The many paths to a greener future

Source: Business Standard

Relevance: Different strategies to lower India’s carbon emissions

Synopsis: Peaking of carbon emissions and the time when de-carbonsation begins are important considerations on road to a greener economy.


Researchers and policymakers are exploring various pathways for Indian carbon emissions over time. These pathways range from Business-As-Usual (BAU) to Low-Carbon to Net-Zero. In each pathway, it is becoming increasingly important to establish when carbon emissions for India will peak and then start to decline.

How peaking of CO2 is related to eco dev of a country?

Peaking concept is linked to the theory that a country’s economic development is closely linked to fossil fuel consumption. According to this theory,

  • In its initial development stages, a country grows by using cheap fossil fuels, which then also leads to a rapid increase in its global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • As the country’s economy becomes more developed, emissions peak, and the country’s carbon requirement for each unit of GDP begins to decline rapidly.

This model has been followed by all industrialized countries, including China.

Global peaking levels
  • US peaked at 15 tonnes per capita
  • Japan at 10 tonnes
  • China at 7 tonnes per capita.
  • In comparison, India’s present GHG emissions are about 3.5 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent, which translates to just 2.5 tonnes per capita
  • Global GHG emissions are about 55 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent
By when India’s total GHG emissions should reach zero?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that global emissions must reach close to zero by 2050 to have a reasonable probability of restricting warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. This implies that India’s total GHG emissions should also reach zero by mid-century.

In order to achieve this target, India has following pathways available.

Business As Usual scenario – peak around 2070
  • In the BAU pathway, our emissions continue to grow with increasing usage of fossil fuels till we reach middle income status of about $8,000 to $10,000 in GDP per capita.
  • Several studies have indicated that on this BAU pathway, even by 2050, India will still only reach about 5 tonnes per capita. So, if we want to achieve per capita emission standards close to those of industrialized countries (or even China), then our BAU emissions will continue to increase and peak around 2070.
  • Subsequently, carbon emissions will begin declining and reach zero by the end of the century.
  • On the BAU pathway, India will be emitting about 15 to 20 billion tonnes in 2070. This pathway will likely aggravate global warming and will not be acceptable at the global level. Ironically, India will end up facing some of the harshest consequences of global warming.
Low-carbon pathway – peak around 2050 

What if we peak around 2050 at 5 tonnes per capita, as suggested by some studies? On this Low-Carbon pathway, India would be still emitting about 8 billion tonnes of GHG when the rest of the world will be close to net-zero. This too may not be acceptable to the global community and will seriously jeopardize the 1.5 °C goal.

Net-Zero pathway – peak before 2050 

The Net-Zero pathway would require that our emissions peak before 2050 and reach zero thereafter — maybe 10 to 20 years later. The exact time frames should come from careful modelling and analyses. This would roughly parallel what China is promising to do.

Analysis of pathways

Two points emerge from the above analysis

  • Our peak will be well below global peaks: One, it is possible that our emissions will peak at about 3 to 5 tonnes per capita. This is well below the peaks reached by developed countries. In fact, we may not even peak and then rapidly decline, rather we may reach a plateau and then slowly decline from there on.
  • Impact on jobs and overall prosperity: It raises the fundamental question: Does this lower per capita level imply that we have compromised on job creation and economic prosperity? Will we not be able to take advantage of cheap fossil fuels?

While we do have ample time to make the necessary changes to our economy, we must begin now to decide which pathway we would like to pursue. Each pathway requires different policy packages and sets up different investment and consumption incentives

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