A cleaner roadmap

India’s climate ambitions are welcome. They will require technology, sectoral reforms, support from developed countries

Weeks before the world leaders assembled at Glasgow for the UNFCCC’s COP26, it was apparent that efforts to upscale climate ambitions would form the core of the negotiations at the meet. The climate crisis hasn’t left many choices in this respect.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement at the conference on Monday should instill a greater sense of purpose amongst delegates at the UNFCCC’s negotiating rooms. India is now on the same page with 130-odd countries on the fraught issue of net zero emissions. It has also committed to a one-billion tonne reduction in its projected emissions from now till 2030. This is significant not just because the world’s third largest GHG emitter has committed to an outright scaling down of its GHG footprint for the first time but also because it marks the rarest-of-rare occasion of a COP beginning with a carbon budget cut announcement by a major player. For far too long, UNFCCC negotiations have been hostage to dissensions between nations or blocks. India’s announcements should set the tone for a more amicable and fruitful COP26.

The roadmap continues a nearly decade-long approach of placing renewable energy (RE) as the lynchpin of the country’s decarbonisation drive. By 2030, India will ensure that 50 per cent of its energy is derived from renewable sources — it has increased its Paris Pact ambition by 10 per cent. The country has committed to an installed capacity of 500 GW of RE by 2030. RE installations in the country have, in fact, seen a steady growth in the past five years. However, the unpredictable nature of these technologies will pose challenges, especially at a time when the country’s economy is expected to grow several notches.

This, in turn, would require better coordination between the state electricity boards so that utilities with surplus power can make up for the deficits of others. They would also need to keep a cushion of traditional power to cope with the fluctuations in RE supply. All this would require technological and administrative changes in the way the grid and the traditional power plants are managed. With mounting operating losses, discoms today are in no position to invest in the grid and consumer billing infrastructure. A RE-driven regime will, however, require better efficiencies from the distribution infrastructure — it cannot do with the current system in which about a fifth of the electricity goes waste. Demand side options such as improving the efficiency of household appliances or tweaking operations of agricultural pumps will also warrant attention.

In recent years, India has cemented its commitment to clean energy with partnerships such as the International Solar Alliance. Developed countries, however, need to do much more by way of facilitating technology transfers to the country with the fifth highest RE capacity — to other emerging and middle-income countries as well. The COP26 will be closely watched in how it addresses this historical shortcoming pertaining to financial and technology transfers.

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