NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has promised to shave a third off the rate at which it emits greenhouse gases over the next 15 years, in a long-awaited contribution towards reaching a deal to slow global warming at a U.N. climate summit in December.
The world's third-largest emitter and last major economy to submit plans ahead of the Paris summit did not, however, commit to any absolute cuts in carbon emissions.
Of the top two polluters, China has promised its emissions will peak by around 2030, and the United States is already cutting, but India says its economy is too small and its people too poor to agree to absolute cuts in greenhouse gases now.
Instead, it said it aimed to cut carbon intensity - the amount of carbon per rupee of economic output - by between 33 and 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and to grow to 40 percent the share of power generated from non-fossil fuels.
The United Nations said 146 nations, accounting for almost 87 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions, have issued plans in the run-up to Paris. They include all members of the Group of 20 except Saudi Arabia, which fears for its oil exports.
Experts say the pledges mark progress in climate action but - even if fully implemented - would not be enough to prevent the planet from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial times.
Christiana Figueres, the U.N.'s climate chief, hailed the wide participation as a sign that Paris could be a "turning point" towards 2C, the level accepted by governments as the threshold beyond which the Earth would face dangerous changes including more droughts, extinctions, floods and rising seas.
This offered opportunities for investments in "resilient, low-emission, sustainable development", she said.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said New Delhi's plan balances the need for a low-carbon future with the need to lift millions out of poverty and industrialise quickly.
"Although the developed world has polluted the world and we are suffering, India will be part of the solution," he told journalists after submitting the pledges to the United Nations. "We want to walk on a cleaner energy path."
India said it needs $2.5 trillion by 2030 to achieve its plan, but Javadekar did not say if its pledges were contingent on greater funding from the richer world.
India, often acting as the voice of the developing world, plays an important role in global climate talks. "India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy," said Rhea Suh at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.
New Delhi stressed in its submission that coal would continue to dominate future power generation. Environmentalists fear India's emissions will jump as the use of cars, air travel and air conditioning grows among its 1.2 billion people.
"The scale of expansion of another 170 to 200 gigawatts of power from coal is baffling. This will set back India’s development prospects," said Pujarini Sen of Greenpeace India.
India's target for carbon intensity falls well short of China, which pledged at the end of June to reduce its carbon intensity by 60-65 percent by 2030.
Preliminary estimates indicate India would need to spend around $206 billion between 2015 and 2030 to adapt to the effects of climate change, the submission said.
Reorporting by Tommy Wilkes; Additional reporting by David Stanway in Beijing and Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Ed Davies and Mark Trevelyan