Only One Earth: Initiatives Towards a Climate Compatible Future

The United Nations General Assembly in 1972 classified the 5th of June as World Environment Day. Since then, the day has evolved as a platform for creating awareness about issues afflicting the environment, such as climate change, rise in sea level, pollution of air, water, and soil, unsustainable consumption of resources, food security, and illegal wildlife trade. The theme of Environment Day 2022 is ‘Only One Earth’, which was also the slogan of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, the first major UN conference on environmental issues. The theme ‘Only One Earth’ is apposite for this day and age as the earth is the only habitable planet. The theme urges transcendental amendments to national policies and individual choices to enable a cleaner, greener, and sustainable future. Human beings are currently utilizing the resources of approximately 1.6 earths to maintain the contemporary way of life, and this practice is highly unsustainable since it is associated with two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have depicted that sustainable consumption and production could reduce our emissions by 40 to 70% by 2050, drive economic development, mitigate climate change, positively impact health and pollution, and help alleviate poverty.

India comprehends the gravity of the climate change crisis and the environmental issues affecting us and thus has consistently committed to environmental stewardship. It has been instrumental in ensuring the inclusion of the terms “climate justice” and “sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production” in the Paris Agreement and strongly believes that resource utilization should be mindful and deliberate and not mindless and destructive. The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on the 4th of April 2022, also endorses the fact that changes in lifestyle and behaviour play a significant role in mitigating climate change and advocates India’s view that unsustainable consumption needs to be curbed.At the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in 2021, the Indian Prime Minister prompted the implementation of ‘LIFE’- Lifestyles for Environment and announced five ambitious goals: By the year 2030, India aims toincrease its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW, obtain 50 % of its energy requirements from renewable energy, reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes, and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 %. Further, by the year 2070, India will achieve the target of Net-Zero (removing the same amount of carbon dioxide that has been generated).

Efforts for Mitigation

To achieve these aims and address the threat of global climate change, India has taken tremendous actions in the recent past.A national action plan, the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), was formulated for all countries to be reviewed every five years. In its NDC, India had pledged to decrease its emission intensity of GDP by 33-35% by 2030 from the 2005 level and has already reduced its emission intensity of GDP by 24% between 2005 and 2016.

The government launched the following National Policy Frameworks for fulfilling its climate objectives:

  • The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was launched in 2008 and works in the areas of Solar Energy, Enhanced Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Habitat, Water, Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, Green India, Sustainable Agriculture, and Strategic Knowledge on Climate Change.
  • The State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) works in line with the objectives of the NAPCC and focusses on agriculture, water, health, biodiversity, infrastructure, and coastal areas.
  • The National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC) and Climate Change Action Programme (CCAP) were established to aid in implementing the NAPCC and SAPCC objectives in all sectors impacted by climate change.

A slew of new policies and initiatives and appropriate budgets have been introduced in the current year in sectors like renewable energy, green transportation, e-mobility,waste management, afforestation, and water.

Renewable Energy

India aims to raise the domestic renewable energy target to 500 GW by 2030, for which it invested Rs 1500 crores in the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency. This investment is envisioned to reduce the CO2 equivalent emission by approximately 7.49 million Tonnes of CO2/year.

At present, the Renewable Energy (RE) capacity stands at 150.54 GW (solar: 48.55 GW, wind: 40.03 GW, Small hydro Power: 4.83, Large Hydro: 46.51 GW, Bio-power: 10.62), while nuclear energy-based installed electricity capacity stands at 6.78 GW. To enhance the solar power production, the government launched the Production Linked Incentive Scheme, the Solar Park Scheme, and the Roof Top Solar Programme Phase-II with target capacities of 55 GW, 40 GW, and 40 GW, respectively. Another initiative, the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evamUtthanMahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM),aimsto de-dieselise and decarbonize the farm sector to generate income through solar power production of up to 30.8 GW.

