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Thursday, November 30, 2023

India’s Climate Change Challenge: Balancing Sustainability and Development

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Equitable, participatory, broad-based sustainable development (BBSD) with a structurally evolving economy must go beyond economic growth. Sustainability requires fundamental transformation, not incremental modifications.

Carbon emissions produce global warming and its devastating effects on geopolitics, economy, biodiversity, and the environment. Limit fossil fuels to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The newest IPCC reports imply we may exceed this limit. Best-case scenario: 3.2 degrees Celsius; worst-case scenario: 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100: uninhabitable equatorial parts, enormous firestorms, flooding two-thirds of the world’s cities, and tropical illness in the Arctic.

No new fossil fuel infrastructure, big renewables incentives, carbon pricing, and other net-zero transition policies are needed to prepare for Armageddon. This compelling task requires a new attitude, transformational shifts, cross-sectoral decisions, macro-economic policy, and public sensitization to environmental concerns and the eco-system’s market worth.

Poverty, high population density, natural resource dependence, and stressed environment make India vulnerable to climate change. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development reported unprecedented melting of Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers, which might lose up to 80% of their volume this century if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not cut. Cyclone Amphan, abnormally high rainfall, severe floods, landslides, cloudbursts across states, the collapse of Joshimath, frequent landslides and cloudbursts in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, incessant rainfall in various parts of India, extreme heat and cold conditions, and the collapse of Joshimath are all examples of this.

Indian commitment to a “net zero” climate target depends on developed nations meeting their clear commitments, including providing $100 billion to developing countries annually for climate change mitigation, technology transfer, and a market-based mechanism to revive dormant carbon credit markets. A net-zero emissions future, including de-carbonization and a new low-carbon development model, might boost GDP. The net-zero push demands 500 GW of non-fossil electrical capacity, 50% renewables, and a 1 billion-tonne reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. Green hydrogen is made from renewable energy, although carbon capture and storage can lessen the environmental impact of fossil fuels. A strong climate change plan includes macroeconomic background, analytical framework, sectoral transitional mapping, technological and finance mapping, and institutional. To manage short-term dips and long-term recoveries, they must work together to minimize risks, build resilience, and capitalize on new possibilities. Because “the economics and politics of climate change” are closely tied to politics, innovation in institutions, understanding, technology, and leadership are necessary to confront them.

Renewable energy needs massive investments. Finance challenges including increasing capital-intensity with reduced O&M cost, bank exposure limit to sectors, poor sector-specific risk understanding among financial institutions, and solar project viability concerns become essential. Climate finance—adaptation and mitigation financing, vulnerability reduction, resilience, ecosystem, GHG emission reduction, and carbon sink—and biodiversity, resource conservation, and infrastructure facilitation are green finance. Sustainable finance encompasses green and climate finance. Debt (sovereign green bonds, sub-sovereign green bonds, green revenue bond, environmental impact bonds, green loans, etc.); equity instruments (public private partnership, joint venture, investment trust, etc.); credit enhancement mechanisms (full or partial credit guarantee, viability gap funding, etc.); risk transfer/risk sharing mechanisms

Rich nations struggle to eliminate fossil fuels and carbon and insulate their economies. Resource shortages, poor infrastructure, and technology exacerbate this issue in developing nations. To adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro power, grants, loans, and private investment are needed immediately. Both quality and quantity of funding matter. Media reported a record $1.1 trillion in energy transition investment in 2022, up from $849 billion in 2021 and $267 billion in 2011. Making infrastructure climate-resilient has a benefit-cost ratio of about 6:1, leading to more jobs, better education and innovation, better quality of life, and equal opportunities to prosper, according to UN estimates. The June 2023 Bonn Climate Change Conference was marked by sticky issues like ‘phasing out’ versus ‘phasing down’, finance provisions, ‘historical responsibility’ of rich countries, and the Mitigation Work Programme (MWP), which asked developing countries to strengthen their climate actions without enabling finance and abatement and removal technology transfers from developed countries. Developing countries need $6 trillion by 2030 to implement climate action plans. About $400 billion is needed annually for developing countries’ loss and damage. Other purposes require several trillion dollars annually. Climate catastrophes threaten all regions, so low-cost financing and technical assistance are needed to change environmental processes and patterns. However, the developed countries’ 2020 commitment to raise $100 billion per year was not met.

Climate change requires behavioral changes at individual, industry, and government levels, focusing on managing and reducing emissions through a closed loop-system involving the 4 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, and remove and recycle. Implementing India’s ban on single-use plastic items requires participation from governments, manufacturers, and users for safe and sustainable substitutions. The Biological Diversity Amendment Bill, 2021 and Conservation Amendment Bill, 2023 aim to develop the economy, build critical infrastructure, and bridge development deficits by promoting sustainable lifestyles and regulatory frameworks.

A comprehensive strategy for power generation is to transition from fossil fuels to renewables and nuclear power, aiming to electrify to the maximum possible level. However, managing intermittent supply from solar panels and wind turbines presents significant challenges. Bill Gates calculated the cost of clean alternatives relative to fossil fuels and quantified the difference as a “green premium.” To reduce this premium, innovation and government policies are needed. Asymmetric information makes the ‘quantity instruments’ approach difficult, making ‘price instruments’ like carbon taxes difficult. However, collaboration between partners in development can facilitate access to low-cost finance for clean technologies, enhance renewable energy deployment, and address power system challenges. Real change requires change at all levels, from local to global, to transform major systems by 2050. Careful planning and execution require greater sensitization, behavioral change, communication, education, mass movement, and stakeholder engagement.

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