian utility company to delay its plans for 6,500 megawatts of capacity expansion. Adequate financial backing is now necessary to enable the federal and state governments within India to fully implement existing clean energy incentives and meet the goal of universal electricity access by this year. Capacity building within state ministries is also necessary to enable them to develop strong sustainable energy programs of their own.
Worldwatch plans to expand its work in India, alongside local partner organizations, to facilitate sustainable energy development and access by providing governments, stakeholders, and communities with renewable energy resource assessments, energy efficiency opportunities, and robust policy and finance tools to accelerate the ambitious actions already underway.