India has also taken up the role of a global leader in matters of climate change. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is one such initiative conceived as a joint effort by India and France to mobilize efforts against climate change through the deployment of solar energy solutions. It aims to provide global energy access and security by mobilising USD 1,000 billion of investments in solar energy solutions by 2030, installing 1,000 GW of solar energy capacity, and delivering energy access to 1,000 million people.

India has the 4th largest wind power capacity globally with a current manufacturing base of about 12 GW per annum. The government has notified the Offshore Wind Energy Policy to harness offshore wind energy potential along India’s coastline in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

Several Bio-energy schemes are also being implemented, such as the ‘Programme on Energy from Urban, Industrial, and Agricultural Wastes/ Residues’, ‘Scheme to support the Promotion of Biomass-based cogeneration in sugar mills and other industries’, ‘Biogas Power (Off-Grid) Generation and Thermal application Programme (BPGTP)’, and the ‘New National Biogas and Organic Manure Programme (NNBOMP)’. The government has also proposed to co-fire 5-7% biomass pellets in thermal power plants, which would prevent stubble burning in agricultural fields and reduce an estimated 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually.

The government announced the target of 20 % ethanol (a plant-derived biofuel) blending in petrol by 2025, which would help in saving USD 4 billion foreign exchange per year in imports, enhancing energy security, lowering carbon emissions, improving air quality, promoting the use of damaged food grains and waste, increasing farmers’ incomes, and creating employment and investment opportunities.

The National Hydrogen Mission was released on India’s 75th Independence Day with the aim of making India a green hydrogen hub. Hydrogen and ammonia are predicted to be the fuels of the future, and the new Hydrogen initiative aims to produce green hydrogen and green ammonia by using solar electricity. It will help attain the target production of 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030.

The government also approved the Green Energy Corridor for laying the infrastructure for connecting electricity generated from renewables with the power grid. This scheme will help achieve the target of 450 GW installed renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Reducing Emissions

To curb vehicular emissions, India leapfrogged from BS-IV to BS-VI norms for fuel and vehicles with effect from April 2020. BS-VI reduces the NOx emission by 70% in diesel cars, 25% in petrol cars, and reduces particulate matter(PM) in vehicles by 80%. The Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) in 2019 MoEFCC in 132 cities to achieve up to a 30 % reduction in PM concentrations. A total of 96 cities showed a decreasing trend of PM10 concentration in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20. The number of cities within the prescribed National Ambient Air Quality Standard (PM10 less than 60 μg/m3) increased from 18 in 2019-20 to 27 in 2020-21.    

The government introduced the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India (FAME Scheme) – to promote electric vehicles in India, wherein it reduced the GST on such vehicles and removed the permit requirement to generate demand for such vehicles. The Indian Railways also intends to reduce 100 %of its carbon emissions by electrification of its network by December 2023, using three-phase technology for regenerative braking, “head-on generation” technology eliminating the need for separate diesel-fueled power cars, and use of renewable energy source. The government is also promoting transit-oriented development of cities and promoting the use of public transport.

Conservation of Forests and Water

India is the tenth-largest country by forest area in the world and ranked third globally in an annual average net gain in forest area between 2010 to 2020. The India State of Forest Report 2020-21 revealed that India's total forest cover was 7,13,789 sq. km in 2021, reflecting an increase of 3.14% over 2011. The gain in forest cover or improvement in forest canopy density can be attributed to better conservation measures, protection, afforestation activities, tree plantation drives, and agro-forestry. The MoEFCChas been allocated Rs 3030 crores for the National Mission for Green India, National Afforestation Programme, and pollution control.

To protect, conserve and rejuvenate the Ganga River Basin, the NamamiGange Mission was launched in 2015. The activities undertaken as part of the Mission rest upon four pillars –Nirmal Ganga (Unpolluted Flow), Aviral Flow(Continuous Flow), Jan Ganga (People-River Connect), and Gyan Ganga (Research and Knowledge Management).

