The Role of China and India in Climate Action

December 1, 2015 | 00:00
The Role of China and India in Climate Action
The Role of China and India in Climate Action
As the first and fourth biggest emitters in the world, the role of China and India is crucial in the fight against climate change. The COP21 press conference 'Asia's giants: India and China, key to the climate' addressed the position of the two countries. Speakers were the authors of two recently published reports China's Low Carbon Future Offers Global Opportunities and Hot Air: Climate negotiations and India.

The contribution of China to the UN climate conferences has changed dramatically over the last years, Richard Black of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit pointed out. Before 2009 China was virtually invisible and when it entered center stage in Copenhagen it was considered to be one of the key players that blocked a global treaty to control carbon emissions.

But China has made a remarkable turn-around, said Sam Geall of Sussex University. There has been a rapid expansion of renewables: from 0.126 GW installed wind power capacity in 2005 to 96 GW at the end of 2014, solar went from 0.009 GW to 28 GW. By 2020 installed wind capacity is planned to reach 200 GW. In that same period solar should rise to 100 GW or even 150 GW according to a recent announcement of the Chinese government. The country is also in the process of placing an annual cap on coal and has introduced a wide range of energy efficiency policies.

China's pivot hangs together with what President Xi Jinping calls the New Normal: the restructuring of the economy from investment led growth to innovation led growth. The investment driven economy with its focus on infrastructure and construction is energy-intensive and therefore not easily compatible with sustainability. But in an innovation driven economy there is room for decarbonization. For instance, China sees a role for itself as an exporter of renewable energy technologies.

Isabel Hilton of China Dialogue nicely summarized it as follows: In 2009 China considered carbon constraints a drag on its economy. Now renewables are perceived as a driver of growth. China intends to provide low-carbon goods to a carbon-constrained world.

India's paradoxes

The situation of India is one of many paradoxes, said Joydeep Gupta of India Climate Dialogue. On the one hand it is the fourth largest emitter but on the other it has one of the lowest per capita emissions of the world. The country has pledged to install 100 GW solar capacity by 2022 but in the same period it aims to ramp up coal fired power plants to 110 GW. India is the 9th largest economy globally but at the same time over 300 million people do not have access to electricity.

These paradoxes have contributed to India's ambiguous stance toward climate action. For instance, uncertainty about whether renewables will suffice to alleviate energy poverty is one of the arguments for building up coal capacity.

In his speech on Monday Prime Minister Modi reiterated India's right to pursuit economic growth: “The next two weeks at COP21 might see India negotiating hard to keep its carbon space and for the right to develop.” But despite its non-committing position regarding its own emission reduction, India does aim for a strong climate agreement because of its vulnerability to the effects of climate change, specifically storms, floods and droughts. “We want the world to act with urgency. Agreement must lead us to restore balance between humanity and nature”, said Modi. What India hopes to negotiate during COP21 is agreements on technology transfer to make renewable capacity building more affordable and climate finance for developing countries.

Image: Wind power in China. By: Kaj17. CC-BY licence.
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