The Cabinet nod to the ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol of reducing substances that deplete the ozone layer to phase down the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) on August 18 has surprisingly sent a positive ripple among the climate change experts. They have seen an opportunity to innovate in the manufacturing of refrigerants that are part of air-conditioners which are climate-friendly and energy-efficient. For decades now, the issue of climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, especially the carbon footprint, has only triggered an expression of grim determination to tighten the belt and sacrifice economic growth because the danger of the climate change tipping towards a catastrophe was much greater. But now, many in India seem to have seen an opportunity in the phase down of HFCs, starting with 10 per cent reduction in 2032, 20 per cent in 2037 and 85 per cent by 2047. Reduction of HFCs looks a doable task. Perhaps this is the kind of positive turnaround in the attitude towards climate change goals that is required to meet the challenge of reining in the carbon footprint.
India in general has taken an accommodative stance towards the issue of climate change and what is needed to be done to change course, while at the same time arguing that the developed nations have the responsibility to fund as well as transfer technology to the developing countries. The argument over compensatory financial assistance and transfer of technology has not made much headway with the industrialised countries in the European Union and the US. The EU countries were insistent on carbon emission reduction goals without offering the necessary financial and technological assistance to the developing countries to make the transition to climate change a friendly economic activity. The US has always taken a mulish stance over climate change goals, refusing to join in the efforts ever since it refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The American argument lacked sense and sophistication. It was the simplistic one of ‘we cannot allow job losses and fall in growth rates,” a line articulated by George W Bush, while another Republican President Donald Trump tried to pooh-pooh the climate change crisis altogether. Democrat Barack Obama was not keen either, trying to push around other countries, including China and India, to take up responsibilities which was the lot of the United States at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2010. The Indian stance at Copenhagen as articulated by the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh was ambivalent, wanting to ride with America as well as the developing countries.
The Indian stance became proactive at the Paris climate summit when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) with the task of increasing the renewable energy component in power generation. India has set itself the task of creating 175 GW (gigawatt) of renewable energy by 2022; it has so far achieved 100 GW capacity, according to an announcement of the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy on August 12. But it has to be remembered that renewable energy accounts for only 17.3 per cent of the total 383.37 GW installed capacity, and fossil energy still contributes 79.8 per cent to the energy basket. The ray of hope lies in the fact that investment in renewable energy, through green bonds, has been on the rise, reaching $6.4 billion between April and July this year, and there is the expectation that it will surpass the previous record investment of $8.4 billion of 2019-20.
It is this enthusiasm for renewable energy and the technologies made available through artificial intelligence (AI) and digitisation that raises the hope that climate challenges can be met through feasible economic and technological strategies. After many years, new technologies like AI and robotics are making energy generation and consumption more efficient.
Many challenges remain, at least in solar energy. It has been found that in western Indian states, solar energy has reached 40 per cent of the installed capacity. But it brings with it its own problems. It has been found that the power grid becomes destabilised because of the intermittent nature of the flow of electricity from solar energy compared to gas-fired power generation. It should be possible to find solutions to glitches like these through better solar energy storage facilities.
It can be said with confidence that it is now possible to meet the climate change challenges because it seems doable. It did not seem this way until recently. The imperatives of turning to green technologies and environment-friendly ways of sustaining cities and habitats was recognised, but the solutions were nowhere in sight. Right now, it looks like solutions can be found even if they are not always at hand.
The energy factor in facing the climate change crisis is overwhelming because the modern, technological civilisation that we have got used to all over the world is energy-intensive, right from agricultural practices to urban living. If an environment-friendly energy solution is to be worked out, much of the climate change would seem manageable.
More than the eco-warriors and environment-sensitive political leaders, it is the change in the attitude of industrialists towards the climate change crisis that is proving to be a game-changer. If the investors and industrialists are convinced that there are profits to be made by adopting green ways of running the economy, change is sure to face the least resistance. It was felt by some cynics that the clamour over climate change was really the desire for profits through changes in technology because the profits made from the old technologies have reached the stage of diminishing returns. Even if this were true, and it could possibly be, it is not such a bad thing. If some good were to come out of the evil of the industrial civilisation of the last two centuries, and profit is the ulterior motive behind it all, we should not complain much. The need is to avert the ecological disaster awaiting us all as the climate threatens to reach the tipping point beyond which there is no redemption!
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