Sustainable Agriculture

Climate change poses a considerable threat to sustainable agriculture, and hence there is a need to increase the resilience of this sector. Under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA),the government introduced some initiatives to make the agriculture sector climate-resilient and ecologically sustainable. The Rainfed Area Development (RAD) focuses on Integrated Farming System (IFS) for enhancing productivity and minimizing risks associated with climatic variability. In this, crops/cropping systems are integrated with activities like horticulture, livestock, fishery, agro-forestry, and apiculture to enable farmers to maximize farm returns and simultaneously mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events by providing alternate income opportunities from allied activities.Another initiative, National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), aims to enhance the resilience of Indian agriculture (covering crops, livestock, and fisheries) to climatic variability through the development and application of improved production and risk management technologies.The Sub-mission on Agroforestry aims to encourage and expand tree plantation in association with crops and livestock to improve the livelihoods of rural households, protect and stabilize ecosystems and promote resilient cropping and farming systems to minimize the risk during extreme climatic conditions and increase tree cover, especially in the vulnerable regions. It helped in emission reduction of 0.1318 MtCO2 in 2017-18 and 2018-19. The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) was implemented to popularize micro-irrigation systems thathelp save water, improve the quality and quantity of agricultural produce, and reduce the electricity consumption required for pumping water. Extensive research has been carried out ondeveloping eco-friendly flood/drought/water-limited/aerobic condition tolerant rice varieties, 250 climate-resilientwheat varieties, and other drought and heat tolerant crops for adaptation under vulnerable agro-ecologies.Other schemes such as the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) were implemented to promote chemical-free organic farming, and the National Bamboo Mission (NBM) aims to increase the area under bamboo plantations, thereby enhancing the carbon sequestration potential.

Infrastructure and Waste Management

Another global initiative of India, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), was launched at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019. It is an international coalition of countries, UN agencies, Banks, and private and public institutions. Through CDRI, the government intends to create resilient infrastructures which can help prevent disasters for many generations. CDRI's work on strengthening the resilience of power systems has already benefited communities in coastal India by reducing the duration of power disruption during cyclones. Its next phase can be scaled up to help over 130 million people exposed to tropical cyclones every year. CDRI's work on Resilient Airports is studying 150 airports worldwide to contribute to the resilience of global connectivity. At the COP26,India also launched the ‘Infrastructure for Resilient Island States’ to create solutions for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which face the full wrath of climate change. The ISRO will build a particular data window for such nations to provide them with timely information about cyclones, coral-reef monitoring, and coastline monitoring through satellites.

The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched in 2014 to eradicate open defecation and scientifically manage 100% of municipal solid waste. The mission helped provide 100% access to sanitation facilities in India and provided information about such facilities on google maps. The mission will now focus on complete liquid waste management and sustainable solid waste management. Great emphasis will be placed on source segregation, material recovery, and the setting up of waste processing facilities. The mission also aims to phase out single-use plastics, help cities achieve 3-star garbage-free certification, and improve the wellbeing of sanitation and waste workers by providing them with protective equipment, safety kits, and government welfare schemes.

Further, through the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT) for Smart Cities, the government has provided 4.14 crore water connections, 2.32 crore sewer connections, development of 6000 MLD of Sewage Treatment capacity, and 907 MLD capacity for recycling/reusing of treated used water.Through the green spaces projects, 5450 acres of permeable green spaces have been added, and 3700 water logging points have been eliminated. In its second phase, around 4,700 towns/citieswill be made ‘water secure’ by rejuvenating water bodies, better managing aquifers, reusing treated wastewater, and promoting a circular economy of water.

As a result of its continuous efforts, India’s score improved to 66 in 2020-21 from 60 in 2019-20 in NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index, 2021. Although the government is implementing all these measures, individuals must also contribute to environmental restoration by choosing environmentally compatible lifestyles and practices.

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