Let’s face it

We provide a major push to renewable energy forms including solar but seem to have thrown distribution reforms out of the door. States have set up electricity regulatory commissions but they are struggling to define their relevance.

The suspicion that India's energy policy has been adrift has been around for some time. We continue to totter along providing a major push to rural electrification through the RGGVY programme while at the same time emphasizing a decentralized distributed approach to energy provision based on some artificial geographical distinctions between areas to be covered by these initiatives.

The environment minister's statement in Cancun expressing India's apparent willingness to accept greenhouse gas emission limitation targets at some time in the future has drawn a lot of criticism from both opposition parties in the government as well as environmental activists. Undoubtedly India will, sooner or later, have to take on emission reduction commitments. If the world was to agree to fully compensating, in financial terms, for historical responsibilities then the pressure on India to start moving to lower emissions trajectories could be immediate. The important point to bear in mind here is that we are no longer talking of 'if' but 'when' India will take on commitments. As such, the sooner India internalises the domestic implications of potential international commitments the lower will be its costs, and the world's costs, of adjustment in the future. The rest is negotiating for 'a few dollars more' - and rightfully so - at the international level.

Climate change considerations may be just the glue needed to hold India's energy policy making together. Spanning issues of energy efficiency and renewable energy while at the same time providing compensation to maintaining the health of the forest sector - while rendering coal as the least desirable fuel form - climate change commitments would force the government of India to consistently and constantly review its energy policies for resource effectiveness. Recent paper submissions by Teri, both internationally and domestically, have highlighted the radical transformations that would be required in our energy development pathways under alternate scenarios of climate commitments. The most recent presentation in Cancun has highlighted the limitations of public finance to both support these transformations directly as well as to leverage private finances for the purpose. While it is debatable whether climate actions would increase the medium to long term costs of delivery of energy and related services, it is more certain that the initial investment costs in energy and transport infrastructures will be manifold higher. How India bargains away its rights to emissions is going to be critically important to its ability to absorb the costs of climate action.