India agrees to cut carbon intensity as part of climate change pledge

India prime minister Narendra Modi

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's long-awaited pledge for a global climate change pact shows how the world's No. 3 carbon polluter is making efforts to rein in the growth of emissions linked to its fast-surging demands for electric power, analysts said Friday.

India vowed to reduce its emissions intensity by 33-35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, primarily by boosting the share of power generation from sources other than fossil fuels such as coal and gas to 40 percent.

That means India's emissions will continue to grow as its economy expands, but the increase relative to economic output will be lower than it is now.

"Our every action will be cleaner than what it was earlier," Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters Friday, insisting that Indian traditions and culture are already "at one with nature."

India was the last of the major economies to present its offer for the U.N. climate deal that's supposed to be adopted in December in Paris.

Javadekar said India held its submission back so it could coordinate its filing with the Indian holiday celebrating the birthday Friday of the country's forefather, Mohandas K. Gandhi, an ardent environmentalist.

As of Friday, 146 nations accounting for 87 percent of global carbon emissions had submitted their pledges.

Environmental groups following the U.N. climate talks welcomed India's offer.

"India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy, and is poised to play an active and influential role in the international climate negotiations this December," said Rhea Suh, president of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

Some said the carbon intensity target was conservative and projected that India would exceed it if it meets its renewable energy goals.

"This shows that key economic and infrastructure ministries have been closely engaged in formulating climate policy, which is an important break from the past," said Navroz Dubash of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Climate analyst Samir Saran at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank, also described India's targets as ambitious and "rooted in Indian reality," given the fact that at least 300 million citizens — a fourth of the population — still have no access to electricity at all, while hundreds of millions more make do with just a few hours a day.

India's submission also made that point, noting that "it is estimated that more than half of India of 2030 is yet to be built."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made manufacturing and job creation a key promise of his administration, and has implored foreign companies and governments, with the slogan "Make in India," to help.

India also promised aggressive reforestation efforts, with enough new trees to absorb up to 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, and laid out plans for adapting to changing weather and temperatures.

"This is a positive and novel Indian approach," Saran said, adding that India was effectively sharing responsibility for taking action to protect the climate while seeking global partnerships on implementing those plans.

India plans a fivefold boost in renewable energy capacity in the next five years to 175 GW, including solar power, wind, biomass and small hydropower dams.

Even with a major boost in renewable energy, India is also planning to expand coal power — the biggest source of emissions — to satisfy its energy needs. Coal-fired power plants account for about 60 percent of India's installed power capacity.

By 2030, the government said its installed capacity from "non-fossil fuel-based energy resources" would grow to 40 percent. Currently non-fossil sources account for about 30 percent — half of it solar and wind power and the other half large hydropower and nuclear.

India said boosting its renewables would require help with transfer of clean technology and financing — two of the crunch issues before the Paris deal, which is supposed to apply to all countries but also include provisions for rich countries to help poor countries fight climate change and adapt to its consequences.

Scientists say the heat-trapping carbon emissions released by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — are a key driver of rising temperatures that could lead to potentially catastrophic impacts, including flooding of island nations and intensifying droughts.

China and the U.S. are the only countries with higher emissions than India. As a bloc, the 28-nation European Union's emissions are also higher.

Like other developed countries, the U.S. and the EU committed to absolute reduction targets, while China pledged that its emissions would stop growing by 2030. India, with hundreds of millions still living in poverty, wasn't expected to offer a peak year because its emissions are projected to increase for decades as energy demand rises along with economic growth.

Javadekar said industrialized countries should be setting even more ambitious targets than what's been pledged so far.

"The developed world has polluted the world, but we will help even though we are suffering," he said.

Two climate research groups this week said the pledges put forth before the Paris conference would slow global warming but projected that temperatures would still rise by between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees C (4.9 and 6.3 degrees F).

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