ES Ranganathan Explains India's Pioneering Approach to Decarbonization


ES Ranganathan - India's approach of balancing industry growth with sustainability, presents a vision for a sustainable future in a world grappling with climate change.

India, a land of contrasts, has long been recognized as a country of great promise and untapped potential. Its rapidly growing economy and burgeoning population have propelled it onto the global stage as a major player in the 21st century. Yet, with this growth comes an alarming rise in carbon emissions, a challenge that India is confronting head-on through a pioneering approach to decarbonization.

As a developing nation with ambitious goals to become one of the world's strongest economies, India finds itself at a crossroads. Balancing industry and sustainability has become a central theme in India's journey toward decarbonization, and this approach is making waves on the global stage.

According to ES Ranganathan, a leading figure of India’s energy sector, one of the key sectors undergoing a paradigm shift in India is the iron and steel industry. “This sector, which has traditionally been a major source of carbon emissions, is now embracing cleaner and more sustainable practices. The Ministry of Steel has drafted a comprehensive plan to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, involving 13 task forces with various stakeholders.” ES Ranganathan says. Ranganathan also highlights the Steel Scrap Recycling Policy of 2019 as a significant step toward reducing coal usage while enhancing steel production's long-term sustainability.

With the expanding economy, India's crude steel production is projected to surge to approximately 435 million tonnes (mt) by 2050, a substantial increase from the 118 mt recorded in 2021. Presently, the steel sector in India contributes to approximately 11 percent of the nation's total emissions.

In the transportation sector, the Ministry of Road and Transport is playing a pivotal role in decarbonization efforts. ES Ranganathan says, “With a rapidly urbanizing population and a projected increase in motor vehicles on Indian roads, measures are being taken to mitigate the associated carbon emissions. The expansion of public transportation services, notably Metro Rail projects in tier 1 cities, has led to reduced pollution and congestion.” Moreover, the government's subsidies for the production and purchase of electric vehicles (EVs) have accelerated the shift toward cleaner transportation options, ES Ranganathan further adds.

India's road transport sector occupies a pivotal role in the nation's transition toward cleaner energy solutions. Nevertheless, it also presents formidable environmental hurdles, characterized by a surge in CO2 emissions and air pollution. Currently, road transport is responsible for a 12 percent share of India's energy-related CO2 emissions and stands as a prominent contributor to urban air quality degradation. In the absence of far-reaching policies, energy consumption and CO2 emissions stemming from road transport could potentially double by 2050, a consequence of the escalating demand for private travel and freight conveyance. However, the implementation of ambitious policies and measures has the potential to yield a notable transformation, with projections indicating a prospective 30 percent decrease in energy consumption and a substantial 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. These outcomes align harmoniously with India's broader objective of attaining net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2070.

The Ministry of Railways, a part of the transportation sector, is also making substantial contributions to India's decarbonization goals. It aims to become a zero-emission public transportation service by 2030. Notably, electrification efforts have seen significant progress, reducing the railway's dependence on coal. This initiative not only decreases emissions but also enhances the efficiency and sustainability of the railway network.

Indian Railways stands as the world's fourth-largest railway network by size, with a considerable appetite for electricity consumption. In 2020, it devoured roughly 18,410 million units (MU) for traction loads (trains) and an additional 2,338 MU for non-traction loads, encompassing office spaces and railway stations. This vast railway system daily ferries 24 million passengers throughout the Indian subcontinent via a network of 13,000 trains that span an impressive 67,956 kilometres. Furthermore, it moves a staggering 3.3 million tonnes of freight each day. Consequently, the fuel demands of Indian Railways are of monumental proportions. However, this substantial operation also contributes to approximately 4% of India's overall carbon emissions.

ES Ranganathan underscores, "India's logistical infrastructure has consistently advanced, resulting in reduced travel durations and decreased emissions. This enhancement not only has positive environmental implications but has also fostered a more favourable business environment, a crucial stride toward India's goal of reducing carbon emissions as a percentage of GDP by 45% by 2030, in comparison to 2005 figures."

Another noteworthy aspect of India's decarbonization strategy is its focus on afforestation and agroforestry. These initiatives have proven to be economically viable while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Stubble burning, a major source of pollution in northern India, is been addressed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change in collaboration with the Ministry of Power. They have established ethanol factories that utilize agricultural residues for ethanol production. These factories not only help reduce pollution but also provide an additional source of income for farmers.

Commending the government's efforts to promote agroforestry, ES Ranganathan highlighted that in 2022 budget, the Finance Minister has put forth a proposal to provide financial assistance to farmers from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who wish to engage in agroforestry.

India's multi-faceted approach to decarbonization is positioning it as a global leader in environmental sustainability. The country's ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 is not without its challenges, as balancing industry growth with sustainability remains a complex and ongoing process.

Furthermore, transitioning to cleaner energy sources and reducing carbon emissions involves navigating political, economic, and social challenges. It necessitates cooperation between various government ministries, industry leaders, and the broader public to achieve a collective vision for a more sustainable future. Access to green financing, international collaborations, and clean technology adoption are all part of this endeavor.

Through investments in cleaner energy sources, sustainable practices, and a commitment to job creation, India is setting an example for the world to follow. Balancing industry and sustainability is not just a necessity but also important for creating a better future for all.

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