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Over the past couple of years, the conversation on climate change has moved out of academic circles and reached not just policy makers but also world leaders. Recently, the Global South Impact Community – a group convened by the International Venture Philanthropy Center (IVPC) and The Rockefeller Foundation to highlight the issues of the Global South presented their launch statement at the Think20 Summit in Indonesia. Among the four recommendations, one called attention to the need for a global framework to accelerate development within the global decarbonization agenda.

Long term climate change trends, including rising sea levels, changes in global temperatures and disappearing ice caps have caught the attention of anyone who might have wanted to turn a blind eye to these dire consequences. Six leading international datasets consolidated by the World Meteorological Organization found that even though the average temperatures were temporarily cooled by the 2020-2022 La Niña events, 2021 was still one of the seven warmest years on record. Global warming and other long-term climate change trends are expected to continue because of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the energy sector has experienced a fall in energy demand, producing a steep decline in energy-related emissions. As the world came to a standstill with consecutive lockdowns, this was also the case with transport-based emissions. The long term impact of this depends largely on energy investments and government decisions to support low-carbon energy production. Even as the demand for fossil fuel continues to grow, renewable generation increased by almost 17% in 2021, accounting for over half the increase in global power generation over the past two years. This could suggest that further carbon lock-in might be less likely than in the past.

Why Carbon Dioxide Takes Centre Stage

The CO2 problem is the greatest global challenge. While the greenhouse effect is known to have been caused from multiple gases, carbon dioxide emissions take precedent in discussions for climate stabilization scenarios. A major reason for this is that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere longer. Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that for every fragment of CO2 that gets emitted, 40% will remain in the atmosphere for 100 years and 20% will reside for 1000 years, while the final 10% will take 10,000 years to turn over.  Additionally, it is a which cannot be contained locally. What this means is that carbon dioxide emissions in remote town in Maharashtra have a ripple effect at every other part of the country, and subsequently the globe.

Zeroing in on Net Zero

Post the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015, action to reach net zero is happening on a global scale. To see it through, intense collaboration of not just world governments but private and third sectors is crucial. However net zero is a little different from real zero, which may not be realistically attainable. Net zero encompasses overall emissions, including the removal of any unavoidable emissions. Removing greenhouse gases could either be via novel technologies or be via nature.  Recently, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the pledge to cut emissions and reach net zero by 2070. A welcome move, this was the first time India set a net zero target. The important thing to remember is that net zero targets mean little without a concrete plan to cut emissions this decade.

Decarbonization Efforts in India

Decarbonization refers to reducing carbon emissions with the ultimate goal of eliminating them. According to India’s third biennial report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the majority of carbon emissions come from energy, manufacturing and transport sector respectively. India’s road to a prosperous low-carbon economy is rests primarily on certain pillars of strategy including job creation in low-carbon industries and reducing its GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in a way that does not disrupt development aspirations. Despite the challenges, some public-sector agencies are beginning to decarbonize.  Rail Energy Management Company Ltd, a joint venture of Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES) and Ministry of Railways is working towards capacity building and development of renewable energy projects for the Indian Railways. RITES is also strengthening green energy practises along with its rising focus on making sustainable infrastructure mainstream.

With advancement in technology and newfound awareness in civic organizations as well as citizens, headway in decarbonizing India is quite achievable. More sustainable operations such as promoting new workforce behaviour, embedding ESG criteria in procurement practises and building climate focused alliances could take us many steps ahead in this long but valuable and rewarding journey.

By Dr. Raghvendra Mishra, Professor, Indira Gandhi National Tribal University

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members