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Home / Opinion / Views /  For India, clean energy transition is an opportunity, not a burden

As a rule of thumb, my first step in any situation is to understand its inherent opportunity, and in clean energy, I see one of the world’s great development opportunities. Handled properly, the transition to clean energy is a question of opportunity, not a burden. For the sake of its own development, this is a future that India has chosen to embrace.

The science of it tells us that to preserve a livable planet, we’ll need to cut emissions to net zero by 2050. At the same time, we know that not every country will proceed at the same pace. We also need to acknowledge that India is one of the lowest per capita emitters in the world, and that it needs access to capital and technology to fully participate in this transformation.

While India’s current commitments are a promising start, they won’t be enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. To help the country accelerate its timetable for achieving its commitments, there must be more support—most of all, more financing—from the world’s historical alpha emitters, such as the US and Europe. With international support, the development of clean energy will play to India’s strengths and work to its own best economic interests.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment of 500 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 is the least costly solution for the domestic power system. It will also be a tremendous boon to the economy. According to a recent report from Energy Innovation, 30% emissions cut by 2030 can create 39 million new jobs.

Increasingly, a clean energy future is the pragmatic economic choice. While more funding is certainly needed to fuel the transition, economic shifts and technology advances are already bolstering the case for a pollution-free world.

Clean energy favours India’s own resources, such as an abundance of sunlight, versus fossil fuel imports. Clean energy boosts domestic manufacturing. It can move the country from the high price volatility of oil and natural gas to the zero price volatility of renewable sources. Instead of riding on unreliable commodities, India will benefit from the downward cost curve of advancing technologies. Transitioning to clean energy isn’t just the right thing to do for the planet, it’s also a road to broad prosperity for nations such as India.

In the spirit of ‘going for gigatonnes’, the logical priorities for India would include investment in electric vehicles (EVs) and ramping up solar energy (the cheapest form of electricity anywhere) and ramping down coal. The bets on technology are still open, but here are three intriguing ones.

First, if we’re going to electrify our economy and minimize our dependence on fossil fuels, we’ll need better batteries. We need lighter, cheaper batteries that can store more energy for longer durations—for affordable EVs, for a cleaner power grid, and much more. Much of this advanced technology is already moving from research and development labs toward mass production.

Though their current impact is mostly theoretical, I’m also compelled by the promise of direct air capture technologies. Science tells us that even with our very best efforts to cut emissions and become more energy-efficient, preserving a habitable planet will require us to remove as much as 10 billion tonnes of left-over carbon from the atmosphere each year. Direct air capture will be a core component of that equation. Today, these technologies are prohibitively expensive. They must be made a lot cheaper to deploy at scale.

Finally, I am passionate about the amazing innovations emerging around tracking carbon emissions around the world—in real time. I’ve long held that we can’t manage what we don’t measure. One leader in this space is Al Gore’s Climate Trace, which uses satellite technology to report on emissions around the globe. The Climate Trace platform is a big step forward in enabling us to identify and tackle emissions at their source (such as leaking methane from pipelines).

To cut emissions to net zero by 2050, we’ll need all these technologies and more. Our own research shows the relative impact of each of these areas of innovation. We can cut 6 gigatonnes of emissions by electrifying transportation. We can cut 21 gigatonnes by decarbonizing our grid, much of that coming from solar panels and wind turbines. Carbon removal technologies could erase another 5 gigatonnes. With 59 billion tonnes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere each year, we’ll need scalable solutions from all these realms.

I am increasingly optimistic that we are on the path to avoiding climate catastrophe. In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act passed recently by the Joe Biden administration has just allocated $369 billion to tackling climate change. It is the most comprehensive federal legislation on climate change the US has ever seen.

But make no mistake, our collective mission to decarbonize cannot ignore the growing energy needs of India. The planet’s historical emitters should be expected to zero out their emissions first and fastest—both to show it can be done and to bring down the costs of doing it.

Climate change is a wicked problem. The world’s countries that have least contributed to it—including India—will continue to be the most affected by it. So, the question for me is not whether it’s realistic or not to demand climate action. The clean energy transition that we have embarked upon is a moral, social, medical and economic imperative, not a choice.

This article is the first of a series ahead of Climate Tech Convening India, an event by the Environmental Defence Fund. Mint is the event’s media partner. 

John Doerr is chairman, Kleiner Perkins.

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