CoP-28: Let local climate actions outdo our global commitments | Mint

CoP-28: Let local climate actions outdo our global commitments

We have an opportunity to harness the potential of decentralized renewable power generation in urban and rural settings, which could enhance India’s ambitions on renewable energy.
We have an opportunity to harness the potential of decentralized renewable power generation in urban and rural settings, which could enhance India’s ambitions on renewable energy.

Summary

  • India needs to take greater control of its domestic vulnerabilities—especially when it comes to its energy mix and health sector—even as it keeps pushing hard for climate justice internationally.

Discussions at CoP-28 in Dubai have reached a crescendo with the world witnessing its highest temperatures ever, the paradox of having an oil magnate holding the presidency of CoP-28 and with the developed world still far from fulfilling its responsibilities and commitments—be it on mitigation support, adaptation finance or Loss and Damage funding. And yet, there seem to be many pressures on the developing world, with India often in the cross-hairs, to assume leadership on climate actions. In the first week of CoP-28 events, India has been called out for refraining from signing the Pledge on tripling renewable energy capacities by 2030 and doubling energy efficiency, as also the Declaration on Climate and Health.

The challenge, in the case of the former, is not the renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE) pledges, but an underlying commitment to a phase-down of unabated coal power, in particular ending “continued investment in unabated new coal-fired power plants." India has ambitious plans to enhance its coal production capacity from 777 million tonnes in 2021-22 to over 1 billion tonnes in 2023-24. With 75% of its electricity coming from coal thermal plants, amounting to over 200GW in May 2023, India needs to evaluate its options on energy security. Its RE capacity stood at about 125GW (net of hydro). Thus, while India is committed to more than tripling its RE capacity by 2030 with a target of 450GW, most of this capacity addition really caters to incremental electricity demand for powering an 8% rate of economic growth. In other words, India cannot recognize a phase-down of coal power production, in absolute terms, in the same document that we commit to enhanced RE and EE targets, unless we vastly increase our feedstock dependence on volatile international markets for lower-carbon gas (think of the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel-Hamas conflict) in the interim, or have adequate cutting-edge technologies and financial support to aim for much higher growth in renewables.

The Declaration on Climate and Health, on the other hand, merely calls upon countries to factor in the positive health implications of low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission pathways, assess GHG emissions from the health sector and define procurement standards for national health systems. It provides an additional emotive argument for pursuing low-carbon development pathways in general. India’s health systems are in urgent need of infrastructure upgradation with reliable electricity provision in its rural areas a key barrier to better health services. It is also well researched that climate change, with melting permafrost and extreme events, will exacerbate the demand for health infrastructure in complex and compounding ways. Therefore, as India seeks to strengthen this infrastructure, it makes eminent sense to prioritise the use of renewables, especially in primary health centres, and focus on the energy efficiency of medical equipment and processes in line with our EE commitment.

Undoubtedly, climate related transformations in development pathways that countries need to adopt are challenging, but they also provide an opportunity to correct the mal-development and inequities that have been perpetrated in all countries across the world, India being no exception. The above two global initiatives are but examples. In making its choice to invest huge amounts in coal production (or natural gas for that matter) and the associated infrastructure, India could be pushing more expensive and difficult clean-energy choices into the future but increasing system costs in the form of stranded infrastructure and assets when domestic commitments are ratcheted up. There is a case here for some hard-nosed analysis of leap-frogging to much lower-carbon or no-carbon futures. We may also have an opportunity to harness the potential of decentralized renewable power generation in both urban and rural settings, which could enhance India’s ambitions on RE while facilitating more secure and reliable RE through new business models, as being designed in other countries.

In a similar fashion, the quality provisions of the Health for All initiative can be bolstered through custom-designed RE solutions to meet the demands, including cooling demand, of health facilities. We also need to recognize that enhanced access to clean and reliable energy in itself can go a long way in preventing a large number of diseases associated with water and air pollution. India thus needs to look at the cross-cutting issues of climate, energy and health, even if the country may be reluctant to acknowledge the same on an international platform.

A good example of an international commitment with a domestic imperative lies in the LiFE initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At CoP-26 held in Glasgow, India launched the Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) initiative, recognizing the necessity of behavioural change to drive climate-friendly solutions among individuals, communities and organizations. At CoP-26, the Prime Minister called upon all stakeholders to contribute to defining our future choices, and was rightly lauded by the global community for the focus he brought to individual behaviour change. Merely enhancing clean supply solutions without creating popular demand would lead to partial success at best. In the last two years, however, the country has made little substantive progress on this critically important issue. Some demand changes have been effected, as seen for example in the robust growth of electric vehicles (EVs), but this was driven primarily through sector-specific incentive schemes. We have not succeeded in making EVs a preferred choice for vehicle users for sustainability reasons.

India needs to take greater control of its domestic vulnerabilities while keeping the pressure on for climate justice internationally.

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