India’s INDC will increase the water insecurity and problems of the vulnerable and the poor

No one can deny that the current Indian government is strong in one aspect: Symbolism. So they did release the India’s INDC[1] (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) on 2nd Oct (India time), the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. opening lines of the government in its public statement while releasing INDC reads: “On Gandhi Jayanti, India has submitted it’s (INDC).The approach of India’s INDC has been anchored in the vision of equity inspired by the Father of our Nation Mahatma Gandhi’s famous exhortation: “Earth has enough resources to meet people’s needs, but will never have enough to satisfy people’s greed””.

India’s INDC also claims, “The INDC document is prepared with a view to… a sustainable lifestyle and climate justice to protect the poor and vulnerable from adverse impacts of climate change.” Unfortunately, after reading through the INDC document, one finds that there is nothing in the entire INDC[2] that inspires any confidence that the government indeed cares for the poor, tribals, farmers, women, mountain people, fisherfolk or the dalits, all of who incidentally are also the most vulnerable to the climate change impacts. In fact, like India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) of 2008, INDC does not make any sincere attempt even to identify who are the vulnerable due to the climate change impacts.

INDC, as the name suggests, was supposed to be Nationally Determined, but Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change’s claim that it “adopted an inclusive process for preparation of India’s INDC” notwithstanding, there was no transparent, participatory process. Unless one agrees that a handful of bureaucrats, ruling politicians and some committee members constitute the nation, it cannot be said to be Nationally Determined since there was no national process to determine India’s intended contribution, not the least involving the people on ground. INDC, here shares the blame for non-transparent process with NAPCC[3] and the state action plans on climate change[4].

INDC is also largely business as usual collection of plans. So much so that CAMPA money, which has been collected as compensation for deforestation (undisputedly likely to worsen the climate change), as determined by the judiciary, is now counted among the adaptation measures in INDC! In this context, it is also concluded by others[5] that India’s forest plans in INDC are like Growing forests in the air: “India’s intended contribution on forests to mitigate climate change ignores the rich history of landscape management practices and is uninformed of the impact of the growing energy sector on forests. Without both these, India’s INDCs will not create any forests with roots on the ground.”

Coming to the water sector, there is no aspect in the document that can legitimately be claimed to be in response to the climate change impacts.

The INDC says that in India the “share of non-fossil fuel in the total installed capacity is projected to change from 30% in 2015 to about 40 % by 2030”. The non fossil fuel share in installed power capacity includes hydropower projects. This includes India’s massive hydropower plans, as INDC says: “With a vast potential of more than 100 GW, a number of policy initiatives and actions are being undertaken to aggressively pursue development of country’s vast hydro potential.” Even though it is well established how environmentally destructive, unsustainable are large hydropower projects. This was most starkly evident in the Uttarakhand flood disaster of June 2013. A Supreme Court-appointed expert committee concluded in their report[6] submitted in April 2014 that Uttarakhand flood disaster was worsened due to the existing and under construction hydropower projects. The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, in its annual extreme-weather report of September 2014, listed 16 extreme weather events of 2013 where the role of climate change was undeniable[7]. The list includes the Uttarakhand disaster. Even some of India’s bureaucrats, such as the secretary to the Ministry of Earth Sciences, agreed that there was undeniable climate-change footprint in this event.

In 2015 itself, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and some other parts of India are facing unprecedented drought, some of these parts also faced drought in 2009, 2012[8], 2014[9] and crop loss due to unseasonal rains in early spring in 2014[10] and 2015[11]. And even as millions of Indians, particularly the poorer sections are repeatedly facing the climate induced disasters, government is doing precious little either in terms of recognising them as climate change victims or compensating them for the losses they suffer for no fault of theirs. The government is not tailoring development plans so that the vulnerabilities of the poorer sections do not increase but actually decrease. Falling pulse production, the prices of the pulses sky rocketing currently in the country, is also linked directly with unseasonal rainfall and erratic rainfall patterns.

