India: Cause for hope in the fight against climate change
In 2016, an average human emitted about 70 times their body weight in CO2 , just from fossil fuels and industry use. 37 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide was emitted in total, and at the current rate, we would cross our 2⁰ C temperature limit in less than 30 years. Elongated droughts and heat waves, loss of coastal cities & island nations, huge migrations, and constant loss of bio-diversity will become a norm in 30 years.
So clearly, the future is bleak unless the largest economies in the world make environment protection their first priority. So how does a country like India bring more than 300 million of its citizens out of poverty, while making sure that they and their children have a future worth experiencing? Does it follow the outdated path of becoming quickly developed through an extractive economy, the one that China took? Or does it take the slower but much more sustainable path to development- making sure that emissions are kept in check and that the economy is sustainably powered? And should it; given that the major developed economies aren’t doing enough- making India’s efforts futile?
Last year, when a retired David Letterman asked Narendra Modi- the incumbent prime minister of India- where his priorities lie- his answer was clear:
If the world helps us with technology, and with resources, I’ll be the first person to put my weight behind completely converting our dependency on coal to clean energy. As long as I’m unable to do that, I’ll have to do it in other ways.
In other words, a country strapped by poverty and resource scarcity needs to end it- by whatever method is the easiest, cheapest and quickest. The correlation between development and energy use is clear (see below), and coal is the easiest way to make sure energy use goes up.
However, Modi’s government have taken immense steps in the right direction:
Renewable capacity target:
India plans to reach 57% energy fulfillment from renewable energy by 2027- being ahead of the 40% (by 2030) mandated by the Paris Agreement. The plan to quadruple renewable power by 2022 are exciting in itself (forgive the use of pie charts)-
Heavy fuel taxation:
The heavy taxation of petrol and diesel in India, in many cases more than 100%, is often seen as a failure by the Indian government to provide affordable necessities to the masses. However, this strategy has proved successful in filling the government’s coffers, discouraging the use of these non-renewable fuels, encouraging use in public transportation, and bring inghigher taxes from high-income citizens (since petrol is majorly used by the top strata of the society).
National Action Plan on Climate Change
The National Action Plan on Climate Change, an 8-action plan (soon to be expanded to 11), pledges and carries out investment in fields such as Solar energy, energy efficiency, forest protection, sustainable agriculture, and the knowledge mission. The more than ₹2,500 crore budget for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is instrumental in carrying out these tasks (but is still meager when compared to its military budget of ₹3,59,854 crores).
Power efficient technologies
Energy efficiency is at the forefront of India’s concerns, with plans to replace plants older than 25 years, building of smart cities starting with the Smart City Mission, replacing incandescent street lights with LED ones, promote efficient energy pumps, etc.
While these is all great news for the environment, it should not be forgotten that the rapid economic growth has meant that GHG emissions in India have risen 65% between 1990 and 2005, and are slated to grow another 70% by 2020, and the peak is nowhere in sight. The growth in renewable energies have been significant, but the biggest slice of the ever-growing pie continues to be held by coal and oil. Renewable energy, however sustainable in the long term, can only be a major part of Indian economy if it is assisted by forces outside the Indian government-
Cooperation from developed nations
Investments and collaborations with foreign organizations and governments such as this, this, this, and this, will be instrumental in providing the capital needed to push the environmentalist agenda. This will help governmental agencies improve their assets and investments in the fastest growing large economy in the world, while providing excellent opportunity for growth in energy production and jobs creation for India.
Enterprise from the private and public sector
Japanese company Softbank plans to invest $20 Billion, while the Chinese CLP Holdings plan to invest $1 Billion into solar energy in the next few years in India. Several other entities such as Foxcon, Bharti, ONGC, Skypower, etc. have made significant investments. Overall, $100 Billion investment has been pledged or made in the Indian renewable sector, by both public and private sector, which is a third of what’s needed to meet our 2022 target.
China, in recent times, has provided a lot of hope in the fight with climate change, with plans to invest $361 billion into renewable energies by 2020, and are on track to peak their emissions by 2020–25, well ahead of its target of 2030. India, seems to be on a better path, fulfilling much of their new energy needs directly from renewable loads, making huge investments in solar and wind energy, and committing to fulfill its Paris agreement commitments well ahead of schedule. And while there have been roadblocks and doubts, there is plenty of hope for both India and China. How these two countries respond to the climate change threat will be the primary factor in winning the fight, especially given the current political scenario in United States. As for now, all signs point in the right direction.