Six charts show how difficult it is for India to reach net zero

By Rajesh Kumar Singh, Saket Sundria and Akshat Rathi

(This story was originally published on March 18. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised COP26 delegates in Glasgow on Monday by pledging to reach net zero by 2070.)

Senior Indian government officials are debating whether to set a target for net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It would mean overhauling an energy sector reliant on coal, transport, industry heavy and even the slowness of the country’s bureaucracy.

All this must be achieved as the world’s third-largest emitter also responds to the aspirations of 1.4 billion people for faster economic development, which will only happen with an acceleration in the pace of industrialization and energy demand. .

Committing to a legally binding net zero target would help India attract some of the trillions of dollars in investment that will be needed for a green transformation, said lawmaker Jayant Sinha, member of the Prime Minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party Narendra Modi and advocate for a 2050 Goal, said in an interview.

Read | COP26: PM Modi targets net zero emissions in India by 2070

“The world will not meet its goals of stopping global warming unless India is able to reduce its carbon emissions and India changes its course right now,” Sinha said. Here are some of the main challenges:

Accelerate renewable energies

Reform of India’s electricity sector is key to reducing emissions. Renewable energy is already making inroads into a system where coal is currently used for nearly 70% of electricity production. Since Modi took office in 2014, solar and wind capacity has grown to around 93 gigawatts.

Achieving the country’s current target of 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 is already a huge step forward. Reaching net zero will require even more dramatic acceleration.

Credit: Bloomberg

India will also need to fix its money-losing distribution services, free up more land for wind and solar farms, and support the development of additional transmission grids. It will also have to balance its efforts in renewable energies with a desire to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers. Taxes on imports of foreign solar panels are intended to boost domestic manufacturing, but could make the deployment of cleaner energy more expensive in the short term.

Read | COP26: Failure is not an option

Fossil dependent

Only three fuels meet around 80% of India’s energy demand: coal, petroleum, and solid biomass like firewood, animal waste and charcoal. Changing that mix will require more than just adding more renewables.

Coal consumption is expected to increase even if India stops building new power plants. This is because existing coal-fired power plants are operating well below capacity, which the country will seek to maximize. Petroleum and petroleum are used to power not only cars, trucks and railways, but also industrial machinery and even pumps that supply water to the Indian agricultural sector. Tens of millions of homes still depend on cheap biofuels for cooking, and subsidies to replace them with cleaner liquefied petroleum gas cylinders have been cut.


Credit: Bloomberg

To make matters worse, poor quality scrubbers on coal-burning power plants make them a major contributor to poor air quality. The Indian capital New Delhi is the most polluted capital in the world, according to IQAir.

Growing demand

India’s energy consumption has doubled since 2000, as hundreds of millions of citizens added an electricity connection, and the country’s consumption is expected to accelerate sharply. It will be powered by both industry and households, who are adding household appliances including air conditioners, refrigerators and radiators.

The country will have the fastest growing rate of energy consumption in the world until 2050, according to forecasts by the US Energy Information Administration.


Credit: Bloomberg

All of this means that India must add energy capacity equivalent to that of the entire European Union over the next two decades, the International Energy Agency said in February. Achieving this with cleaner sources of electricity will require more hydro and nuclear power, as well as wind and solar power. The nation also needs stronger and more flexible electricity grids and significantly improved energy efficiency measures.

Electrifying transport

The global shift to electric vehicles is happening much more slowly in India, with the costs of battery-powered models too high, access to charging infrastructure limited, and concerns about the reliability of power grids. By 2040, only around a third of new passenger cars sold will be battery-powered, compared to around 70% in China and Germany.

Freight vehicles are also a challenge and account for around 45% of the country’s road transport emissions. “It will be really difficult for India to replace oil as a transport fuel,” said Senthil Kumaran, South Asia oil manager at industry consultant FGE. “Freight will depend on diesel no matter what.”


Credit: Bloomberg

Still, some companies are positioning themselves for greater adoption. Ola Electric Mobility Pvt. Ltd. hopes to manufacture 10 million electric two-wheelers per year by summer 2022 at a factory on the outskirts of Bangalore. India is also considering plans to run long-haul vehicles on liquefied natural gas and hydrogen.

Cleaner industry

As an economy still in the process of industrialization, India’s emissions from manufacturing steel, cement, chemicals and other carbon-intensive materials are expected to increase regardless of climate pressure. But the country could reduce those emissions by rolling out more energy-efficient measures, switching to cleaner fuels and adopting carbon-capture technology.


Credit: Bloomberg

The increased spending on clean energy will go a long way in helping the industrial sector. The IEA estimates that green investment in the energy sector, which includes energy, transport and industry, will need to be three times higher between 2025 and 2030, compared to the average from 2015 to 2020 This leap could help put the country on the greenest plane. follow as the IEA has modeled.

How India supports research and innovation in technologies, including energy storage and carbon capture, will be critical to successfully meeting any new targets, said Santhosh Jayaram, chief practices officer. of climate change at KPMG India.

Better bureaucracy

India will also need to give more resources and powers to its underfunded environmental regulators, and ministries will need to improve to translate policy into action. For decades, the country has disappointed efforts to improve crumbling infrastructure, expand access to public services and eradicate corruption.


Credit: Bloomberg

One solution could be to set up a climate change commission, similar to bodies established in the UK and New Zealand, to monitor progress and help design mechanisms to achieve long-term emission reductions, according to Sinha. The UK Climate Change Committee has been credited with pushing the government to set itself the most ambitious target among the G-20 countries.

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