India’s INDC does acknowledge this reality: “For India adaptation is inevitable and an imperative for the development process. India is facing climate change as a real issue which is impacting some of its key sectors like agriculture and water. The adverse impacts of climate change on the developmental prospects of the country are further amplified enormously by the existence of widespread poverty and dependence of a large proportion of the population on climate sensitive sectors for livelihood.” But there is nothing in the INDC that addresses these concerns. The National waterways plan, National Water Mission, National Mission for Clean Ganga, National River Conservation Directorate, and other water-related claims in the INDC are either business as usual programs going on for several decades or devoid of real content.

For example, the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture is focusing on false business driven agendas like “genotypes of crops that have enhanced CO2 fixation potential, which are less water consuming and more climate resilient”, there is no priority for organic farming of water efficient techniques like System of Rice Intensification that can help reduce water consumption and yet increase yields and incomes of the farmers, and also reducing their climate change vulnerabilities.

This is apparent in the way the government is pushing large hydropower projects all across the Himalayas from Kashmir in north-west to Arunachal Pradesh and rest of North East India, large dams and river linking plans, without either properly assessing the impacts of the projects, or having democratic decision making process, or in any significant way involving the people of the region.

India’s INDC says the country is working towards “safeguarding the Himalayan glaciers and mountain ecosystem”, but while there are no plans to back these words, India’s hydropower agenda is working in exactly the opposite direction. In the process, it is least concerned if even the protected areas get destroyed, as it happening in case of Ken Betwa[12] River Linking proposal, which will destroy the Panna Tiger Reserve.  Similarly, its plan to increase the height of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam from 121.92 m to 138.68 m will displace over two lakh people without any proper rehabilitation[13], even through there is no additional benefit from the Dam. There have been no emission studies to understand the amount of methane that a dam reservoir will emit, contributing to climate change.

How the current government is blind to climate change concerns[14] was also apparent in the way it constituted the TSR Subramanian committee and now even after a Parliamentary committee rejected the committee report, the government continues to push the recommendations of the report. As some IPCC reports have also concluded[15], large dams and large hydropower projects are not climate friendly; they in fact bring worst impacts for the poor. And yet, the current government is pushing big dams, big hydropower projects river linking projects vigorously.

In fact, India’s water lifeline is groundwater and India needs to work to sustain that water lifeline, and such work would not need any large dams. Similarly, India’s large hydropower projects are not only creating greater disaster potential, the power generation from such projects is diminishing[16]. While renewable energy sources like solar, wind, biomass and micro hydro can provide some additional power when these are implemented with consent of the local communities. Such projects that can also help ensure electricity supply to those that do not have it now. However, for India’s self interest and in the interest of the welfare of India’s population that is vulnerable to climate change impacts, we also need to efficiently manage, reduce and wisely plan our resource use,[17] rather than striving to increase it any cost, as India’s INDC is now intending.

Front Cover of SANDRP March 2012 publication on Water Sector Options for India in Changing Climate
Front Cover of SANDRP March 2012 publication on Water Sector Options for India in Changing Climate

Global INDC assessment Independent scrutiny of the INDCs submitted by various countries show that they fall far below the required emission reductions to limit the global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees C. For example, The New York Times writes[18]: “According to scenarios used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global annual per capita emissions would need to fall from today’s five metric tons to less than one ton by 2075, a level well below what any major country emits today and comparable to the emissions from such countries as Haiti, Yemen and Malawi. For comparison, current annual per capita emissions from the United States, Europe and China are, respectively, about 17, 7 and 6 tons… eliminating a ton of emissions in the middle of the 21st century will exert only half of the cooling influence that it would have had in the middle of the 20th century.”

