Emissions cuts start at home

After focussing on the international climate change negotiations in Doha earlier this month, the spotlight is shifting back to the domestic scene. India can point the finger at the failure of rich countries to check the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s not a rosy picture back home either.

Over the last decade or so, India’s emissions — which now make up five per cent of global emissions, the third highest in the world — have displayed a clear shift from agriculture, where rice cultivation and livestock contribute to methane production. On the other hand, the energy and industrial sectors, which mostly produce carbon dioxide, now hold an increasing share of the total.

Between 1994 and 2007, the year-on-year growth rate of agriculture emissions was only 0.6 per cent. Emissions from the energy sector grew at a rate of 4.8 per cent over the same period.

The recent trend is weighted towards industrial processes. Between 1994 and 2000, the year-on-year growth of emissions from this sector was only two per cent. In the period between 2000 and 2007, this shot up to seven per cent.

Even though starting from a low base, emissions from waste have also risen sharply — seeing a 7.3 per cent growth rate between 1994 and 2007 — with urbanisation generating ever-larger quantities of municipal waste.

The estimates for 2007 show that the energy sector — including power, transport and residential electricity — was responsible for 58 per cent of India’s emissions, with industry and agriculture following at 22 and 17 per cent.

In a bid to slow down domestic emissions growth, the government launched the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008. Eight national missions — dealing with solar energy, energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture and habitats, water and forestry, the Himalayan ecosystem and research — were charted under the plan. However, a recent academic analysis of the missions found that some mid-stream corrections need to be made. The study, jointly released by the IIT-Madras and the Institute of Financial Management and Research’s Centre for Development Finance, identified both strengths and weaknesses in the missions, pointing out that they often read as vague, all-encompassing planning documents, rather than specific missions with clearly chalked-out priorities and strategies.

“The two missions on mitigation — solar energy and energy efficiency — are more sharply defined, but if you look at something as large and complicated as the agriculture mission, it looks as though it was just rolled out hastily in time for [the critical 2009 UN summit at] Copenhagen without sufficient thought,” says Sujatha Byravan, the lead author of the study.

The energy efficiency mission, which has been the poster-boy of the Plan at international forums, is not ambitious enough, she says. “They wanted to get buy-in from industry, and that is a good thing, but it leaves out many major challenges. For example, India’s energy losses in distribution and transmission are huge. That needs to be addressed much more.”

A major drawback in the Plan, she feels, is that in many ways, it stresses a lower-carbon model of the existing development path. “We have the opportunity to re-imagine our development pathway. For example, urban planning needs to revolve round non-motorised transport.”

Market compulsions

Some progress may be taking place as much because of market compulsions, as government policies. “With energy prices shooting up — whether coal, electricity, oil, in fact gas is exorbitant — there is an autonomous change within the industry simply to survive,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director- general of the Centre for Science and Environment, who did a study in 2009 of the six most emissions-intensive industries, which together account for more than 60 per cent of the sector’s emissions.

“I have never heard the thermal power sector talking about energy efficiency so much. Whether it’s cement or steel, they are very worried about energy prices, and everyone is looking for alternatives,” he says. “Renewable energy — which stands at 28,000 MW today — is being propelled by market forces. Look at the wind energy sector in Tamil Nadu. It is being promoted by the textile industry simply because it is a cheaper source of energy.”

He feels that if the government can galvanise these market forces, it could make a bigger difference than regulatory regimes such as the PAT scheme.

The government feels that the NAPCC has to be given time to work. “All eight missions are being implemented,” says R.R. Rashmi, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and a key negotiator on the Indian team in Doha.

He lists the solar and energy-efficiency missions as those which have started bearing fruit. “You have to realise that missions like agriculture and water are long-term adaptation missions.”

Given that the missions were launched in 2008 and were planned to run till 2017, they have almost reached the halfway point.

However, the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, which launched the Plan and which was supposed to monitor its progress, has not met in the last two and a half years, Mr. Rashmi admits.

He adds that the NAPCC is only one part of India’s climate strategy. The 12th Five Year Plan, which has just been approved by the Cabinet, will play a key role in moving the country into a sustainable development and low-carbon growth pathway.

However, Mr. Rashmi notes that international finance — a thorny issue at the Doha talks — is critical as well. “To the extent that we can work with domestic funds, we will do, but global funding is also needed.”

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 9:29:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/Emissions-cuts-start-at-home/article12449357.ece

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