India PM Narendra Modi at COP26

View from India: India aims to achieve net zero by 2070

Image credit: UNFCC

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said India will move to become carbon-neutral by 2070, in a pledge made at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Globally, India ranks fourth in terms of installed renewable energy capacity. At COP26, or the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, Modi promised that 50 per cent of the country’s energy requirements will be met by renewable energy by 2030. The time frame is the same for scaling up non-fossil energy generation capacity to 500GW. Modi has also committed that India will reduce its total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now onwards till 2030. The country, he pledged, would reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 per cent.

The time frame for achieving the goal of net zero seems quite long. But then India has several issues to address and each brings its share of challenges.

To begin with, the country is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG). The journey may become green by fast-tracking the reduction in carbon emissions. Probably social-environmental initiatives can contribute towards its fruition. One such effort is to create a carbon sink capable of absorbing 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. This can be fulfilled through additional forest and tree cover. Large-scale tree planting could make urban and rural surroundings leafy. A green cover will help curb temperature rise, besides providing employment to the agricultural community. Carbon credits will facilitate the move towards net zero endeavour. India has signed a sustainable agriculture action agenda at COP26 Summit. The aim is to make farming sustainable and environment friendly.

The net zero ambition leads us to fossil fuels such as coal. Though coal is a source of energy for electricity, its dependence needs to be lowered as it contributes to GHG emissions. Already India is reeling under the impact of a coal shortage, with adverse effects on coal-fired thermal plants. This could be seen as a wake-up call for thermal plants to taper coal inputs and look at renewable energy. The transition can happen by re-aligning the energy mix with renewable choices. This may require investments as well as strategic thinking.

Announcements from the states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Karnataka about not building new coal plants come as a breather. Whether coal can be fully eliminated remains to be seen. What could be done is to capture the carbon emitted from the coal. Scientifically if it is stored in a concentrated stream, it may well find its way for reuse. That’s one way of looking at it. What seems more appealing is to give renewable energy a push in fossil-fuel-intensive segments. This may include hydro power, geothermal energy and wind energy. The solar power tariffs have softened in order to widen the adoption of solar panels. 

Vehicular emission intensity needs to be reduced to be on track with carbon neutrality. Policies favouring electric vehicles (EVs) are measures in this direction. Financiers have shown interest in putting their money into EVs and green bonds or companies that offer environmental sustainability. In spirit with sustainable transport, perhaps the basket of renewable alternatives could be broadened for EVs.

In a similar vein, there is a plan to de-carbonise the Indian Railways by 2030. As per news agency Press Trust of India, TV Narendran, president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, has said that CII has welcomed the bold and ambitious scale of the prime minister's announcements at COP26 with aggressive short-term goals and a practical long-term target on net zero for a credible commitment on climate action.

Then coming to climate change, its ripple effect extends to widespread forest fires, drastic heat waves, rising sea levels and global warming. Environmental degradation and its looming effect can be tackled through short and long term measures. What comes to mind is the national hydrogen policy that could bring industries into its fold. To illustrate, petroleum refineries are being nudged to use green hydrogen. Besides that, the power ministry is chalking out a programme whereby industries can integrate green energy into their operations.  

The central government has rolled out various schemes including tap water for all (Har Ghar Jal), cleanliness (Swachh Bharat) and a supply of clean cooking fuel (Ujjwala). Perhaps the government could probably create funds for reducing carbon emission and incentivise those industries or companies that pursue the aspiration. “Today, when India has made a new commitment with new energy to move forward with its promises at a time like this, climate finance and low-cost climate technology becomes more important,” said Modi.

Building resilience towards climate change is important for agriculture as well as the overall economy. This is where tech and science can be combined comprehensively or leveraged separately to come closer to the net zero pledge. For instance, nuclear technologies could be an option to preserve soil and improve food security. “It is now up to the developed nations to walk the talk and ensure that the issue of climate finance is addressed fairly. The developing nations would require huge financial resources and technology transfer for making planet greener. The USD 100 billion per year commitment by the developed world should be honoured and even raised,” said Deepak Sood, ASSOCHAM secretary general, as indicated by the media.

To think of it, India Inc has begun work to create sustainable carbon-neutral companies. As announced in the media reports, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has shared its vision of reducing its absolute GHG emissions. The vision is to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 by reducing its absolute greenhouse gas emissions across Scope 1 and Scope 2 by 70 per cent by 2025 (over 2016 base year). The company has chalked out TCS Clever Energy, a programme which leverages IoT, ML and AI towards energy consumption across campuses. On 2021 Earth Day Wipro pledged to achieve Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2040. Energy efficiency, increased usage of renewable energy and collaborative approaches are part of the decarbonisation drive. In October 2020, Infosys became a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 2060 certified carbon-neutral company. The company embarked on its carbon-neutral goal in 2008 and since then, various initiatives have been chalked out to reduce its carbon footprint.

The journey towards achieving net zero is a relatively untapped opportunity for the tech industry. To arrive at the net-zero stage, all the carbon dioxide or GHGs needs to be fully absorbed via natural solutions. The nation can be declared carbon-neutral by deploying advanced green technologies. There will be residual emissions from various sectors that could be captured through newer tech solutions.

Consistent efforts to scale up the clean energy cover can be an avenue for employment. It may mould the nation into a thriving renewable energy market. It’s also an opportunity to create scalable, affordable technology. Less explored technologies may come out of it. Scientific advances may also contribute towards its fulfilment. This may well serve as a template for drawing the attention of private investors. In all, a stakeholder approach may augur well for the timely delivery of meeting the vision of net zero. All this will help reinforce India’s move towards a circular economy.

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