False solutions: CDM projects Globally it is accepted that Clean Development Mechanism under the UNFCCC Kyoto protocol is a false solution. However, Indian government continues to hope for continuation of CDM projects. Thus the secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests Shri Ashok Lavasa said[19] that in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020), the number of CDM projects has come down drastically. In comparison, it may be seen that in 2012, there were 3, 227 projects registered with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and in 2013, it was reduced to 307 projects. In 2014 it was further reduced to 158 projects and in 2015 it is only 47 projects registered so far. Interestingly, in 2013, India has registered 115 projects, which are the highest by any country. Last year, the NCDMA has accorded Host Country Approval to 76 projects and India registered 56 projects with UNFCCC in 2014. Thus, keeping a futuristic view, this website may help DNA to prepare for the future market mechanisms evolving under the UNFCCC.

In Conclusion India’s INDC rightly continues to swear by “climate justice and the principles of Equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”. But are we ready to implement these very principles in India? The INDC offers no answers to this.

Inequities within India are stark, as Sujatha Byravan of Centre for Study of Science, Technology & Policy writes[20]: “About five per cent of Indians, constituting 60 million people (and most readers of this newspaper) consume at the same level as Europeans, but this is also growing at an alarming rate. Moreover, they set the aspirational bar for most other Indians moving up the economic ladder, which itself demands that we be less sanguine about our “sustainable lifestyle”.”

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

(An edited version of this has been published in: Mausam Magazine, issue 5,  Nov 2015, see: https://sandrp.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/mausam-5-nov-2015.pdf)

Cover page of SANDRP's NAPCC critique
Cover page of SANDRP’s NAPCC critique


[1] WHAT IS INDC? According to http://www.wri.org/indc-definition: Countries across the globe committed to create a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015. In preparation, countries have agreed to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs will largely determine whether the world achieves an ambitious 2015 agreement and is put on a path toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.

[2] A detailed comment on India’s INDC by Nagraj Adve & Ashish Kothari: http://www.epw.in/commentary/flawed-climate-road-map.html

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/sandrp-critique-of-indias-napcc-there-is-little-hope-here/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/water-sector-options-for-india-in-a-changing-climate-executive-summary-of-sandrp-publication-in-march-2012/

[4] For example, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/maharashtra-state-action-plan-on-climate-change-farmers-suffer-state-and-consultant-teri-unaffected/

[5] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/future-forecast-column-growing-forests-in-the-air/article7802930.ece

[6] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/report-of-expert-committee-on-uttarakhand-flood-disaster-role-of-heps-welcome-recommendations/

[7] http://himalmag.com/uttarakhand-floods-disaster/

[8] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/how-is-2012-13-maharashtra-drought-worse-than-the-one-in-1972/

[9] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/maharashtra-farmers-face-impacts-of-hailstorms-and-states-inaction-plan-on-climate-change/

[10] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/maharashtra-farmers-face-impacts-of-hailstorms-and-states-inaction-plan-on-climate-change/

[11] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/early-spring-rains-bring-climate-disaster-for-farmers-in-india/

[12] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/letter-to-moef-expert-appraisal-committee-reject-ken-betwa-proposal/

[13] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/appeal-to-government-to-revoke-unjustified-decision-of-increase-in-sardar-sarovar-dam-height-to-138-68-and-start-dialogue/

[14] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/hlc-tsr-subramanian-report-climate-blind-or-a-climate-disaster/

[15] For example, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/dams-are-not-climate-friendly-readings-from-ipcc-wg-ii-report/

[16] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/diminishing-returns-from-large-hydropower-projects-in-india/

[17] http://thewire.in/2015/10/06/curbing-consumption-is-the-only-way-out-to-avoid-climate-change-12382/

[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/opinion/the-tough-realities-of-the-paris-climate-talks.html

[19] http://www.ncdmaindia.gov.in this is new site inaugurated in early Nov 2015, but Most of the important tabs like approval process, constitution, etc. don’t work.

[20] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/consumption-injurious-to-the-planets-health/article7790244.ece

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