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Govt of India 'has no plan' to reduce energy, fossil fuel consumption, emissions

Counterview Desk
In his representation to the secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Government of India on draft National Resource Efficiency Policy (NREP), 2019, top power policy analyst Shankar Sharma has insisted that there is imminent need to consider the economic activities at the national/international level very carefully from the perspective of climate change.
Based in Vijayanagar, Sagara, Karnataka, Sharma believes, the greed for economic growth is unlikely top stop after five years, and yet "the concerned authorities have no plan to reduce the total energy consumption, absolute power capacity of fossil fuels, total related emissions, the import dependence on fossil fuels even by 2040".

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The preamble to the draft 'National Resource Efficiency Policy' (NREP), 2019, of paramount importance in any related discussions, says:
"Driven by rapid economic and population growth, the demand for natural resources, especially materials have grown manifold over the last few decades. In the endeavor for economic growth, natural resources have been largely indiscriminately exploited, adversely impacting the environment and biodiversity. 
"Further, cross linkages between resource use, climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss has been scientifically well established. Meeting the demand for products and services, of rising population with increased aspirations has led to mostly indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and would further lead to increased pressure on resources resulting in environmental degradation, thereby raising sustainability concerns.
"India, as one of the fastest growing economies with GDP at 2.6 trillion USD, has increased its material consumption to six times, from 1.18 billion tonnes in 1970 to 7 billion tonnes in 2015, however this economic growth has been coupled with inherent cost on natural environment. The material consumption is projected to more than double by 2030, in order to provide for increasing population, rapid urbanization and growing aspirations. 
The projected pace of economic development is going to put pressure on already stressed and limited resources and may lead to serious resource depletion and environment degradation affecting the economy, livelihoods and the quality of life. "Further, material use is also closely associated with the problem of increasing wastes, which when suitably processed could deliver valuable secondary resources.
On the current status, the draft lists many concerns: “ High import dependency of many critical raw materials; 30% of land undergoing degradation: Highest water withdrawal globally for agriculture; 3rd highest CO2 emitter, responsible for 6.9% of global CO2 emissions; Much lower recycling rate at 20-25% vis-à-vis of as high as 70% in developed countries (Europe); Low material productivity compared to global average; 3 rd largest material demand (year 2010); Resource extraction of 1,580 tonnes/acre is much higher than the world average of 450 tonnes/acre .”

