India is currently facing one of the most challenging periods in recent history: the dual impact of a public healthcare crisis compounded by an impending economic crisis. As the country begins to mobilize again, it is imperative to build back better, improving resilience and guaranteeing sustainability.
The economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic cannot divert India from the longer-term goal of reducing carbon emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Indeed, investing in a clean energy future, along with protecting and enhancing the environment, are the only ways to ensure rapid, sustained growth in the long term.
The science on climate change and its impact on India is becoming clearer. Temperatures are increasing while rainfall has been decreasing (and is harder to predict). Both droughts and floods are more likely, and extreme storms—such as the recent cyclones Amphan and Nisarga—will become more frequent in parts.
Fortunately, the solutions to tackle climate change are also clearer. We can deploy renewable electricity at scale, power our vehicles without internal combustion engines, build infrastructure using green materials and techniques, and use energy much more efficiently. As India seeks to accelerate these actions and ensure a sustainable and resilient recovery, here are 10 priorities to consider.
Develop integrated resource and resilience plans
In an era defined by climate change and other natural and engineered disruptions, planning should not only consider the best resource options, but also how to survive and recover quickly in the time of crisis. All sectors should adopt a comprehensive approach and build better resilience assessments into integrated resource plans.
Accelerate the inclusion of renewables in the power sector transition
India is already a champion of renewable energy technology development and deployment, which has resulted in significant benefits. The country should make every effort to further accelerate this transition to support the power sector, create domestic employment, boost the manufacturing sector, explore long-term low-cost finances, and bring more competition. Areas of focus include rapid policy reform to facilitate system flexibility, reducing regulatory barriers, and improving the financial situation of distribution companies (DISCOMs).
Fuel the future the green way
Battery electric vehicle (BEV), fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), and green fuels such as hydrogen can drive the future of mobility. The leap to BS VI emission norms has reduced the differential cost between conventional ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) and green mobility solutions. A clear timeline to set the transition’s pace will provide domestic automakers with confidence for the future and avoid locking them into outdated technologies.
Pioneer a model of green manufacturing and industrialization
Lay the groundwork for heavy industries to become clean technology pioneers, providing goods and materials without the negative environmental impacts. This involves collaboration with international partners to deploy advanced technologies in the steel, cement, aluminium, chemicals, and petrochemicals sector. Simultaneously, policy reform like carbon pricing and green taxes can surge the demand for green products.
Catalyze a smart cities revolution
The construction sector has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. As activity restarts, it’s important to stimulate smart cities solutions including green buildings, smart energy systems, smart water systems, smart waste management and recycling planning, smart pollution containment strategy, and smart supply chains. New buildings and infrastructure should meet higher standards—and existing structures must be sufficiently retrofitted to withstand extreme events, reduce energy consumption, and last longer. India’s role as co-lead of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) will be vital in showcasing best practice for the world to follow.
Provide support to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)
Many MSMEs have had to close during the pandemic. These companies will require significant and sustained support to, first, survive the current hardship and, second, thrive as the economy recovers. A focus on low carbon cleaner technology and electrification options, plus technical assistance to reduce energy costs and improve operating efficiencies, will be instrumental to getting MSMEs back in business.
Prioritize resource efficiency and waste-to-energy (WTE)
To maximize economic gains from limited resources, India needs to accelerate activity on resource efficiency, material circularity, waste minimization, and waste-to-energy conversion. The country also must create business models and employment opportunities to support environmental protection and restoration. This includes backing organizations that follow these principles, and penalizing those that do not.
Expand into new clean energy sectors and decarbonization options
As the global economy recovers and continues its low carbon energy transition, India will need to seek out employment and growth opportunities. Given competitive labor costs, a large domestic market, and technically proficient workforce, the country is well-suited to expand a range of clean energy technologies and decarbonization options like electrification of heat, hydrogen, and biomass to substitute fossil fuel feedstock, carbon capture technology, energy efficiency, and demand side measures. Clear, consistent signals on policy direction are needed to act as a lightning rod for green finance for new technologies, mobilizing both international and domestic resources.
Boost sustainable food and land use practices
A resilient agricultural industry is one that uses land, water, and energy efficiently. It is vital to mainstream clean energy for agrarian activities. Another crucial element is a modernized food supply chains from the field to the consumer to reduce wastage and improve competitiveness.
Foster diverse and competitive rural economies
Most economic activity takes place in metro areas. But the pandemic has shown the need to diversify the economy by supporting rural businesses. This will require developing rural infrastructure, investing in clean energy to boost the rural economy, and scaling-up supply chains for quality goods and services. These actions will make rural areas attractive for businesses and communities.
From crisis to opportunity
Crisis always comes with opportunities. Although new risks are conceivable across every area of climate action, the pandemic has created a myriad of ways for India to adapt to emerging needs, capitalize on positive behaviors, and advance an agenda for innovative and socially inclusive climate resilience. Fiscal stimulus packages should incorporate these opportunities to promote an equitable transition to a low-carbon economy. Stable policies, innovative financing, appropriate regulatory regime, technology upgradation, indigenization, and institutional reforms are key drivers to sustainable and resilient change.
If one pandemic can bring the global economy to a halt, imagine the reverberation of climate change on externalities. Not preparing and planning for future disruptions, including the climate crisis, will be devastating to the most vulnerable among us.