By Amrita Goldar & Diya Dasgupta
Following this year’s Summit a few days from now, India will be officially entering the G20 Troika alongside Saudi Arabia and Italy, as the country gears for taking over the G20 presidency in 2022. In the coming year, India would be aggressively working towards setting the stage for its presidency, deliberating and getting a head start on the key priority areas that it would like to table.
Ever since its inception in 2013 under the Russian presidency, the Energy Sustainability Working Group (ESWG) has had a long history of topics that have been tabled. Some of these were carried forward by subsequent presidencies while others died a quiet death. This year the Saudi Presidency identified four key themes under the ESWG agenda–cleaner energy systems for the new era, universal access to affordable energy, more secure energy markets and institutional frameworks for market stability as priority areas for deliberation. The last two areas were merged into one after the first ESWG meeting held in March earlier this year.
The primary focus within the theme of cleaner energy systems was Circular Carbon Economy (CCE), wherein the model focusses on adopting a technology-neutral systems approach to ensure energy market stability. And, at the same time guaranteeing inclusive growth that caters to the sustainable development goals. It calls for efforts to reduce the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere. It includes different categories of carbon mitigation options, or the 4 R’s, ie, reduce, reuse, recycle and remove, that are to be practised in that order. The components within the 4 R’s are categorised based on the treatment of carbon emissions in each case. For instance, energy efficiency and use of renewable energy help in curbing the quantum of carbon dioxide (CO2) entering the system.
Similarly, carbon capture utilisation helps reuse CO2 already present in the system. The Saudi presidency has released a ‘CCE Guide’ that provides an overview of the concept of a circular carbon economy and details out the different options available under the 4 R’s. In line with this, the ‘CCE Accelerator’ was also released to facilitate CCE implementation, advancing research and development of technologies and aiding national and international cooperation.
Thus, it becomes pertinent to identify parts of the aforementioned CCE model that could perhaps be championed by India in addition to other key areas that the country deems necessary. Given the fact that priority areas tabled by the G20 chair country need to be unofficially endorsed by a stipulated number of G20 member countries, India needs to strike a balance between issues that it considers pertinent from the national perspective as well as those which are unlikely to turn into points of contention amongst member countries. In our opinion, out of a bouquet of options, material efficiency, as well as Carbon Capture Utilisation (CCU) technologies, are some of the key alternatives that need a renewed focus.
In line with the notion of CCE, India may consider broadening the scope of the issue of climate change and acknowledge the role played by high material consumption in contributing to the energy demand and by extension to emissions. According to a recent report by Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Material Economics (2019), while 55% of the emissions can be managed by mitigation pathways such as the use of renewable energy and adoption of energy efficiency measures, the remaining emissions can be tackled via the adoption of a circular economy model. This calls for a closed-loop system that can help in decoupling economic growth from resource consumption and essentially involves efficient management of material consumption. Many of the G20 member countries such as the European Union, Germany, China, Japan, United Kingdom etc. already have policies in place and programmes that foster the adoption of a circular economy. India too has made some headway, although modest, in the context of material efficiency. For instance, the release of the Draft National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP), 2019, that represents a comprehensive framework for resource efficiency. The previously held G20 Resource Efficiency Dialogues of 2017 and 2019 have encouraged knowledge exchanges and sharing of best practices related to resource efficiency. The idea of tackling emissions via a material efficiency approach would be building on this agenda, thereby addressing the dual challenge of resource scarcity and emission reduction.
Another pathway that is increasingly gaining momentum is the application of carbon capture utilisation. It refers to the recycling of carbon for producing economically valuable products and services. Captured carbon can be engaged in producing oil, via Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) or can be used to produce fuels (eg methane, methanol, aviation fuels, gasoline), construction material, chemicals, plastics and algae-based products such as fertilisers and animal feed. The costs associated with carbon capture can be partially offset by the revenue generated from the utilisation measures. India had identified Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) as a priority area in its Second Biennial Update Report that was submitted to UNFCCC. The country is also an active participant of the Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge under Mission Innovation (MI) and has launched a funding opportunity to the tune of $17 million in FY19 for 47 projects across the themes of carbon capture, sustainable biofuels and converting sunlight. As is evident, although the country is open to exploring the option of CCUS technologies, the appetite for its domestic adoption is limited at the moment. However, as the technology matures and the associated costs fall further, the country may consider designing policies and programs to encourage faster deployment.
Goldar is senior fellow, and Dasgupta is research assistant, Climate Change and Sustainable Development, ICRIER. Views are personal