A decarbonisation pathway for industries can fulfil the twin objectives of sustained, inclusive economic growth while mitigating climate change
The global energy system has been undergoing a transition that is unprecedented in pace and scale. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, what was to be a crucial year in the global climate discourse has now become one of many socially-distant events and webinars. In a bold move, China’s President Xi Jinping announced his commitment to enhance the country’s nationally-determined contribution (NDC) and lower peak CO2 emissions before 2030, as well as the plan to reach carbon neutrality before 2060. Early estimates by the Climate Action Tracker suggest that if China were to submit a carbon neutrality pledge, it would lower warming projections by around 0.2-0.3°C. This announcement clearly signals that climate action is a strong national agenda for Beijing. With both China and the European Union shifting towards a zero-carbon narrative, India is in the spotlight now as one of the largest emitters in the world. The nation is currently on track to significantly overachieve its NDC targets, both on emissions’ intensity (a 30-35 per cent reduction by 2030 on the 2005 levels) and on non-fossil fuel electricity generation (40 per cent non-fossil fuel generating capacity by 2030).
While India is already considered a climate leader in the area of renewable energy growth and electricity sector decarbonisation, the country must turn its attention to industrial decarbonisation. A strong argument can be made that this would be crucial to not only achieving the Paris Agreement goals but also for Indian businesses to remain globally competitive. India and Sweden led the transition track at the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019 and were entrusted with creating stronger commitments from the industry to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Recently, industries comprising “hard to abate” sectors, like aluminium and cement, mentioned that they have already initiated action towards enhancing energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewable power in their overall mix. They are also undertaking carbon sequestration, maximising energy efficiency, adopting renewable technologies across the supply chain and embracing best practices of resource-efficiency and circular economy. However, these advancements are likely to face significant constraints in the form of technological capacity, governmental support and investment hurdles in taking up a decarbonisation pathway. Nonetheless, such initiatives can go a long way in boosting confidence of the sector and are crucial for helping India fulfil its climate action goals.
The global climate change and development narrative has highlighted the need to have development pathways that are resilient, green and sustainable. A decarbonisation pathway for industries can fulfil the twin objectives of sustained, inclusive economic growth while mitigating climate change. Decarbonisation as an industry-led approach within the sector would have co-benefits in the form of bringing India closer to fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as on Industries (SDG 9), Decent Growth (SDG 8), Energy (SDG 7) and Climate Action (SDG 13). By upscaling their “green” ambitions in the value chains, processes, infrastructure and partnerships, industries would contribute to the growth of decarbonised backward and forward linkages, enhance their sustainable development capacities and create a green growth paradigm for India. An integrated strategy encapsulating environmental, social and economic necessities would require collaboration between policy-makers and industries, with the former supporting and encouraging businesses through stable and green financing incentives and the latter contributing to nationwide growth through innovation and enhanced technical knowledge. The long-term impact of this kind of an informed industry-led approach, covering climate action and sustainable development, would lead to a positive ripple effect in multiple sectors. It would enable India to undergo a large-scale, comprehensive upgradation on poverty (SDG 1), sanitation (SDG 6), resource management and conservation (SDG 6, 12), skill-building (SDG 4) and amplify technical and financial efficacies through capacity-building (SDG 17). While the world is grappling with a pandemic, it has become quite clear that there is a need to sustain global momentum on climate action.
At the 75th Session of the UNGA, India highlighted the need for reforms at the UN for responding to challenges of the 21st century. Climate change and the subsequent shift towards a greener, circular economy are of utmost relevance here and require multilateral agencies to support developing countries in addressing these challenges through inclusive participation, coordination and support. Climate change puts the responsibility for a collated response on all the stakeholders, cross-cutting various sectors. Industries, catering to a diverse pool of economic activities, will have a pioneering role here. The UNGA and the New York Climate Week discourses have demonstrated a strong willingness by industries to act on addressing climate change. This momentum towards decarbonisation must be enforced and harboured through partnerships and support.
(Sastry and Raj are Research Associates, TERI)