Nationalizing the fight against climate change

Paris was a turning point in the tumultuous history of climate change talks. The world’s governments opted to create a framework agreement in which each pledged its climate change measures for a set length of time (in this case, until 2030, and then for five-year periods after that), and then pledged ever more ambitious activities for subsequent time periods. We also established a transparency mechanism for countries to report on their progress toward reaching their commitments. Periodic stocktaking would provide the globe with an estimate of the magnitude of global action required to keep temperature rises below 20 degrees Celsius.

India had gone to Paris with the intention of becoming a part of the global solution to address climate change while also ensuring that all of our citizens, particularly the poorest, had access to enough and affordable electricity. The pledge-accomplish-pledge-more framework gives us the framework we need to fulfil both of these objectives at the same time. We had filed our first INDC (intended nationally determined contribution), promising that by 2030, we will lower our emissions per rupee of GDP by 33-35 percent compared to 2005, ensuring a good standard of life for everybody while also making Indians energy efficient and sustainable.

We also committed to ensuring that non-fossil fuels account for at least 40% of installed electricity generation capacity, which would require us to tenfold our renewable energy capacity and double our coal capacity in order to provide enough electricity for everyone while also allowing for the rapid diffusion of renewable energy. On April 22, 2016, we and 176 other nations signed the Paris Agreement in New York, signaling our commitment to bringing it into force and honoring our commitments. Now is the moment to take steps to ensure that we do.

We must increase our energy productivity to improve our emission intensity (emissions per rupee of GDP). Each unit of energy we spend must yield more useful goods and services. We have already replaced over 10 crore bulbs and CFLs with more energy-efficient LED bulbs under the national LED lighting programme, UJALA, which provides the same amount of lighting with significantly less energy usage and CO2 emissions.

Similarly, through the PAT (perform, accomplish, and trade) initiative, we were able to get our most energy-intensive industrial units to generate 5% more items with the same amount of energy between 2012 and 2015.

Every year, this saves around eight million tonnes of oil equivalent energy and almost 25 million tonnes of CO2. In February 2016, the prime minister convened a group of secretaries to make recommendations on how to speed up the country’s energy efficiency efforts. These must be adopted and executed at all levels of government, business, and civil society. A public scorecard on progress on the implementation and impact of the proposals, in keeping with the government’s transparency approach, would be a positive step forward.

Meeting renewable energy targets necessitates action on both the price of renewable energy as well as the grid integration of that energy. As the share of renewable energy capacity grows, the latter will become a greater worry. It will imply that when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, we’ll need additional (non-renewable) capacity to satisfy our needs. This might come from batteries, but in the medium term, it’s more likely to come from gas-fired power plants or pumped storage hydropower.

This also means that the total cost of renewable energy includes both the cost of renewable energy generation and the cost of balancing electricity when renewable energy is unavailable. As a result, policies that increase renewable energy capacity (and thus lower prices) are the first priority; facilitating the addition and operation of various types of balancing power is the second priority; and balancing power price reduction, including through technology development, is the third priority.

Finally, we must establish a transparency mechanism that allows each of us to know and understand the actions being taken to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as the impact of these actions on our emissions intensity, renewable energy capacity, and long-term carbon dioxide emission trends. The first and most important component of our execution plan is this reporting mechanism. What is measured, after all, is managed.

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