Delivering climate action: The road ahead for India after CoP26

We need many more important and concrete measures to drastically reduce emissions.

By Shoko Noda
Published: Thursday 16 December 2021

One of the most striking images from the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was Simon Kofe, Tuvalu’s foreign minister, standing knee-deep in the sea to deliver his speech. We don’t need any more scientific evidence of the dreadful consequences of climate change — the world is experiencing it. Not only is it happening, but it is speeding up.

The Glasgow Climate Pact has strengthened our commitment to combat climate change, but the goal of restricting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels is still some distance away. 

We need many more important and concrete measures to drastically reduce emissions. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated at the end of CoP26, ‘it is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero’.

India has always demonstrated the will to do more than its ‘fair share’ of responsibilities. As an emerging global leader, India’s climate action will have significant regional as well as global impacts. 

At CoP26, India pledged to become a ‘net zero’ carbon emitter by 2070, and announced enhanced targets for renewable energy deployment and reduction in carbon emissions. 

Achieving these targets will require focus on three important areas: Increasing renewable energy capacity, decarbonising emission intensive sectors and creating more carbon sinks.

The share of renewable energy in India's energy mix has more than doubled from 11.8 per cent in March 2015 to 25.2 per cent in July 2021, and we need to maintain this momentum. A NITI Aayog report estimates that the sector requires $4.5 trillion to meet the infrastructure gap and increase the share of renewable energy to 50 per cent by 2030. 

The Climate Finance Leadership Initiative launched by India and the United Kingdom in September to generate more resources for climate and green energy projects is a positive step in this direction.

We need to ensure policies and investments shift from the grey to green economy, giving up fossil fuel and making societies and people more resilient to climate shocks. They must catalyse creation of green jobs and secure just transition for workers currently engaged with fossil fuel-based industries.

India has been a dependable partner in addressing the energy needs of neighbouring countries. Recently, Indian Energy Exchange, a domestic power trading platform, started cross-border electricity trade aiming to create an integrated regional power market in South Asia. 

Such platforms must adopt a ‘renewable first’ approach as they scale up. For instance, they can build upon initiatives like One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG), launched by India at CoP26. Led by the International Solar Alliance (ISA), an international organisation created after CoP21, where India was a founder-member, the first phase of OSOWOG plans to create a South Asian network for energy exchange. 

India’s huge transmission network and synchronised grids transmitting power from one corner of the country to another would provide a lot of learning to connect energy grids across borders for renewable energy adoption under OSOWOG. 

We have enough institutions and policies to achieve our renewable energy goals. The need of the hour is to build on such synergies and ensure impact. 

Second, we need to decarbonise emission-intensive sectors. India has made significant progress in reducing emission intensity. 

India has successfully reduced its emission intensity of gross domestic product by 24 per cent. However, more efforts are required to reduce emissions in heavy industries like iron and steel, chemicals and cement. These are also some of the highest emitters and demand for their products is also growing due to rapid urbanisation and economic growth. 

An ‘ecosystem-based’ approach, which looks at greening both ‘supply’ and ‘demand’, is the way ahead. For example, the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles scheme offers incentives to both the automotive sector and consumers to boost electric vehicle sales. 

This is being complemented with developing domestic capacities for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries and creating charging infrastructure. Similar approaches are needed in other industries.

Third, we need more ‘carbon sinks’ – areas that store carbon, like forests, oceans and wetlands. Our efforts to reduce emissions must be complemented with creation of more carbon sinks. This is where the role of local communities is vital, many of whom live in close harmony with nature and depend on natural resources for subsistence and livelihoods. 

I recently witnessed this during my visits to Ladakh and Odisha. While both landscapes and cultures were very different, the one thing common was the respect local people gave to nature and their commitment towards safeguarding it. 

Unfortunately, these communities are also at the frontline of climate change, paying for past emissions of the developed world. As we ramp up efforts towards climate mitigation, we must ensure sufficient resources towards climate adaptation. 

While focusing on these three critical areas, there is a need for a coordinated mechanism to fast-track action climate by engaging all stakeholders. 

The private sector is one of the most important actors. Businesses bring investments, innovation and the ability to transform challenges into opportunities — all essential weapons in our fight against climate change. 

The government is striving hard to provide the right policy environment for a green economy. Companies need to come forward and deliver on their responsibility towards the people and the planet. 

Simon Kofe’s ‘underwater’ speech is no exaggeration. Climate change is severely limiting our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As an emerging global economy, I am confident that India can lead the way towards a green and healthy planet.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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