By Ramnath Vaidyanathan
Imagine it’s the year 2072.
The island country of Philippines is now submerged and off the global map.
Homes, schools, vehicles and every other place are air-conditioned as productivity is impossible otherwise.
This isn’t dystopian science fiction.
As per the latest IPCC report, if emissions are not controlled by 2050 to keep the increase in global temperature below 1.5 degree Celsius, the aforementioned scenarios will come to fruition. This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s backed by all the data available today.
As a part of the necessary mitigation measures, nations have pledged their individual net zero targets. Finland has set 2035 as the target to be net zero, Japan, Israel both have pledged 2050, Sri Lanka 2060. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the COP 26 held in Glasgow, announced India’s ambitious pledge to be net zero emitter by 2070.
India’s announcement received a mixed bag of responses – some hailing the pledge as much needed and setting the tone for taking the middle path between environment & development; while some opine the target year as too far away to contribute to make any impact on global heating before calamity strikes..
Net zero simply means not adding to the amount of greenhouse gases existing in the atmosphere. At its very basic, this involves transitioning to cleaner fuels and more efficient technologies so as to minimise emissions towards zero & using carbon sequestration to net out the residual emissions.
While India’s announcement as a global leader and net security provider in South Asia is a welcome step, there is much that needs to be done at a national level for ensuring we reach our 2070 goal. Here’s what the government needs to do –
1. Plan ahead
While 2070 may seem far off, the groundwork for it has to begin now. This involves laying a roadmap that is categorical, well laid out, flexible and yet captures the big picture. This will ensure that all stakeholders, not just companies, follow through. It is for this that we need the government to create this roadmap laying out categorical goals/milestones to be achieved and tracked annually or bi-annually for every stakeholder.
2. Regulatory acceleration
For better or worse, the biggest contributor to sustainability in India have been ESG-related regulations, be it the CSR laws or the EPR Rules. It is owing to these laws that movement to sustainable ways of living and doing business have accelerated. The SEBI BRSR guidelines are yet another example of proactive action step in reporting transparency, which is the first and most crucial step in improving ESG performance. While there was a lack of clarity on performance on ESG parameters for many companies prior to this regulation, the number of companies disclosing on these parameters has since increased.
Apart from preparing the pathway, regulation is also crucial for monitoring & evaluation. Going net zero for a nation the size of India, with burgeoning demands and complex market interactions, will require cross sectoral activity across various ministries and departments of the Government, as well as with industry, communities, science, academia and representatives of society. Furthermore, every stakeholder will have to assigned specific goals. For instance, goals for the Steel industry towards carbon capture quantities, consumer behaviour in recycling and consumption of resources, social capital development in communities, among others.. These stakeholder-specific targets will need to be monitored and periodically reviewed by a designated governing body.
3. Institute a governing body
This leads to my next urgent point – the need for a central authority or a ministry dedicated to India’s pledge of reaching net zero emissions by 2070. Scientifically speaking, achieving net zero is difficult. Every process is bound to have some degree of emissions, we can at most aim to lower these emissions and regulate them. To get to zero, we will need to invest in the preservation and growth of natural ecosystems as well as mandates for carbon capture at an industry level. This mammoth exercise will require more than just commitments and self-disclosure and monitoring. Having a governing body that implements the roadmap, tracks and reports performance, and solves problems, is absolutely critical to getting to net zero by 2070.
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4. Consistency in Law
Indian legislature has federal elements with the Union & the state governments making laws for the land. Oftentimes these laws may be at odds with each other. If we are serious about getting to 2070, we need better alignment between central and state regulations and directives. Consistency will ensure a more uniform set of responsibilities across all sectors and geographies and allow pan-Indian industries to flourish. Investments in green technologies often look at a window of 10- 25 years with cash inflows and outflows laid out. Constant revisions to regulations and standards with little to no consultation or practical application will deter companies from making such investments.
5. Inter sectoral consultations
These challenges can be overcome through frequent, open ended, candid conversations and consultations between the industry and government. At the outset, policy formulation must take into account ground realities and industrial experience.
Getting to Net zero in 2070 will require a pathway to be built collectively by all the stakeholders- Government, Industry leaders, communities, academia and the citizens. If we do not work in cohesion, as a team; the battle to combat climate change will be lost before it begins.
(The author is AVP & Head- Environmental Sustainability, Godrej Industries Limited & Associate Companies. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)