Climate mitigation

Context: The fifth anniversary of the Paris accord provided the scope of a virtual global meeting.

What steps has India undertaken to mitigate climate change post Paris Agreement?

  • Renewable energy targets: Initially, India had set a target of 175 GW of installed renewables capacity by 2020 and a guarantee that by 2030, 40 per cent of its energy needs will come from renewables.
  • In 2018, at the Global Climate Action Summit: PM announced an ambitious plan to make India less dependent on coal and natural gas by aiming for 450-500 GW of installed capacity by 2030 through renewable energy.
    • The target was five times the amount of existing installed renewables capacity of 81 GW. Over the last six years, there has been a 72 per cent increase in installed renewables capacity.
  • Electrification of transportation: This seems to be the most promising sector as transportation systems around the country look set to go electric, including local transportation in big cities.
    • The Indian railways, too, is expected to go fully electric by 2024 with completion of electric lines by 2023, according to the ministry of railways.

What are the various problems?

  • The solar industry: The Central Energy Authority (CEA) published a report on “Under Construction Renewable Energy Projects” which listed 90 renewable projects amounting to 39.4 GW that were facing delays due to several reasons.
    • Out of these, 20 GW worth of projects are facing delays and have been granted extensions of five months due to the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns on global supply chains.
  • The market for rooftop solar: It was expected to grow to 40 GW by 2022 but has fallen flat with an installed capacity of only 6 GW. The primary reason is once again a poor regulatory environment.
  • Renewables have to compete with the coal industry: Despite significant gains in total installed capacity for renewable power in terms of actual power generation, coal still powers close to 72 per cent of India’s electricity requirement.
  • Financial distress: Another problem is the financial distress of the discoms, which prevents them from modernising plants, as the thermal industry is plagued by inefficient tariff setting, expensive PPAs and unsustainable cross-subsidies.
  • Carbon sequestration: It is mainly done through forest cover and other plant resources. The target of 33 per cent of forest cover remains to be achieved, as Indian forests currently stand at 21 per cent of total geographical area (TGA).
    • Forests are classified in three categories: “Very dense forests” represent 3 per cent of the TGA, whereas “moderately dense forests” and “open forests” represent 9 per cent each.
    • Commercial plantations and farms are sometimes classified as open forests conceals the true extent of the damage that forests are suffering.
  • Biodiversity loss: The Western Ghats has seen a significant loss in biodiversity with an expected third already lost due to human expansion in the region.
    • It is the Northeast that has witnessed the most damage in the past decade. Of the eight states in the region, only Assam and Tripura have not seen a decline in forest cover.

Way forward

  • The installation of smart solar meters with more expensive metering during peak hours, which could then incentivise the consumer and the discoms to actively push more affluent Indians to adopt rooftop solar.
  • India must plan a green recovery from the current COVID-19 crisis to ensure a just and sustainable growth for its population. Doing this will take an incredible amount of resources and political will.
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