Panchamrit: India’s Roadmap for Sustainable Development
The global climate crisis demands actions, not just words. Human civilisations have never experienced the kind of climatic changes the planet is forecasted to go through in the coming years. The concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have never been as high as they are now, at least in the last two million years. Experts says the climate crisis will jeopardise development prospects across the world — and needs urgent and credible responses.
India has consistently approached the challenge of climate change through two lenses: equity as the basis of climate justice and a bias towards action. One week before COP-26 climate negotiations commenced in Glasgow, the UK, the world was on an unsustainable trajectory. Despite commitments for emissions reductions from the largest historical polluters, at least 2.7 degree Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels was looking likely. This would have been a death sentence for many low-lying countries and for hundreds of millions of people living in vulnerable parts of the world. Into this mix of historical inaction and tepid ambition from the largest polluters came India’s ‘Panchamrit’, a five-part formula for sustainable development.
What do India’s commitments mean? India must install 10.5 MW of renewable energy capacity every working hour for the next nine years to achieve its target of building 500 GW of non-fossil electricity capacity by 2030. It also committed to 50 per cent of its electricity capacity being non-fossil fuel by 2030 (having already met its earlier target of 40 per cent nine years before due date). Its ambition to cut carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030 translates into a three per cent reduction against project emissions this decade (industrialised countries have reduced emissions by only 3.7 per cent since 1990). India also plans to reduce the carbon intensity of its GDP by 45 per cent by 2030 (upgrading it from the 33-35 per cent original target); it has already reduced by 24 per cent during 2005-2016.
To cap it off, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would reach net-zero emissions by 2070. It is important to recognise how consequential India’s announcement has been. Independent analysis suggests that if all countries met their targets, the world could be on track for 1.8 degrees of warming over industrial levels – a far better outcome than the pre-Glasgow scenario.
In effect, the net-zero announcement is a call for an economic transformation with sustainable lifestyles at its core. By 2070, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) analysis suggests that India will need 5,630 GW of solar power, 1,792 GW of wind power, 79 per cent of freight trucks will have to be electric (the rest fuelled by green hydrogen). Also, electricity’s share in industrial energy will have to jump from 16 per cent today to 65 per cent in 2070, and crude oil use must peak by 2050 and drop 90 per cent during 2050-70. The CEEW’s Centre for Energy Finance estimates that this transition will require investments of USD 10.1 trillion (in 2020 prices).
So, what about equity? According to a CEEW study, if India achieves its goal, it is likely to emit 59 per cent less CO2 on a cumulative basis during 1850-2100 than China or the US and 49 per cent less than the EU, despite turning net-zero two decades later than the US and the EU, and a decade later than China. Notwithstanding their net-zero targets, China, the EU and the US will swallow 90 per cent of the world’s remaining carbon space.
India’s focus on equity and bias towards action was, however, met by poor progress on two critical issues at COP-26. Developing countries asked for USD 1.3 trillion of climate finance, but nothing concrete was promised, and with no line of sight for when the originally promised USD 100 billion would be delivered.
Yet, India will continue to promote sustainable development in different sectors through a combination of innovative policy and business models. For instance, India’s LED light market grew 130 times to 670 million light bulbs during 2014-18 thanks to the success of the UJALA scheme of government procurement. In urban India, innovative business models are being designed for the adoption of rooftop solar. Driving rural livelihoods using clean energy-driven appliances could create opportunities worth USD 50 billion. India is also the first country to announce a national cooling action plan.
It is important to read the signs that India consistently put out in the lead-up to COP-26 at Glasgow. Earlier in 2021, India’s cabinet ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol for the phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). That year, the Indian government introduced the production-linked incentives for lithium-ion cell and battery manufacturing in India, and in June increased subsidies on electric vehicles. In August, the National Hydrogen Energy Mission was announced to make India a hub for the production and export of green hydrogen. India also submitted 22 energy compacts at the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Energy, outranking all other countries in the 160 energy compacts submitted in total until October 2021.
India remains keen to convert domestic action into international collaboration. The International Solar Alliance now has more than 100 members. India and the UK announced the ‘One Sun One World One Grid’ initiative to interconnect grids and ensure that renewable energy can be tapped across borders. India and the UK also announced the Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative to reduce the use of coal in steel and cement manufacturing. And India’s leadership of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) will be crucial for protecting critical infrastructure needed for economic growth in developing countries.
In the run-up to COP-26, India was criticised for not having an agenda for the planet. In fact, it is the only major economy that has fulfilled its climate commitments. With its net-zero announcement, it has shown that equity and planetary responsibility can be woven together. And with its near-term targets, it has opened the door for more investment and technology collaboration to accelerate the energy transition. While words give hope, ultimate actions build trust — and bold vision that moves the needle.