Today, we mark the 53rd Earth Day. What began in the US as a series of teach-ins on college campuses on environmental issues, is now one of the world's largest environmental movements. It needs to be, because the battle we are fighting – the climate battle – is a difficult one. With longer summers, extreme winters, wildfires, rising sea levels, heatwaves and other calamitous events, the impact of climate change is evident now more than ever.
Globally, a lot is happening already as a response. Recent scientific reports have shown that the ozone layer is recovering rapidly, a result of the actions taken as part of the Montreal Protocol. This has a material impact on avoiding global warming. Sectoral transitions within the energy sub- sectors are well underway. The Ember Global Electricity Review 2023 report projects that with clean power already growing faster than energy demand, the power sector is likely to hit ;peak; emissions in 2023.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) pointed out in 2021 that global demand for petrol had already peaked, thanks to the growth of electric vehicles (EVs) and improvements in fuel economy. Corporations, too, have been levelling up and making drastic changes to their business operations to be more environment-friendly.
India, one of the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters, has been a world leader in taking steps to address the climate change problem. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at COP26 that India would reach net-zero emissions by 2070. India has also set for itself the goal of obtaining 50% of its electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030, while reducing total projected carbon emissions by an additional 1 billion tones.
We have made good progress already. Our renewable energy (RE) capacity now stands around 170 GW, below only China and the US. We are well on track to become one of the top three largest markets for electric two-wheelers. Our forest cover has grown, even if only marginally, in the last few years.
But are the global efforts enough? And should we be judging our progress only by numbers on clean energy capacities and associated investments? Globally, we clearly need to do more.
The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report tells us that global emissions need to be reduced by 43% within this decade for us to have a fighting chance of limiting global temperature rises to within 1.5° C limit. We are already in 2023 and, yet, global emissions are increasing. The increase has been slower than earlier, but we need sharp negative growth in emissions for the next seven years to get to the 43% target.
What metrics do we use to judge our progress? Emissions, capacities and investments are good outcome indicators. But we need clearer milestone targets. decarbonization will be a journey, happening in a wider geopolitical and economic context. The pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war affected it in the last two years.
More such events, including a possible economic slowdown, debt crisis of emerging economies and the changing shape of globalization will affect it in the next seven years, and beyond.
In this context, other parameters in the decarbonization journey gain equal importance:
Volumes of energy subsidies.
Domestic production capacities of key clean equipment's and their raw materials.
Cost and availability of capital for different clean energy investment propositions in different countries.
We must get used to juxtaposing numbers on these parameters against the outcome numbers to more accurately assess how far we have moved and where stronger efforts are required. India is doing fairly well on these parameters.
Thanks to GoI;s performance-linked incentive (PLI) schemes, India has a 40 GW solar modules manufacturing capacity. This is likely to double in the next three years. 50 GWh of domestic battery production capacities – one of the most important technologies for decarbonisation – will be functional by 2030.
The world;s fifth-largest reserves for lithium have been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir, a crucial input material for batteries. The rise in India;s import bill and consequent need for subsidies due to increased energy prices globally was much smaller in terms of share of government budgets than a large number of countries currently battling with the debt crisis.
Low-carbon goods and services are a major opportunity for the country to move up the manufacturing value chain. We already have the plans. The key is to improve execution capabilities across the value chain.
Quicker land acquisition processes, faster capital mobilisation and greater efficiencies in project development need to be focused on. While the government is doing its bit, it;s for the rest of us to pick up the baton.