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Innovations in clean technologies could help us tackle global warming

Anilesh S. Mahajan     July 29, 2015

India is in two minds. Whether to commit and set deadlines towards limiting its own emissions, or continue to push rich nations to fund developing countries to help tackle global warming and share climate-friendly technologies. The recent agreement between Washington and Beijing to have a shared roadmap to cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has only added to its woes.

India, the third-largest emitter of GHG, after the US and China, is, however, expected to announce a target year for its carbon emissions to peak before the upcoming United Nation's Climate Change Conference in November-December, 2015, in Paris. It has so far refused to make its stance clear.

The Indian government is aware of the far-reaching impact of climate change. In fact, it has been steadily working towards a roadmap to lower carbon emissions by promoting policies and measures reflecting the total scope of the international climate policy that includes its commitments towards climate finance, technology cooperation, capacity building and the cost of climate change impact. The international community, however, wants India to do much more.

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Moreover, the Centre is also feeling the heat from institutions back home. While the National Green Tribunal has been putting pressure to cut vehicular pollution, the Supreme Court, too, has come down on the government asking it to fulfill its constitutional obligations. "The right to live a healthy life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India... includes the right to live in a pollution-free environment?," the apex court observed while making renewable energy purchase mandatory for state distribution companies with an aim to "protecting the environment and preventing pollution as much as possible in public interest".

Besides, the Centre is also well aware of the negative impact of global warming on the country's economy, as unseasonal rains and erratic monsoons are increasingly being associated with climate change, and the added financial burden it would put on the Centre's coffers. Therefore, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar's biggest challenge is to strike a balance between the aspirations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resurrect India as a manufacturing hub, while meeting international commitments to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius by 2100.

{blurb}Realising that clean technologies will be its primary weapon to win the battle against global warming, India has put in place certain measures. It has finalised the roadmap to build the infrastructure for 175 GW of renewable energy in the next seven years, which would roughly translate into 20 per cent of the grid capacity in 2022. This will include 100 GW of solar power and 60 GW of wind energy, apart from bringing to life 14 GW of the 23 GW gas-based capacity that has already been installed.

The government is also trying to introduce clean technologies that would help reduce emissions from the conventional methods of power generation using fossil fuels. While fast-tracking clearances of coal mining projects to achieve the government's power generation target, Javadekar has promised transparency in improving and introducing environment-friendly coal mining methods, including underground mining, that would ensure highly-efficient carbon capture and storage technologies, and removing pollutants from and dewatering of coal, to lower SO2, NOx and CO2 emissions and increase efficiency in generating electricity.

India is aggressively promoting supercritical thermal power plants, which emit 34 per cent less CO2 compared to conventional methods, by investing in technology development. The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Bharat Heavy Electricals and state-owned NTPC have joined hands to design the first ultra-supercritical thermal power plant to cut CO2 emission by another 12 per cent.

At the same time, however, India has made it clear to the world that coal will continue to be a critical part of the energy mix till the time it resolves the cobweb of geopolitics around its nuclear-based generation capabilities.

In the past one year, India has resolved its uranium supply glitches with Canada and Australia, and has also got Russia to commit 10 new reactors. However, to speed up the installation of nuclear power plants it would still require the support of Japan and the US.

Among other such initiatives, the Centre has been pushing refineries and automakers to look for ways to skip Bharat Stage V emission standards, and leap to cleaner Bharat Stage VI stage directly. April 1, 2017 is deadline for BS V stage. It is also keen to optimise the use of petrol and diesel and reduce oil imports by 10 per cent by the end of 2022. Besides, as part of its smart cities initiative, it is working on setting up the required infrastructure to adopt electric cars. Various local bodies in India have shown interest in adopting premier oil and gas company Shell's indigenously-developed technology to convert garbage into fuel, which is in its final stages.

In the cleantech package stitched together by Team BT, a host of technological innovations and advancements have been featured, which if implemented, may help India meet its international obligations earlier than expected and, at the same time, give its environment the much-needed breath of fresh air.


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