Climate Change: What India Must Do


Climate Change: What India Must Do

In the build-up to the ‘Leaders’ Climate Summit’ last week (April 22-23), there has been many suggestions about whether India should announce a ‘net-zero’ emissions target, and by when. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C report called for global carbon emissions to reach net-zero by 2050.

While India must also contribute to limiting global temperature rise, ideally below 1.5°C,  Ashok Sreenivas (Senior Fellow at Prayas, Energy Group),  Navroz K. Dubash (Professor at the Centre for Policy Research) and  Rahul Tongia  (Senior Fellow at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress) say it is “still a very poor country with a significant development deficit — for example, our per-capita carbon emissions are less than half the world average………Yet, announcing an Indian 2050 net-zero commitment risks taking on a much heavier burden of decarbonisation than many wealthier countries, and could seriously compromise India’s development needs.”

The three experts “suggest a third path, focused on concrete, near-term sectoral transformations through aggressive adoption of technologies that are within our reach, and an earnest effort to avoid high carbon lock-ins. This is best accomplished by focusing on sectoral low-carbon development pathways that combine competitiveness, job-creation, distributional justice and low pollution in key areas where India is already changing rapidly…….”

The authors take the example of the electricity sector that could be adopted for other sectors.


De-carbonise power sector

The suggestion is to “decarbonise the electricity sector, which is the single largest source (about 40%) of India’s greenhouse gas emissions. De-carbonised electricity would also allow India to undertake transformational changes in urbanisation and industrial development, for example by expanding the use of electricity for transport, and by integrating electric systems into urban planning.

So far, India’s efforts in the electricity sector have focused on expanding renewable electricity capacity. “India now needs to shift gears to a comprehensive re-imagination of electricity and its role in our economy and society.

“One way to do this is to go beyond expanding renewables to limiting the expansion of coal-based electricity capacity. This will not be easy: coal provides firm, dispatchable power and accounts for roughly 75% of electricity today; supports the economy of key regions; and is tied to sectors such as banking and railways. These connections need to be unravelled to truly shift to a decarbonised future.”


A cap on coal power

A first, bold, step would be to pledge that India will not grow its coal-fired power capacity beyond what is already announced, and reach peak coal electricity capacity by 2030, while striving to make coal-based generation cleaner and more efficient……

“A second, necessary step is to create a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission representing all levels of government and the affected communities to ensure decent livelihood opportunities beyond coal in India’s coal belt. This is necessary because the transition costs of a brighter low-carbon future should not fall on the backs of India’s poor.

“Third, a low-carbon electricity future will not be realised without addressing existing problems of the sector such as the poor finances and management of distribution companies, which requires deep changes and overcoming entrenched interests.

“Finally, India will need to work hard to become a leader in technologies of the future such as electricity storage, smart grids, and technologies that enable the electrification of other sectors such as transportation……”


Improve energy services

Enhancing the efficiency of electricity use is an important complement to decarbonising electricity supply. Air conditioners, fans and refrigerators together consume about 60% of the electricity in households. “Today, the average fan sold in the market consumes more than twice what an efficient fan does, and an average refrigerator about 35% more. India could set aggressive targets of, say, 80% of air conditioner sales, and 50% of fan and refrigerator sales in 2030, being in the most efficient bracket. In addition to reducing green house gas emissions, this would have the benefit of lowering consumer electricity bills. India can leverage this transition too as an opportunity to become a global leader in production of clean appliances.

“Such a sector-by-sector approach, which can and should be developed for other sectors…….”


Practical timelines

Going further, “India may even consider committing to submit plausible pathways and timelines to achieving net-zero emissions as part of its future pledges…….India can also use this period to develop a strategic road map to enhance its own technology and manufacturing competence as part of the global clean energy supply chain, to gain benefits of employment and export revenues. Such an integrated approach, which is ambitious, credible and rooted in our developmental needs — including climate mitigation needs — will represent an ambitious, forward-looking and results-oriented India.”


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