What to Make of India’s Carbon-Intensity Pledge

by David Kreutzer on October 6, 2015

in Blog

To reserve its seat in the Paris 2015 climate-con kumbaya chorus, India recently vowed to cut its carbon intensity by 33-35 percent by 2030.  It shouldn’t be a tough promise to keep.

On the surface, the pledge would appear to undercut the skeptics’ argument that U.S. carbon policies will have little impact on world temperatures given the huge growth expected in the developing world, and that the developing world will not cut economic growth to meet first-world carbon targets. You can almost hear the response already, “but India agreed to CO2 cuts…”

Let’s look at those cuts.  The promised cuts are not for CO2 emissions, but, instead, for cuts in the ratio of CO2 emissions to GDP (emissions intensity).  This ratio will go down so long as CO2 emissions rise less rapidly than GDP.  For example, the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy dropped by more than 45 percent between 1981 and 2011 even as CO2 emissions rose 18 percent.

The important question, here, is what would happen to India’s emissions intensity without the pledge?  Of course, projections on GDP and emissions are uncertain, but then so is the commitment to meeting targets.

India’s GDP is projected to rise from $1.15 trillion in 2005 (the base year for India’s promised cuts) to $6.9 trillion in 2030. Over the same span CO2 emissions are projected to rise from 1.2 gigatons to 3.8 gigatons.  Simple division shows that the intensity in 2005 was 1.05 Gt/$T and that it is expected to drop to 0.577 Gt/$T in 2030.

So, projections for India’s GDP and CO2 emissions combine to predict that a business-as-usual scenario (one without any policies beyond those currently in place) will lead to a 45 percent reduction in India’s carbon intensity by 2030.  The promised cuts are only 33-35 percent.

Another way of saying it is that doing nothing cuts India’s carbon intensity by 45 percent, while bold statements promise to cut it by 35 percent.  It appears this vacuous promise is all for show, and the media are eating it up.  See, here, here, here, and here.

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