Concept Note

India emitted 2.412 gigatons of CO2 in 2020 contributing to 6.71% of total global emissions in the same year. It is the 3rd largest carbon emitter after China and the USA. Key sectors that contribute to carbon emissions are power (above 40%); steel and cement (25%); transportation (15%); and agriculture (14%). It is true that 2 of the top 3 emitting countries are also the 2 most populous countries of the world, but therefore have much lower per capita emissions in case of India. However, the cumulative emissions are a matter of concern, especially given that we are experiencing more frequent and increased extreme climate events over the years.

According to a report by the Centre for Science and Environment, in 2022, the country, on the whole, experienced extreme weather events 314 out of 365 days. These events included heavy rains, floods and landslides; lightning and storms; heat waves and cold waves claiming 3,026 human lives, affecting about 1.96 million hectares (ha) crop area, destroying 423,249 houses and killing over 69,899 animals.

While we are struggling with the impacts of the climate crisis, India also holds the record of having 14 of the 20 most polluted cities (in terms of ambient air pollution norms) cities are in India.

According to the World Economic Forum, Ghaziabad, Delhi, Noida, Gurugram, Greater Noida and Bandwari are among the top 10 worst polluted cities in the world. According to some researches, 1.67 million deaths were attributed to air pollution in 2019. Of these, the majority of deaths were due to ambient air pollution (0.98 million) and the remaining from household air pollution (0.77 million). Between 1990 – 2019, deaths due to ambient particulate matter pollution increased by 115.3% and due to household pollution decreased by 64.2%. The total loss due to these premature deaths and morbidity was 1.36% of India’s GDP.

However, the impact of the climate crises and pollution does not affect everyone equally. Studies over the globe have proved that marginalised people of colour, poor neighbourhoods and indigenous communities pay the heaviest price. In India, several similar studies have shown that populations with low-income, adivasis, dalit and minority communities, while having much lower per capita GHG emissions, are far more exposed to pollution and its impacts than middle or high-income populations. The caste-class nexus in India adds another layer of vulnerability to the environment and climate crises.

It is in this context that we need to assess India’s global commitment to reduce its emissions and carbon footprint, and the methods that it has identified for its decarbonising path. India has committed to reducing its carbon emissions intensity by 33-35% by 2030 under the Paris Climate Agreement and to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2070. Some of the mitigation and adaptation strategies identified in India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) are establishing clean and efficient energy systems, enhancing energy efficiency industries, developing climate resilient urban centres, promoting waste to wealth conversion, sustainable green transportation networks and planned afforestation, and abatement of pollution.

On the one hand, in international platforms, India has argued the case of developed nations taking the lead in decarbonising their economies, and suggesting that developing countries like India need financial and technical support in the form of climate finance and loss and damage funds to aid its decarbonising journey. On the other hand, India has also repeatedly invoked developmental needs to continue on a path of fossil fuel-based development. Be it a renewed commitment of burning 40% more coal in the new thermal power plants it intends to build, expansion and building new oil refineries, diluting environmental norms and approving land use change to facilitate large manufacturing and infrastructure projects or the proliferation of false solutions like waste to energy plants and market based mechanisms like Extended Producer Responsibility as a way to address plastic pollution.

In the tussle between climate concerns and growth, the latter will likely prevail. One such example is recent reports that renewable energy generation has fallen short of targets. While 175 GW installed capacity was the target for FY 2022, actual RE installation was 110 GW.

Industrial decarbonisation was one of the highlights of COP27, during which one day (November 11) was observed as Decarbonisation Day. Decarbonising needs to necessarily go hand in hand with decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions. How then will India’s economic pathway to $5 tn economy, based on heavy industrialisation vis-a-vis industrial corridors, Sagar/Bharat mala etc align with India’s net zero ambitions?

Finally, for climate justice, where concerns of those most vulnerable to the climate crises are held at the core of decision-making, to prevail, it is imperative that social, environmental and climate costs are not externalised any more on the one hand, and the costs of reparation and remediation of those already affected are borne by those who have been contributing to polluting. Can then decarbonising the energy sector / fossil fuel industry be limited to managing current and future emissions or would it necessitate the recognition of a wider set of factors like health and livelihood of affected communities on the one hand and reparation of the environment and planet on the other?

Given this background, some questions that need to be answered are:

  1. How carbon-intensive is India’s energy sector, and what are the trends of decarbonising, with the lens of justice to the impacted and vulnerable communities?

  2. Are developmental, and climate policies aligned with each other? What is the implication of full, partial or complete non-alignments?

  3. What technological innovations are driving the decarbonising of the energy sector/fossil fuel industry? How much do they address emissions from the industry and what else needs to be done? What are the consequences of these innovations?

  4. Are decarbonising methods like CCUS, Carbon Credit, Green Bonds etc. adequate mechanisms? What are the consequences of these methods?

  5. What is the experience of past and current climate finance pathways in decarbonising the energy sector?

  6. What are the pathways for transitioning away from coal in decarbonising the electricity grid? How can the grid be made more energy efficient?

  7. What models of RE would ensure that there is a just transition from fossil fuel-based energy? What factors need to be considered while arriving at suitable models?

IIT Madras and the Centre for Financial Accountability, with Knowledge Partners Climate Trends, announce the 5th EFCI on ‘Decarbonising the energy sector’ on January 18 – 19, 2024 in Chennai where we hope to explore the answers to the above questions.