A Lens and a Filter: Tools for Accelerating COVID Recovery While Enabling Low Carbon Emissions Growth

18 Sep 2020
Dr Ajay Mathur

Developing green skills in India's workforce and enabling access to green equity is a need of the hour for recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and to nudge India ahead on the path of low carbon growth.

Lens and filter

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic slowdown, government revenues have fallen sharply, and there are large numbers of claims on these limited resources – especially for the relief and succor of the displaced poor and for the COVID-19 related medical and health facilities and services. Consequently, the emphasis in the Indian economic stimulus packages has been on policy and credit interventions in key sectors (agriculture and SMEs) that can enable the rapid creation of jobs and sustainable livelihoods, while also enabling rapid economic growth; this, it is anticipated, will also pull in substantial private sector investment.

Green interventions, initiated through these instruments, have the potential to become independently viable, and generate employment as well as enable the creation of new enterprises. This is particularly true for measures which increase access to clean and reliable energy in rural areas and in SMEs, and help engender new activities due to the availability of reliable and affordable electricity and industrial platforms. These new activities, which could unlock, illustratively, rural cold chains and electronics/IT manufacturing in SMEs can create a virtual cycle of investment and employment. However, these activities would require interventions such as renewable energy from agricultural residues and animal husbandry wastes, solar generation, solar water pumping, and energy efficient drivers in the SME sector.

As we look ahead, the task of simultaneously implementing these climate friendly options, while also putting into place the institutional and human capacity to enable and sustain them, becomes urgent. In building these simultaneous goals, we can draw on our experiences and learnings. We have, in the past, introduced high yielding crop varieties in Indian agriculture, while simultaneously building up the extension networks, which together created the green revolution. More recently, we have introduced the specific energy consumption reduction targets for large industries, while simultaneously creating the monitoring networks and cadre of energy auditors, which have enabled the Perform, Achieve, and Trade (PAT) programme to take off. The creation of institutional and human capacity in these programmes, made sense because they addressed here-and-now development goals – enhancing the agricultural production in the first example, and reducing energy costs and increasing industrial productivity in the second example. The institutional and human capacity development occurred because all stakeholders saw that these clear actions met local needs, created opportunities for new jobs and enhanced productivity, and ensured that the resources (including financial resources) that were needed were available.

These capacities are essential since the main challenge in enabling the green options continues to be that each of these applications needs to be configured individually; there is no one-size-fits-all formula. This implies that in rural areas and SMEs, we need local capabilities to develop localized action plans, and to put together the financial engineering packages that enables their implementation. The institutional and human capacity that is needed for this purpose is urgent, as is the knowledge base around which these applications can be structured, and upon which the locally available experts can draw on.

The five action fronts that are essential for this transformation are: develop local actions for climate change; deep clear commitment and action; build institutional and human capacities; mobilize finances for climate change; and strengthen the knowledge base. Each of these should, and have to, build on extant experiences and learnings. The COVID crisis highlights the immediacy and the urgent necessity to enable these action fronts through strengthening capabilities and capacities; the Prime Minister’s announcement of the Rs.10,000 billion ($130 billion) Agricultural Infrastructure Fund provides an immediate opportunity to craft and implement programmes which accelerate COVID recovery while enabling low/zero carbon emissions infrastructure.

Key actions that could accelerate these programmes involve reaching out to the people and institutions who today support the development of the rural sector and the SME sector - including intermediaries such as block development officers, loan and investment officers in rural and SME banks, and employees within SME cluster associations - and strengthen their capability to identify viable options that simultaneously address both climate and development goals, and oversee their design and implementation.

Thus, what is needed is to provide these intermediaries with a lens to be able to focus on low/zero emissions options which enhance productivity and lower production costs in agricultural and SME applications, for example through electricity and income generation from agricultural and animal wastes, or through energy efficient furnaces that can enable the production of electronic and IT platforms for communications and control applications. What is also needed is a filter – to be able to discard options that are too costly, or too difficult to maintain, or result in no or low savings in carbon dioxide emissions. Case studies of successful green development projects would be essential both to develop the "lens and filter" approach, as well as to highlight the key implementation challenges that they need to look out for during implementation. Certification of the people who successfully complete this training will create the demand for their services, as well as ensure the quality of the services that are provided.

We have noted the availability of credit in the COVID recovery packages. Climate-friendly growth will now require, in addition, access to green equity, which can utilize the credit which has been made available through the economic recovery packages. The provision of green equity and the strengthening of intermediaries to support the identification and implementation of green options can lead to the mushrooming of these green options across the country. And at the level of aggregation of the intermediaries, they will be able to both address large numbers of people, while also being able to focus on the subset of options that are important with their own spheres of geography and influence. There is an urgent need now to plant an adequate number of these "seeds" that can quickly grow into actions which enable low/zero emission economic growth, and promote entrepreneurship and job creation as well.

Economic recovery
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