FEATURE: Parliamentarians bringing renewable energy to India
Nicholas Dunlop, Secretary-General of the Climate Parliament, reflects on the success of the global parliamentary network in strengthening India’s commitment to renewable energy promotion.
The Indian Government has increased its renewable energy target for 2020 from 6.4% to 15%. This goal raises the percentage that solar, wind, biomass and other renewables will contribute to India’s energy mix and is in addition to large-scale hydropower. Meanwhile the powerful Estimates Committee, which is able to overrule the Finance Ministry, has recommended the government allocate 1% of its national budget towards renewable energy.This would quadruple India’s renewable energy budget.
The Climate Parliament, a global cross-party network of legislators working to tackle climate change and promote renewable energy, has played a significant role in strengthening this target. In India, the Climate Parliament supports a group of 25 influential MPs from all mainstream political parties to run parliamentary initiatives that favour renewable energy.
The 15% target, announced in the Approach Paper to the 12th Five Year Plan, was originally put forward in 2008 by the Council on Climate Change, an advisory body to the Government. It urged the nation to try and reach this goal by 2020. When the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy announced the 6.4% target in 2010, it appeared the message had fallen on deaf ears. In response, the Climate Parliament set about raising the Government’s level of ambition. The timeline below shows how its campaign gathered pace:
- August 2010: The Minister of New and Renewable Energy and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, received letters urging them to support the 15% target. Meanwhile, the Chair of the official Parliamentary Forum on Climate Change raised the topic in a parliamentary debate. And, in a short discussion at the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament of India, members of the Climate Parliament group urged the government to accept the higher target as part of efforts to bring electricity to off-grid villages.
- September–October 2010: Three MPs wrote letters to the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, the Minister of New and Renewable Energy, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and the Minister of Power. They reiterated the importance of the 15% goal, and called for greater investment in village mini-grids and a smart ‘supergrid’ to connect the whole country to areas with most abundant renewable resources. A senior spokesperson for the opposition demonstrated high-level, cross-party support for the target in a letter to the Minister of New and Renewable Energy.
- March 2011: Eleven MPs from different political parties wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to intervene to adopt the 15% target. They also encouraged him to review India’s renewable potential, suggesting that previous government estimates had been too low. Meanwhile, two more MPs intervened in a debate to urge stronger support for solar power. Five months later, the Government raised the target to 15% and expressed its support for a fresh assessment of India’s renewable energy potential.
- December 2011: The Climate Parliament launched the 1% budget initiative. This followed close work with the Estimates Committee, which reports on the budgets and policies of the Government Ministries. The Committee produced a paper recommending that the government allocate 1% of the national budget towards renewable energy for 2012-13. The timeline of events and the results achieved show what a handful of committed legislators can accomplish.
Further work to boost renewables
In the course of this period, the Climate Parliament has helped generate three other important outcomes. Firstly, a letter written to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, suggested that during a visit to India by President Obama, the two countries should launch a joint research programme on clean energy, focusing on solar power. In the event, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh signed just such an agreement, with each government committing US$5 million in seed money for the programme.
Secondly, the Climate Parliament mobilised strong cross-party support for an increase in the target for biomass energy from sources such as farm waste and forest weeds. In particular, the MPs focused on the vast bamboo potential of the country. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy subsequently announced that it was exploring the possibility of generating 10,000 megawatts from biomass.
Thirdly, following a key recommendation from a Climate Parliament workshop to introduce a risk-guarantee scheme to compensate renewable energy producers, the Government later allocated funding towards a Payment Security Scheme to ensure financing of projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission.
Such moves to accelerate the use of renewable energy matter not only for the India but for the world. A large part of the global increase in energy demand in the coming years is set to come from India and China. An increased commitment by India can only help to expand the global renewable energy industry. The Climate Parliament India group is now preparing to meet with Prime Minister Singh to ensure that the 15% target is fully implemented and to further the 1% budget initiative.
The Climate Parliament wishes to thank the British High Commission in New Delhi, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Foundation for the Third Millennium as well as individual philanthropists who are kindly supporting its work in India.
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