The Indian Cabinet has approved a plan to boost its installed solar capacity by 200 times by 2013, in an effort to increase the nation's leverage ahead of high-stakes climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month.
The plan's passage also coincides with Tuesday's meeting in Washington between President Obama and India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The two heads of state are not expected to make any real progress on what they will do in Copenhagen. But India won't get too much of the blame. With its mega-solar plans now a done deal, the nation's climate status is rising a notch. Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to disappoint international diplomats for failing to commit to specific CO2 cuts and leading other rich countries in a race to the bottom.
In the lead up to the Monday summit, Rajendra Pauchari, chief of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told reporters that climate change "could have been a much higher priority" for the Obama team. In fact, it should have been pushed "before any of the other initiatives the administration has taken—particularly given the fact that there was a deadline of December for getting an agreement," Pauchari said.
"I feel disappointed and so do so many other people that think [the administration] didn't move rapidly enough," he added.
In contrast, India's solar plan is seen by many as ambitious, and a crucial step for cutting emissions and creating an international solar market that rivals global leaders.
Phase one will add 1,100 megawatts of grid-connected solar between 2010 to 2013—up from less than 5 megawatts today.
The long-term goal for the nation is to install 20,000 MW by 2022, at a total cost of $19 billion. The money will largely go towards developing incentive schemes for the production and installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, as well as concentrating solar power and research and development. The initial investment will be $922 million.
Shyam Saran, Prime Minister Singh's special envoy on climate change, called the solar mission a "major contribution both in in terms of India's mitigation efforts but also to the global effort," during a press conference at this month's Barcelona climate talks.
The solar initiative is one of eight national missions the India government has put forth to combat climate change and promote energy security. The others include energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture and water conservation.
"Unlike actions that are being pledged by several developed countries, we have not made our national actions conditional upon other countries," Saran said in a nudge to the U.S., who wants all major economies, including India, to put hard emission-reduction targets on the table.
With Copenhagen just a few weeks away, word is now spreading that India is considering turning its action plans and national missions into legislation. The goal would be to improve "the environment" by 20 percent by 2020.
An actual bill could give the nation a big lift in negotiations, but it by no means would it imply a mandatory target for cutting carbon. The nation has long been a staunch opponent of any kind of binding CO2 caps for developing nations.
India will enforce its national climate plans "because we believe that these actions are in India's interest, while they also contribute to the international effort," Saran said.
The onus for a truly meaningful climate treaty remains squarely on the rich, the nation has argued.
According to Saran, India's position going into Copenhagen is clear. Industrial nations that signed the Kyoto Protocol "must commit themselves to very specific, legally binding targets for the second commitment period, which commences in 2013," he said.
Those who are not parties to the Kyoto Protocol, namely the U.S., "must commit themselves to comparable commitments," Saran added.
Further, India, along with the G77 developing nations, claims the rich must commit to an aggregate 40 percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. These targets must be part of a "substantive" final outcome, Saran said.
"A substantive outcome at Copenhagen will only be classified as substantive if there were very clear numbers and significant numbers for emission reduction by developed countries," Saran explained.
India's "Ramesh" Problem
As India's image on climate change slowly improves in some circles, its outspoken and controversial environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, continues to ruffle the world's feathers.
At the pre-negotiations in Copenhagen last week, Ramesh issued a statement that suggests support for a new global framework that would kill the Kyoto Protocol in favor of a single instrument, The Hindu reported.
This position, if true, would isolate India from the rest of the developing nations, who see the maintenance of the Kyoto Protocol as critical to a strong and equitable climate deal.
The statement by Ramesh allegedly was not shared with the Indian climate change negotiating team, and deviated from text approved by the prime minister's office.
Previously, Ramesh sent a letter to Prime Minister Singh making the case that India should jettison the Kyoto treaty, and break with the G77 developing nations on the issue. He was later forced to issue a public rebuttal.
This week, Ramesh set off another firestorm in India when he released a discussion paper disputing claims that the Himalayan glaciers are shrinking, and that the phenomenon was linked to global warming.
In response, IPCC head Pauchari said:
"I don't know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement."