The Tortoise Can Win Again!
Updated: Nov 13
The Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC) gave a red alert to the world to be prepared for climate related catastrophes. The IPCC report also makes the governments around the globe accountable and reconsider their strategies for avoiding an inhabitable planet in near future. The IPCC report has made the issue of climate change mitigation mainstream, and it has also started a healthy competition among nations to prove that the government in power is leading the climate change mitigation efforts. The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) is a scoring system designed by the German environmental and development organization ‘Germanwatch’ to enhance transparency in international climate politics. Based on standardized criteria, the index evaluates and compares the climate protection performance of 57 countries and the European Union which are together responsible for more than 90% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The 2019, 2020 and 2021 CCPI has consistently put India as a leader in Asia and in top 10 countries around the globe in climate change mitigation efforts. While it is certainly a thing to be proud about, India’s climate change mitigation efforts must be analyzed in the context of decreasing fiscal deficit, increasing urbanization, increasing aspiration level of the population and emerging renewable energy technologies.
India has been perceived as a tortoise when compared to other developed countries (especially China and United States of America) due to her consistent single digit GDP growth rate over the last two decades and sluggish bureaucratic system. India is emerging as one of the largest economies and is the market for the world with its 1.4 billion population. Any change in India, however slow it might be, has far reaching effects on the entire world. Be it the tax reforms, or stricter compliance regime for businesses, or improvement in the digital infrastructure, these sluggish changes which needed over two decades to materialize have impacted the foreign direct investments and quadrupled the number of multinational companies working in India in a shorter period. When it comes to climate change mitigation protocols, it won’t be different. India’s national action plan on climate change (NAPCC) and intended nationally determined commitments (INDC) will shape global businesses in the upcoming decade. These plans and policies have been designed to fulfill the Paris agreement pledge to reduce carbon footprint by 33-35% from 2005 levels to 2030. The glaring aspect of India’s strategy has been the development of renewable (non-fossil) energy infrastructure through solar and hydroelectricity megaprojects. The country now produces 97 GW (in 2021) energy from non-fossil sources and has set a target of producing 450 GW from non-fossil sources by 2030. However, the underlying aspect is that India has been successful in making the climate movement as the people’s movement. Individuals have contributed at ground level by developing technologies for efficient use of biomass and solar energy in far off rural areas. About 32% of total primary energy use is derived from biomass in India even in 2021. People perceive usage of biomass as an environmentally friendly and cheaper option to fossil derived energy. Solar energy has electrified villages that did not have the electricity infrastructure at all. The Indian culture that believes in conservation of nature has a role to play in making the climate movement a people’s movement. Every third citizen of India is a youth with a high aspiration level for leading a comfortable life, but the cultural roots have enshrined the thought that growth does not happen with exploitation of nature. However, there are serious challenges in the way ahead to ensure a sustainable growth in India.
The tortoise has done well so far with climate change mitigation as the per capita consumption of energy and resources has remained lower compared to China and USA. For instance, the per capita electricity consumption is 13000 kWh in the USA, 5000 kWh in China but only 1000 kWh in India. However, there is a disparity between the per capita resource consumption values in Urban (very high) and rural (very low) lifestyles. With increasing urbanization, the per capita consumption of energy and resources will also rise. This will force India to adopt the established route of a linear economy and follow the footsteps of other developed nations to keep manufacturing costs lower (owing to lower R&D expenses) and remain competitive in international markets. However, India should be cautious and ensure sustainable development through a circular economy model before reaching the uphill and messy part of the climate change mitigation race. The cost of implementing mega projects for renewable energy is very high when the technology is imported due to the high custom costs ranging from 25 to 40% for solar modules. However, the costs come down with development and implementation of indigenous technologies. India has demonstrated it by producing solar energy at meagre 2.44 rupees per kWh in 2018. So far, the focus of climate change mitigation has been on the energy sector, but it will soon be on the chemicals and materials domain when the renewable energy infrastructure approaches the 400 GW mark. Industrial ecology will be a key in utilizing the goal of minimal resource exploitation and ensuring minimal disposal. Our actions over the next decade can ensure a ‘Sujalam Sufalam Bharat’ and ensure that the tortoise finishes first as envisioned in the 'Aesop’s fable'.
Dr. Saurabh C. Patankar &
Mr. Kunal K. Godambe