By Shweta Srinivasan
Globally, efforts are underway to prepare country-level climate strategies in the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP26) at Glasgow in November this year. But, like several developing countries, India seems to be taking a wait-and-watch approach to submit its long-term strategies (LTS) under the Paris Agreement. The Agreement urges all Parties to ‘formulate and communicate their long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’. Forty-five of the 190 countries — Parties to the Paris Agreement — have submitted net-zero commitments as part of their LTS or updated their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Experts, however, agree that these are inadequate to meet the 2030 goal of a 45 per cent reduction in global carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (over the 2010 level), to limit warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by turn of the century.
Also, LTS or NDC revisions submitted by developed economies like Australia, Japan, and Russia don’t set or align the 2030 targets with mid-century net-zero plans, indicating that these countries (responsible for nearly 80 per cent of cumulative historical emissions) are deferring action on climate goals. On the other hand, they are pushing ‘growing’ economies like India to impose emission limits. At COP26, India will have the unenviable task of safeguarding domestic interests while withstanding international pressure for engaging in ‘early peaking’ or ‘net-zero’ commitments. So, what should be the contours of India’s LTS?
Here are some guidelines for India’s long-term climate strategy:
Be Committed to Net-Zero, but Review Targets
There is growing domestic political will for setting a peaking year target by 2050. Riding the global low-cost renewables wave, India has steadfastly shifted gears from carbon-intensive coal to market-driven ‘clean’ solar for power generation. Still, decarbonising the production supply chain for energy-and material-intensive sectors such as cement, iron & steel, automobiles, and transportation & logistics is challenging. The economic and social implications of such a transition remain unclear. Also, the current modelling frameworks and available data don’t capture the complex interactions between economic systems, energy systems, technological changes, and policy.
Modelling assessments suggest that India’s power-sector emissions could peak around 2040. Industry and transport are likely to account for majority of fossil fuels demand till 2060. Hence, India needs to examine when its coal and gasoline use in these emission-intensive sectors will peak, while assessing the investments for and impacts from this transition. So, a net-zero target set near mid-century for India would give the country diplomatic accolades, it would not be rooted in evidence.
Create and Improve Sector-Wise Visions
India should look at creating and consolidating sector-wise ‘visions’ before setting long-term national net-zero targets. Such visioning exercises should be backed by analytical and evidence-based assessments. For instance, while envisioning transport pathways under the ongoing Sustainable Alternative Futures for India (SAFARI) project, CSTEP’s work concluded that increased urban and freight mobility demand, electrification targets, and public transport plans in a system dynamics framework provide valuable insights into the trade-offs while presenting a more plausible scenario. The model revealed that electrification of road transport alone won’t bend the emission curve enough. An integrated policy effort though, with electrification of inter-city transport, blended fuels, and self-contained smart cities, can cut down road transport emissions by 30 per cent in 2050. Such insights enable an analytically-sound ‘visioning’ process, incorporating alternative technologies and investments.
Strengthen Institutional Capacity to Develop LTS
India’s current institutional architecture leans towards reporting low-carbon development efforts and identifying impacts of climate change on ‘vulnerable’ sectors and regions. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) can at best solicit inputs from government departments. For strengthening institutional capacity to develop and execute LTS, the nodal entity must work with energy and infrastructure ministries on policy roadmaps and adaptation actions, and report and evaluate progress. This would entail coordinated planning and road-mapping efforts with regional stakeholders and state-level departments, alongside extensive training and capacity building for personnel to execute integrated plans.
Socio-Economic Impacts of Green Transitions
India should not shy away from examining the socio-economic aspects, while setting new targets for LTS. For instance, the Government’s ambitious RE targets need to be reconciled with the post-COVID policy boost to the mining and coal sector. Green transition plans in sectors with fossil-fuel dependency should invariably consider implications on livelihoods, demand for land and water resources, investment, and technological needs. The challenge is to get the process right while planning sustainable development.
In conclusion, the LTS instrument itself is more about the process than about a document with targets. With the Biden administration reentering the Paris agreement, India’s signaling in the run-up to COP 26 at the upcoming Earth Day (22 April), G7 (11-13 June), and G20 (30-31 October) meetings will be heavily scrutinised.
The recent LTS submissions (South Africa and South Korea) are ‘living’ documents, acknowledging that any success on net-zero will require frequent revisions and decades-long commitment. India, too, should submit a ‘work-in-progress’ document that commits to the need for net-zero, while focussing primarily on enhancing institutional capacity, financing technology and adaptation needs, and identifying a competent framework to continue examining net-zero pathways in an integrated
[The author works in the area of Climate, Environment and Sustainability at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), a research-based think tank]
[DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETEnergyworld.com does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETEnergyworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.]