What Is India’s Position In The Global Race To Zero-Net Emissions?

WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

2019 will be remembered as the year when we witnessed the largest global climate strike in history, with over four million participants across multiple nations demanding action to reduce carbon emissions. According to the Global Carbon Project, fossil fuel combustion is expected to release a record 36.8 billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere in 2019, more than double the level in the 1970s.

Recognising the growing threat posed by global warming, 65 countries and the EU pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019. However, China and the US, the top two emitters in the world, emitting more than 40% of global CO2, did not show ambition.

India, with its growing footprint, needs a plan too – not least because it will face the brunt of global inaction and bear the proverbial white man’s burden!

One of many climate strikes held by schoolchildren in India last year.

A Race Against Time

Net-zero emissions mean balancing the current carbon emissions with carbon sinks that absorb the emissions, leaving a net-zero impact on the atmosphere. Global average temperatures have already risen by 0.8°C to 1°C, and there is no time to lose.

As per the estimates of GHG Platform India, the economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions of India stood at 22.6 billion tonnes (CO2 equivalent) between 2005 and 2015, while the overall removal was only 5% of the cumulative emissions. A projection of emissions at the current growth rate indicates that the carbon removal capacity through afforestation would drastically fall short of the total emissions in 2030.

Technological solutions and driving behavioural change to assimilate the solutions for a climate-friendly world are the need of the hour.

The Usual Suspects

The main contributors to carbon emissions are fossil fuels – coal, petroleum, and natural gas. India’s story is no different from other developing nations. Electricity generation, industry, and transportation, collectively contributed to more than 70% of carbon emissions between 2005 to 2015.

Particularly challenging is our reliance on coal – a bulk of it sourced domestically. More than 60% of the emissions were a result of using coal. Coal alone contributes to 74% of the total electricity generation. Industry energy use is also dominated by fossil fuels, amounting to a 65% share in final consumption, while the transport sector almost entirely runs on petroleum products and natural gas.

Figure 1: sectoral emissions and projections
Projections for sectoral emissions and carbon sinks in India
Author’s analysis

Too Many Solutions?

A loose set of targets, to counter emissions in various sectors, exist – achieving a 15% natural gas share in India’s energy mix by 2030; 175 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022; 30% share in EV sales by 2030 and so on. The challenge is, few have a clear policy that supports the target.

Further, energy efficiency – the lowest cost way to reduce emissions – has its limitations, particularly in the case of the industry sector. Fuel switching too has shortcomings as less carbon-intensive fuels are pricier.

There also remains the dependence on decades-old processes and products which have seen little innovation. Cement is a perfect example. Even with 100% replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy, the cement sector would still emit 51 million tonnes of CO2 in 2030, only a 25% decrease from the current level. A fundamental change in the materials we use is needed.

The renewable energy target by 2022 is looking insurmountable, as the power sector woes and DISCOM insolvency and technical challenges plague the sector. In transportation, EVs have come to be the proverbial silver bullet, given our inability to drive through hard reform in urban governance and promoting design-rich solutions.

All gloom and doom? Not quite. Sharing the burden, and diffusion of innovation offers hope.

A Better Tomorrow

India can take inspiration from other countries to create an efficient strategy for decarbonisation. Germany’s move to completely phase out coal by 2038 is a step in the direction, but the phase-out of nuclear has left a void and reduced the overall carbon space available.

France has invested in research on hydrogen produced through renewables as a substitute for fossil fuels, while the UK generated more electricity from renewables than fossil fuels in the third quarter of 2019. Lighter and more efficient battery chemistries and horizon technologies like nuclear fusion offer more hope for clean energy.

What is clear is, India will have to make do with a lower carbon space than it would have liked. It is also clear that India needs resources – finances, skilling and technology from anywhere it can get it.

To quote from A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” We live in tumultuous times shaped by consumer interests. You, me, and many like us can effectively initiate a low carbon transition by being mindful of what we consume, and ask for.

Doconomy, a Sweden-based fin-tech company, worked with Mastercard to launch the world’s first credit card with a carbon limit. It also allows consumers to track their carbon emissions through an app and offset their footprint.

Skyscanner, an online travel company, has started labelling flights based on carbon emissions to help travellers make an informed choice. Our future, along with those of our children, single-handedly depends on the decisions we make now!

About the author: Deepa Janakiraman is a Research Analyst at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), an independent not-for-profit policy research institution.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: digifly840/Pixabay.
Similar Posts

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below