Conflict (s) between Climate Mitigation and Development in India
| Pooran Chandra Pandey, Founding CEO, DOC RI, Germany - 06 Feb 2024

By Pooran Chandra Pandey 

India is one of largest carbon emitting nations world-wide with a teaming population of about 1.5 billion people with a large section being poor, vulnerable and low and middle income group affected by fast spiralling climate crisis visible through intense and frequent weather changes with profound implications on water, energy, inequality, migration, and economic opportunities related to fossil fuel sectors, among others.

As a majority of its population needs various public and private sector enabled services, carbon emissions and intensity levels over time has become a challenge which is being tackled both by the governments through climate policies and private sector provided finances and technical expertise through clean technologies and cutting edge innovations, however, still falling short of the expected results to prevent the climate crisis through mitigation means.

It’s a work in progress, presented with a mix of development conflicts, growth challenges and lack of economic opportunities.

Indian government both at the federal and sub-regional levels has been conscious of the climate crisis, being proactive through its mitigation policies and mechanisms. Some of the key mitigation policies that the nation adopted and has been implementing include, among others, improving energy efficiency and conservation as well as setting up a Bureau of Energy Efficiency, power sector reforms, promotion of hydro and renewable energy and clean coal technologies, coal washing and its efficient utilisation, afforestation and conversation of forests, reduction of gas flaring, cleaner and lesser carbon intensive fuel for transport, encouraging mass rapid transport systems and environmental quality management and improving energy efficiency.

These measures have been in operations, however, falling short of its intended outcomes. It seeks to primarily achieve better product pricing at which level a large majority of population can afford due to existing lower purchasing power capacity, growing population and inadequacy of employment and economic opportunities in pursuit of climate objectives. It’s a well-known fact that most of the services and products produced using fossil fuel elements (such as coal, oil and gas) are both cheaper (versus clean energy) to produce and cheaper to buy while the sector also absorbs a large number of population at various layers of employment opportunities, a necessity due to large population and fossil fuel sector being one of the largest employers in India.

Statistically, 3,30,000 people were employed by coal sector, 0.7 million by petroleum sector and 102,000 by natural gas distribution sector in 2023 with annual forecast rising by 25 per cent across the board, a sizeable number of people to be employed by these sectors combined, indicating country’s current and future dependence on the fossil fuel industry from socio-economic segment they serve. The trend is expected to hold the ground in foreseeable future until such times the sectors build the scale on their transition to clean and green energy and have their current employees suitably trained for their appropriate transition into renewable and green energy sectors. 

Leading domestic fossil fuel companies both in public and private sectors have been ramping up their plans to gradually transition to clean and green energy resources. They are also focussed on training their existing and critical employees into renewable energy segment while ensuring they do not have to retrench their existing employees due to shortage of technical skills due to labour laws issues and union issues (such as those in US and Europe). 

Another challenge for these companies is also to scale clean and renewable energy’s production and installed capacities at scale to be able to keep the renewable energy pricing per unit low for off take purposes while adopting critical technologies and third generation innovations for quality clean energy products simultaneously. India has taken leadership role in renewable energy sector through International Solar Alliance, Biofuel Alliance and Green Hydrogen initiatives, but these initiatives are likely to take some time to mature before delivering intended results due to current higher cost, lower levels of production alternatives and inadequate ability to scale these initiatives up sooner due to large scale requirements of financial resources, technology and capacity building initiatives for up skilling the work force in upcoming sector.  

It is worth mentioning that India went public with its improved climate pledges during COP 26 in Glasgow, committing to cutting its carbon emissions by 2030, leveraging renewable energy installed capacity of 500 GW while going carbon neural by 2070. The country is well on track, the only nation in G20 bloc performing as per its commitments overseen by multilateral agencies. It is expected that the country may potentially fulfil its commitments ahead of the dates promised both for carbon neutrality and cutting emissions by half. It has also ramped up its collaborations with G7 nations, raising needed financial and technical resources for clean and green energy resources through large scale green hydrogen and nuclear energy initiatives to scale its ambitions for transitioning to clean and green future ahead of the time.     

A number of conflicts between mitigation strategies and development paradigms are evidenced to be stemming due to India’s complex, and diverse socio-economic canvas. In addition, these issues are also political and election centric and no government can overlook this side notwithstanding their well-intentioned approaches to mitigate the climate crisis.

The fact that India’s international climate commitments now are decreed by its Parliament, the supreme legally binding executive and legislative system, climate action is high on bipartisan agenda, through it’s not an election issue yet due to other routine (social, economic and political) issues dominating the attention of the majority voters. Indian government is also stepping up the plate with its climate goals acting in collaboration with private sector and civil society conforming to Paris Climate Treaty goal of ‘long term and incremental carbon emissions cut’.

Indian government appears to be well aligned with its stated goal of balancing country’s economic interests with environmental protection which is evidenced across its climate action, development policies, and international commitments while ensuring sustainable development. It is optimistically hoped that its well-intentioned approaches toward mitigating climate crisis would have greater degree of success rate; it would be possible for India to be able to achieve what it promised, given the sheer scale of population, public private partnership and well-oiled mitigation policies.    

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