THE North is persuading India to accept joint implementation (JI) programmes to curtail its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. High level delegations from Canada and Germany visited Delhi recently to hold talks with the Indian government officials and experts on national energy policy issues.

The reason behind the urgency shown by the North is the Berlin Conference of Parties on the Framework Convention on Climate Change scheduled for March 27. At the meet, the North would try to reach an agreement with the South whereby the former receives credits for every dollar it spends in the developing countries -- in the form of financial and technological aid -- to reduce their CO2 emissions.

For the North, which has already achieved a high level of industrial efficiency, going in for JI programmes is an easier and cheaper option than funding research to increase their efficiency to make up for their past indulgence.

Many developing countries, including India, have already opposed JI, which does not recognise that 25 per cent of the world's people living in industrialised countries were responsible for 75 per cent of the global CO2 emissions of 5.6 billion tonnes in 1990.

But that did not deter the Canadian and the German team from suggesting JI projects in the energy sector. According to Manoj Panda of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Bombay, the power sector is the main contributor to the country's CO2 emissions. Options like advanced technologies for power generation and the use of renewables, can help cut CO2 emissions, he adds.

The Canadians cited a series of studies on the feasibility on their proposals. Says David Runnalls of the North-South Institute, Ottawa, which conducted one of such studies jointly with IGIDR, "This (JI) will not only help India in reducing CO2 emissions but will also provide opportunities to improve power generation and distribution efficiency."

The German team, led by Klaus Lippold, a member of the German parliament, suggested a shift in emphasis from coal and lignite to the less polluting oil and natural gas. The global warming potential of coal and lignite they claim is almost double that of oil and natural gas.

The Germans also recommended renewable sources of energy like biomass and solar thermal energy which are more environmentally benign, but the Indians were sceptical. Said N K Bansal of the Centre for Energy Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, "India's experience with solar thermal technology has not been happy." He added that as the indigenous base for this technology was weak, a conscious shift towards such renewables would increase the dependence on imports.

The Germans strongly advocated the use of modern nuclear power technologies such as high temperature reactors, which, they say, are non-polluting. Lippold pointed out that if Germany had not set up nuclear power plants, which now supply 30 per cent of the country's electricity, its greenhouse gas emission would have been an additional 150 million tonnes per annum.

But India is heavily dependent on coal for generating power and switching to a more environment-friendly fuel can only be a gradual process. A study conducted jointly by the Tata Energy Research Institute and the Canadian Energy Research Institute, predicts that coal will continue to be the mainstay of power generation in India.

Recognising this, the Canadians suggested the adoption of clean coal technologies -- a subject of extensive research in that country. Says R K Sachdeva, adviser in the ministry of coal, "Coal accounts for 60 per cent of the total commercial energy produced in India. There is very little likelihood of substituting coal with oil or natural gas on a large scale."

The JI offers may provide the developing nations more efficient technologies but the proposals need to be taken with a pinch of salt considering the North's past record.

---(With inputs from Ashish Vachhani).