Stepping up India’s Paris Commitment for a Zero Carbon Pathway
India’s current 2030 climate track projection is 4496 MT as against needed 1281 MT, falling in real terms, behind the scheduled catch up under the categories of 2 degree Celsius compatible countries that need to further make emission level reductions in order to become 1.5 degree Celsius compatible. It may be noted that the Climate Tracker for India’s last review is available as of December 3, 2018 and may be read with the caveat that the commitments with this rating are consistent with the 2009 Copenhagen 2 degree Celsius goal; therefore, they fall within the country’s fair share range but are not fully consistent with the Paris Agreement. If all government targets were in this range, warming could be held below, but not well below, 2 degree Celsius and still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree Celsius limit.
India is a quasi-federal nation where policy-making falls on the central government in New Delhi while actions on-ground activities rest squarely with sub-regional government. Moreover, climate change, environment and forestry are in the concurrent list of the Indian constitution and sub-regions are equally important in Table of Precedence as regards the actions on such issues.
However, there are adequate arrangements embedded in policy-making systems that drive coordination, resources allocations to sub-regional actors, collective review of plans and reporting.
Nonetheless, India can consciously initiate more action and strengthen its initiatives to implement the following plans to stay 1.5 degree Celsius compliant as per its commitment.
1. Cut Out Coal
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report is clear in its exposition of an impending climate crisis, calling nation-states to take urgent action to mitigate a potential crisis, asking among other measures a total phase-out of coal in a time-specific manner. What would it essentially mean for India and probable ways in which the country can adopt a phase-out action plan (by the year 2050) for its coal-fired power generation.
Feasibility for a gradual phase-out by India is not that improbable given the fact that renewable energy now offers cheaper electricity on a tariff basis than two-thirds of existing coal generation. For instance, India can well save up to USD 4 billion in annual power purchase cost basis 2016 pegged tariffs. To further advance the case, there can possibly be the three tangible ways in which coal phase-out by India can be implemented.
First, coal power plants in the pre-construction phase can be scrapped with existing 63 gigawatts (GWTs) of coal in this phase, through inter-ministerial coordination and finding realistic solutions including but not limited to assessing the vacated land into renewable plants – solar and wind.
Second, Coalswarm data tracker shows approximately 40 GWTs in active construction against approximately 70 GWTs of coal construction officially. It is suggested that no further investments in this risky venture are made.
Third, Retrofitting of old coal plants in the country will not bring any tangible benefits – neither in cost nor on environmental benefits- and it is suggested that the old and polluting coal plants are phased out as per a monitored time table – 1.7 GWTs by 2019, 22.7 GWTs by 2022 and 25.5 GWTs by 2027 (2018 National Electricity Plan).
Ministries concerned: Coal; Power; Renewable; Heavy Industries; NITI Aayog
2. Implement Further Efforts to Diversify India’s Energy Mix and Focus More on Renewable Sources:
India is leading International Solar Alliance (ISA) through South-South and triangular cooperation with more than 100 nations and is committed to producing 175 gigawatt of renewable energy target by the year 2022.
India’s policy on renewable and solar energy is due soon for review directly by the Indian prime minister. In renewing the policy the government should consider involving the private sector both for the financing of large renewable projects and also for scaling up of ongoing projects. To support the transition from coal to renewable energy, the government should put in place a carbon market mechanism and extend it to the MSME sector
Ministries concerned: Ministry of Power; Renewable Energy
3. Invest in More Green Technologies
Green technology needs to become a priority for research and development. Adequate financial resources also need to be stepped up to pursue a time-bound outcome from these efforts. Areas covered should range from alternative energy sources, new nodal transport systems, e-mobility, battery storage, availability of charging systems, green coal, alternative energy sources from synthetic elements etc.
4. Build A Rapid Urban Metro Transport
India has been investing heavily in creating urban transport systems for the public at an affordable price point. Major cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai have already started initiating a world-class transport system, cutting massively in the use of fossil fuels in the process.
However, last-mile connectivity and expanding the networks to semi-urban and rural areas must be taken up on priority to serve a large populace. The government should also undertake time-bound measures to run its metro services 100 percent on solar by the year 2022 and introduce e-mobility by providing subsidies to vehicular transport that would like to run on battery. More actions like the Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) scheme should be scaled up to better reach the country’s climate targets with the first cycle of the PAT scheme already is resulting in savings of 5.6 GW and 31 MtCO2e between 2012 and 2015 (BEE, 2018).
Ministries concerned: Transport; Power; Railways
5. Create a Policy Framework that Moves India Towards a Circular Economy
The Indian is unable to find routine and systemic solutions to manage its emissions both in urban and semi-urban areas. Crop burning is one such phenomenon that continues to deteriorate air quality during winters. This situation can firmly be addressed if the government takes steps to move towards a circular economy ecosystem. With the growing scarcity of natural resources and exponential accumulation of waste, the government needs to move ahead with legislation to embed circular economy mechanisms within the country’s growth model.
Ministries concerned: Corporate Affairs and Environment, Forests and Climate Change
6. Support Climate Resilient Agriculture
India still depends to a large extent on its agriculture both for informal employment and food security. It is one of the key sectors that contribute to climate change and environmental pollution. Water resources optimization, low water-intensive seeds, more efficient methods of irrigation, climate-resilient seeds and investing smartly into developing climate-resilient technologies will take India ahead in its efforts to remain compliant to its commitments to Paris agreement. These efforts can be supplemented by planting more trees to create effective ‘carbon sinks’ and ‘generating more forest cover.’
Ministries concerned: Agriculture, Water Resources and Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
7. Incentivize the Use of Electric Vehicles:
Limited by lack of clean mobility infrastructure, progressive policies and coordination between the federal and the sub-regional governments, the case of gradual movement from diesel and petrol vehicles to the introduction of electric vehicle in India has taken longer than originally anticipated.
As per OICA (The International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers 2018 Statistics, the sales of passenger vehicles in India during the period (2016-2017) in respective categories of passenger vehicles, SUVs and vans stood respectively at 2103, 762 and 182 (in thousands), causing air pollution to critical proportions failing to meet WHO guidelines for safe levels, putting people at additional risk of respiratory diseases and other health problems. In order to promote clean mobility and incentivising the use of electric vehicles, India would need to put in place a comprehensive policy of phasing out petrol and diesel variants while incentivising use of electric vehicles by the public.
This should include preparations for electric vehicles, building e-highways, the creation of robust infrastructure of charging points, consultation of the auto industry, the facilitation of inter-ministerial coordination, incentivized phasings-out of petrol and diesel cars by offering subsidies on the basis of overall domestic value addition per kilowatt-hour (KWh) basis, and an expanded scope of clean fuel technology beyond two and three-wheelers including but not limited to manufacturing 50 Gigawatt hour (GWh) batteries by the year 2030.
It is also estimated that the annual subsidy given to manufacturers after sales will be in the range of USD 1.6 billion, hence, the role of domestic and multi-lateral financial institutions will be key to keep India’s plan on clean mobility, moving on and adhering to 2030 agenda.
Ministries concerned: Road and Highways, Finance, Power, NITI Aayog