Nationalising climate action

Paris was a watershed moment in the tortuous history of climate change negotiations. The countries of the world decided to establish a framework agreement within which each would pledge its climate change actions over an agreed period of time (in the first instance, till 2030, and then for five-year periods after that), and then pledge even more ambitious actions for succeeding time periods. We also put into place a transparency mechanism through which countries would report on the progress towards meeting their pledges. Periodical stocktaking would equip the world with an assessment of the level of global action needed to keep the temperature rise to less than 20 centigrade.

India had gone to Paris with the goal of being a part of the global solution to address climate change, and at the same time to ensure that we are able to provide adequate and affordable energy to all our citizens, especially the poorest. The pledge-achieve-pledge-more framework provides us the structure to achieve both these goals simultaneously. We had submitted our first INDC (intended nationally determined contribution) with the pledge that by 2030, we will, inter alia, reduce our emissions per rupee of GDP by 33-35 per cent as compared to 2005, so as to ensure a good standard of living for all, while also making Indians energy-efficient and sustainable. We also pledged to ensure that at least 40 per cent of the installed electricity generation capacity is based on non-fossil fuels, which would imply that our renewable energy capacity would increase about tenfold and our coal capacity would double in order to provide enough electricity for all, as well as enable the rapid diffusion of renewable energy.

In New York, on April 22, 2016, we and 176 other countries signed the Paris Agreement, signalling our resolve to bring it into force and to fulfil our pledges. It is now time to initiate action to ensure that we do so.

The enhancement of emission intensity (emissions per rupee of GDP) requires us to accelerate our energy productivity. We need to produce more useful goods and services from each unit of energy we use. We have, through the national LED lighting programme, UJALA, already replaced over 10 crore bulbs and CFLs with more energy-efficient LED bulbs-providing the same amount of lighting with drastically less energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Similarly, we have, between 2012 and 2015, through the PAT (perform, achieve and trade) programme, induced our most energy-intensive industrial units to produce about five per cent more products using the same amount of energy. This has resulted in over eight million tonnes of oil equivalent of energy savings and about 25 million tonnes of CO2 savings every year.

A group of secretaries constituted by the prime minister presented their recommendations in February 2016 on measures to accelerate energy efficiency action in the country. These need to be adopted and implemented across government, industries and civil society. In keeping with the transparency ethos of this government, a public scorecard on progress on the implementation and impact of the recommendations would be a welcome step forward.

Meeting renewable energy targets requires action both for the reduction in the price of renewable energy as well as for integration of that energy into the grid. The latter will become an increasing concern as the share of renewable energy capacity increases. It will mean that we need to have more (non-renewable) capacity to meet our needs when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. This could be through batteries, but in the shorter term will probably come from gas-based electricity generation capacity or from pumped storage hydro capacity. This also means that the full cost of renewable energy includes both the costs of renewable energy generation as well as of the cost of balancing electricity that is needed when renewable generation is not available. Consequently, policies that enhance renewable energy capacity (and thus help in price reduction) are the first priority; facilitating the addition and operation of various kinds of balancing power is the second priority; and price reduction of balancing power, including through technology development, would be the third.

Finally, we also need to put a transparency mechanism in place that helps each one of us to know and understand the actions being taken to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy, the impact of these actions on our emissions intensity and renewable energy capacity, and on the longer-term trends of carbon dioxide emissions. This reporting mechanism is the first and most essential component of our implementation strategy. After all, what is measured is what is managed.