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No silver bullet to India's net zero puzzle: Think tank

Coal India shares were trading 0.23% lower at  ₹151.75 in noon trade today. (REUTERS)Premium
Coal India shares were trading 0.23% lower at 151.75 in noon trade today. (REUTERS)

  • The report bats for adoption of nuclear energy along with renewables citing challenges involved in the RE sector. Intermittency issues, high dependency on certain minerals - copper, cobalt and lithium and land conflicts are some of them.

India at COP27 is now a part of the elite set of countries having expressed its ambitions to curb greenhouse gas emissions at last year’s summit in Glasgow.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address at COP26, promised to achieve net zero carbon levels by 2070. The five-point climate action plan dubbed as “panchamrit" meaning five values is believed to boost India’s switch to renewable energy, electrification and hydrogen fuels.

India too has released its long-term low emissions and development strategies today at the COP 27, the two-week long climate conference happening in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh. However, India’s commitment towards tackling climate change unsurprisingly has its own complexities because of its demographics and the country’s economic system.

A latest report from the Bengaluru-based think tank the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) titled No Silver Bullet: Essays on India’s Net-Zero Transition aims to kindle conversations touching these complex areas thereby offering a futuristic perspective on India’s net-zero pathway.

“Future uncertainty is not a novel concept and modelling groups have been trying to address it by creating multiple different scenarios for the future. However, merely presenting range scenarios cannot be a proxy for deep uncertainty analysis," the report stated as it delves into five key areas — demand estimation conundrum, industrial decarbonisation, the power sector, behavioural shifts for a sustainable environment and carbon pricing.

While studies in the past have pointed to net-zero transition resulting in significant GDP gains, this report raises a legitimate question whether demand would go up in a net-zero world.

“As countries develop, per capita demand for certain materials and services tend to saturate," the report said. As India is expected to become a developed country by the 2050s, the report calls for a bottom up demand estimation framework to have a better understanding of areas that could reach saturation points.

When it comes to industrial decarbonisation, the report suggests electrification as an efficient way to meet the power demands of industries.

“The grid expected to be increasingly powered by renewables because of their falling prices going forward, fully switching to grid-based electricity has an abatement potential of up to 90% for the aluminium industry and 15% for the cement industry," the report noted.

The report also mentions the commercialisation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and green hydrogen technologies as options.

LiveMint had asked the authors on this suggestion as the use of carbon capture and storage methods is seen by certain sections within the scientific community as a justification for indefinite use of fossil fuels.

“For hard-to-abate sectors like the cement and steel industry, we find that measures like electrification, energy efficiency and alternative fuels are unable to bring it to complete decarbonisation." Kaveri Ashok, one of the three authors of this report had said.

“Net zero appears to be contingent on emerging technologies like Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) and green hydrogen along with the other measures," she adds.

The report bats for adoption of nuclear energy along with renewables citing challenges involved in the RE sector. Intermittency issues, high dependency on certain minerals - copper, cobalt and lithium and land conflicts are some of them.

With around 30% of India’s population in poverty and the per capita consumption levels staging below the global average, the report states that “it would be unfair to consider any radical reductions in consumption." It however suggested dietary shifts towards millets instead of rice, smart mobility choices and use of energy saving devices as few ways of living for a sustainable environment.

As India gears up to introduce carbon pricing, the report maintains a cautiously optimistic tone owing to the spillovers it could have on the Indian economy.

“Carbon pricing can play a role in bringing about the energy systems transformation we need to get to net zero but it will need to be supplemented by non-market interventions such as targeted support for emerging innovations, strengthening institutional capacities, and restructuring markets," Krithika Ravishankar who is an analyst at the think tank said.

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