Can we offer a credible strategy for the reduction of emissions?

Source: Livemint

Relevance: Understanding India’s strategy for COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) meeting at Glasgow in Nov 2021.

Synopsis: With the recent IPCC report highlighting code red for our planet, India needs to evolve its emission reduction strategy too. A brief look at the India’s current strategy, why it needs changing, associated challenges and potential solutions.

Background

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that we are set to exceed the target of limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The upcoming COP26 meeting assumes significance in this respect.

India must consider what its strategy should be for the meeting.

India’s traditional view

Traditionally, India has argued that expecting it to cut emissions is unfair because the main cause of global warming is the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) due to the actions of developed countries. Hence, the burden of reducing emissions should fall mainly on them.

Accordingly, India set its targets in Paris 2015 agreement, but the situation has now changed in the light of recent IPCC report.

Should India change its view now?

Yes. Due to the following reasons:

  • Other developing countries have agreed: In light of IPCC 6th assessment report, many countries (including developing ones) have agreed on measures to reduce emissions drastically, we will be under pressure to do the same.
  • Technological progress: Also, the central assumption underlying our traditional position, that accepting a reduction in emissions will undermine our development objectives, is no longer valid. Technological changes now make it possible to get almost all the energy we need without any emissions.
Must Read: IPCC 6th Assessment Report – Explained in detail
An effective strategy for India

An effective strategy for reducing emissions would involve action on four fronts:

  1. Increasing the efficiency of energy use in all sectors to reduce our total demand for energy
  2. Shifting from fossil fuels towards electricity as the final energy carrier in different sectors, like in transport, where all kinds of passenger vehicles including city buses can be electrified and railways.
  3. Moving away from fossil fuels to renewables, mainly solar and wind, for power generation. These steps can be combined with the fourth one,
  4. Removing emissions from the unavoidable use of fossil fuels through technologies such as carbon capture or by afforestation.
Challenges/Issues
  • Areas where fossil fuel use cannot be avoided: Long-distance freight transported by road, air transport and shipping are some areas where the use of fossil fuel cannot be avoided for some time.
    • Industrial processes requiring high temperatures, or in those needing fossil fuel as feedstock, such as cement, steel and fertilizers.
  • Grid management: Increasing the share of renewables will pose problems for grid management because of its intermittent nature. Battery storage at grid scale will be essential to stabilize supply to match demand, and this will involve additional costs.
  • The energy transition needed calls for close collaboration between the Centre and states.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Substituting thermal electricity with green electricity can only work if it is cost-effective.
Measures
  • Systematic plan to attract investment: Since the scale of India’s demand for batteries for grid stabilization and for electric vehicles will be huge, we need to plan systematically to attract investment in the production of technologically-advanced batteries to meet our domestic demand as well as for exports.
  • Green hydrogen: Commercial breakthroughs in the production of green hydrogen in the coming decades may make a big difference too.
  • Niti Aayog should be tasked with reviewing studies, consulting stakeholders, and produce a credible transition plan for consideration by the government.
  • An important part of the transition should be the phasing out of coal-based generation.
  • Massive funding: This transition will require massive investments. The IPCC has estimated that the developing world as a whole will need $600 billion per year up to 2050 for the energy sector alone. India will need $150 billion per year, or about 1.8% of GDP. Some of this will have to come from the central government or its public sector undertakings and some from states, but most from private investors and  multilateral development banks.
Way forward

India should put forward a proposed emission-reduction strategy, based on Niti Aayog’s review of available studies, and offer an emission path based upon a global package that includes adequate access to financing.

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