India reveals its first climate change plan

Sun-drenched country pushes for solar power, a soaring industry there.

In the wake of next week's G8 meeting in Japan, India released its first action plan for climate change (PDF) earlier this week.

The plan outlines eight national "missions" for sustainable development, including:

  • solar energy;
  • energy efficiency;
  • creating a sustainable habitat;
  • conserving water;
  • preserving the Himalayan ecosystem;
  • creating a green India;
  • creating sustainable agriculture;
  • and establishing a platform of "strategic knowledge for climate change."

The plan lacks a budget and plan of action at this point, but a Council on Climate Change, with stakeholders from the government, industry, and civil society, has been formed to come up with directives and funding.

Among the eight missions, the strongest focus seems to be on solar power.

"We will pool all our scientific, technical, and managerial talents, with financial sources to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people," India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who chairs the council, said during the announcement of the plan.

"Our success in this endeavor will change the face of India," he continued.

A goal is to increase photovoltaic production to 1 gigawatt per year (today the total installed world capacity is roughly 20 GW and almost doubling each year) as well as establish 1 GW of concentrating solar power, or CST, generation capacity by 2017. CST technologies include trough systems, dish/engine systems, and power towers that heat up water or molten salt that can then be used to run a generator to produce electricity.

And indeed, investments are piling up in the solar-tech industry in the country. In Fab City, a proposed semiconductor manufacturing hub outside of Hyderabad, solar cell companies are slowly taking over the grounds.

The IT ministry decided in 2006 to develop a 1,200-acre site near the upcoming Hyderabad international airport (inaugurated in March this year) and turn it into a chip manufacturing center. Interested corporations can apply for land allotments, and so far more than half of the land has been taken.

In February, the last four companies receiving approval to set up shop were all in the photovoltaic business.

NanoTech Silicon India is investing $2 billion in a plant for thin-film solar cells, after scrapping its initial plan for a chip factory in the same spot.

The domestic Titan Energy Systems, already a Hyderabad manufacturer, plans to build a $759 million photovoltaic cell and wafer production facility in phases over the next three years.

XL Telecom & Energy is setting up a $75 million solar module factory, and KSK Energy Ventures will built a $70 million unit for making photovoltaic panels.

Earlier, solar cell and panel manufacturer Solar Semiconductor announced it would be investing $1.1 billion to expand its manufacturing capacity in Fab City over a 10-year period.

Apart from shiny solar power prospects, India's action plan lacks commitment to cut carbon emissions, just like China's did last year.

India contributes 5 percent of the world's carbon emissions, and China contributes 17 percent, according to a World Bank report.

But per capita, Indians emit far less carbon dioxide than Americans or Europeans.

The action plan highlights carbon dioxide emissions, which is cited to be 1 metric ton per person in India, compared to 20 metric tons in the U.S. The world average is 4.25 metric tons.

"Every citizen of this planet must have an equal share of the planetary atmospheric space," Singh said in his speech. He, just like others, pushes for per capita emission rules. That would be a nightmare for the hard-consuming, industrialized world.

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