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What steps is India taking to decarbonise? A close look into climate action and inequality.

It’s a new year, and we’re ready for a new commitment to climate action! This is set to be an exciting year for India, in many aspects of climate action.

The year 2023 is here, and the need to decarbonise the global economy and get on track with the targets of the Paris agreement is more pressing than ever. India has ambitious plans to do so domestically. With its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) updated and submitted, India is set to include reaching net zero by 2070. However, with the high energy needs required to develop, and poverty eradication still pending, the question arises: how will the goal of net zero, and economic growth occur in tandem? In this dialogue, we explore this question, and reframe the understanding of climate action in the context of developing nations, by suggesting that alleviating social and economic inequality can indeed help to reduce carbon emissions.

The 2015 Paris agreement required each signatory party to submit a climate action plan, whose aim is to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. This has been termed as a Nationally Determined contribution (NDC) and is to be updated every five years. In August 2022, India submitted its updated NDCs. These laid out a roadmap for India’s low carbon development, which is based on the expansion of non-fossil fuel resources for power generation, and a reduction in dependency on fossil fuels. This includes the aim to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45% by 2030, from the 2005 level; and to achieve 50% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. Being the third largest global emitter of greenhouse gases, and depending heavily on coal as a source of energy, this is indeed an ambitious, yet necessary target. Climate experts appraise this plan with scepticism, as there appears to be a lack of concrete ‘sectoral targets and trajectory.. and short-term milestones and targets’. Nonetheless, the discourse is moving, and the private and public sectors alike are mobilising to make the target obtainable.

One of the primary ways that India is decarbonising its economy is through the development of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower. In recent years, the government has set ambitious targets for the installation of renewable energy capacity, which is expected to reach 450 GW by 2030. This will help to reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels, which are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another key way that India is decarbonising its economy is by improving energy efficiency in various sectors. The government has introduced several initiatives to promote the use of energy-efficient appliances and equipment and has also launched a scheme to retrofit buildings with energy-efficient technologies, which will help to reduce energy consumption and emissions.

Transportation is a major contributor to emissions in India, and the government is taking several steps to decarbonise the sector. It has set a target of electrifying all new vehicles sold in the country by 2030 and is also promoting the use of public transportation and non-motorised modes of transport, such as cycling and walking. Though this is also a point of tension for climate activists, as electrifying vehicles increases the demand for electricity to charge EVs, which can strain the energy grid and lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions if the electricity is generated from fossil fuels. Furthermore, the impact of the production of batteries is largely negative, due to the bi-products of toxic waste and the depletion of natural resources such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel. The improper disposal of EV batteries can also have detrimental impacts on the environment.

In addition to these measures, India is also exploring the use of carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) technology, which involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes and storing them underground. This technology has the potential to significantly reduce emissions from heavy industries such as power plants and cement factories.

India Energy Week is being held in Bangalore, leveraging the momentum of COP27, to bring together stakeholders to talk about the process of reducing carbon emissions in the energy sector. The event brings together industry leaders, government officials, and experts from around the world to discuss and exchange ideas on decarbonising the energy sector. The event is being held as part of the G20 conference, which is a forum for the world's largest economies to work together to address global challenges.

During India Energy Week, participants will have the opportunity to hear from a range of experts on the latest developments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and low-carbon transportation. They will also discuss the challenges facing the energy sector and explore ways to overcome these challenges to create a more sustainable future. The conference will provide a platform for India to showcase its efforts to decarbonise its economy and demonstrate its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

India Energy Week is an important event for the country, as it provides an opportunity to demonstrate its leadership in the energy sector and highlight the role that it is playing in addressing global climate challenges. The conference is expected to draw significant attention from the global community and will provide a platform for India to share its vision for a decarbonised energy future with the world.

All the efforts illustrated here, surely are a huge financial endeavour for the country. However, an investment in a climate-safe future is in many ways also an investment in protecting the most vulnerable and marginalised of communities.

Climate change exacerbates existing social and economic inequalities. People who are already marginalised, such as low-income communities and indigenous peoples, are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and loss of livelihoods. These communities often have limited resources to adapt to the changing climate and are less likely to have access to the information and support they need to protect themselves.

Reducing income inequality can play a crucial role in reducing emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Research shows that countries with greater income equality tend to have lower emissions, as they are more likely to prioritise sustainable development policies that benefit all members of society. Income equality can also drive investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, as individuals with more disposable income are more likely to invest in these technologies. This, in turn, can help to create new job opportunities in the green economy and promote sustainable development.

Moreover, reducing income inequality can help to ensure that the costs of the transition to a low-carbon economy are shared fairly, which can increase public support for climate action. When people feel that they are benefiting from the transition, they are more likely to support policies that reduce emissions and promote sustainability.

Addressing social and economic inequality must be at the forefront of efforts to address climate change, as it ensures that the transition to a low-carbon economy is fair and just and that the benefits of the transition are shared by all members of society.

In conclusion, addressing income inequality is essential for reducing emissions and creating a more sustainable future. By prioritising social and economic justice, we can create a world that is not only more equitable but also more resilient to the impacts of climate change. India is taking a comprehensive approach to decarbonising its economy, and this effort can in turn help alleviate social and economic inequalities. These are the main takeaways:

  • Reduced carbon emissions increase climate resilience making communities more resilient and better equipped to cope with its effects

  • It improves access to energy for all people, including those living in rural areas who may not currently have access to reliable electricity. This can help to improve the quality of life and economic opportunities for these communities.

  • Air pollution from fossil fuels is a major contributor to poor health outcomes, particularly for low-income communities. Reducing carbon emissions can lead to cleaner air, which can improve health outcomes for all people, particularly for those who are most vulnerable. As the cost of healthcare continues to rise, this outcome is especially beneficial.

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