Please consider the following comments:
1. Whereas it is not very often that our national policies have focused on efficiency and hence it is a good policy initiative to focus on efficiency of usage of the natural resources, it is even more important that the entire society should focus on the limits imposed by the nature on various resources. Hence, the policy should also diligently consider such natural limits.
2. The policy has correctly highlighted the unsustainable levels of demand on the natural resources as at present, and the need to rein in the same to an acceptable level.
3. Whereas adequate focus on the efficiency in usage and recycling will reduce the overall demand by some percentage points, and hence necessary, what is critical is to minimize the overall demand not only on materials, but also on the demand for water, sand and other constructions materials, forest produces, the energy and the way we are making use of the land as a resource.
4. As mentioned in the preamble: “India’s GDP at 2.6 trillion USD, has increased its material consumption to six times, from 1.18 billion tonnes in 1970 to 7 billion tonnes in 2015.” With the plan to take India to a $5 Trillion economy by 2024 the material consumption will again double in the next 5 years. In this scenario the efficiency alone, even if it is at the global best practice level, will not be able to cater to the additional demand. In this five year period the nation may be able to achieve about 5 to 10% efficiency increase. Assuming that the remaining 90% of the additional demand for materials has to be catered to through the fresh extraction from the nature, the pressure on the nature, which is already at an alarming level, as is mentioned in the preamble: “the resource extraction of 1,580 tonnes/acre is more than three times higher than the world average of 450 tonnes/acre), will be pushed to its limits." Even if we assume that adequate focus on efficiency can reduce the demand for additional materials in this period by 20-30%, there will be 70 to 80% more demand on the nature in about five years. Will this be acceptable and/or sustainable?
5. There is no indication that our aspiration (or is it sheer greed?) for economic growth will stop after five years. The next govt. may seek to make India a $10 trillion economy by 2030 or $15 Trillion economy by 2035. Can our limited land and natural resources support such a growth? In such a scenario, the natural resources in our country are most likely to reach a point of no return.
6. Whereas, the focus in this draft policy document is on materials such as metals and chemicals, there is a primary need to consider the other limits such as the availability of land, water, energy; the pollution of air, water and soil; forced displacement of communities to allow for setting up new infrastructure/economic activity; and the overall community health impacts etc.
7. As on 2019, there is the imminent need to consider the economic activities at the national/international level very carefully from the perspective of climate change. Even with a vastly improved efficiency in the usage of materials, land, water and energy (even if more than that envisaged in this draft policy document), there will be enormous increase in the pollution and contamination of air, water and soil, and closely linked to vast increase in the total GHG emissions. Hence, as a long term national policy document, this draft must look beyond efficiency of materials alone.
8. India’s Nationally Determined Contribution to UNFCCC (2015) has two main parameters:
  • To reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level.
  • 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from nonfossil fuel based energy resources by 2030
This intention only aims at reducing the emissions intensity, but what is needed is GHG emission reduction in absolute terms. IPCC recommends that the global GHG emissions to the atmosphere should become net zero by 2050. In case of India, if it only reduces the emissions intensity, but continue to increase various economic activities involving GHG emissions, the total GHG emission by 2040/50 will see a massive increase.
There is no indication that our aspiration (or is it sheer greed?) for economic growth will stop after five years
Similarly, India’s INDC aims to have only 40% of its electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030; which means there will be 60% of fossil fuel capacity. When we also keep in view that the total electric power installed capacity in the country is expected to get doubled by 2030, the enormous potential to add to the total GHG emissions by 2030 should also become crystal clear.
9. The proposals contained in the draft National Energy Policy (NEP, 2017) also have huge relevance in this regard. The salient points are:
  • Share of non-fossil fuel based capacity in electricity: 57% - 66%
  • Per capita energy demand: 503 kgoe/capita in 2012 to 1055-1184 kgoe/capita in 2040.
  • Energy related Emissions per capita: 1.2 tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent/capita in 2012 to 2.7-3.5 tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent/capita in 2040.
  • Per capita electricity consumption: 887 kWh in 2012 to 2911-2924 kWh in 2040
  • Overall Import dependence (including non-commercial energy): 31% in 2012 to 36%-55% in 2040.
  • Reduction in emissions intensity: 45%-53% by 2030 from 2005 levels 
It is clear from the draft NEP that the concerned authorities have no plan to reduce the total energy consumption, absolute power capacity of fossil fuels, total related emissions, the import dependence on fossil fuels even by 2040. All these projections will only go to indicate that the demand on our natural resources will go up massively, and the associated pollution loading on air, water and soil can become unmanageable.
10. As per ICRIER Working Paper No 305 ("Low carbon pathways" by Himanshu Gupta) the social and environmental consequences of GDP growth at CAGR of 7.4% between 2012 and 2047 are projected as follows: Per capita transport demand (pkm) increasing from 5.970 to 18,132; Per capita steel use (kg) increasing from 66 to 372; Per capita building space - residential (m2) increasing from 10.8 to 39; Per capita building space-commercial (m2) increasing from 0.6 to 5.9; total energy demand (MToE) increasing from 400 to 1800.  
These projections indicate that more than 90% of steel needed by 2047 is yet to be produced and more than 80% of our residential building stock is yet to be constructed giving us a window of opportunity to make informed choices now. For a growing population, if we do not take necessary measures, these projections will put unmanageable pressure on our natural resources including the pollution loading on land, water and air. A simple deduction should be that we cannot continue in a business as usual scenario, and that we have to take studied steps to make our economy much more resilient by sustainable practices.
11. All the above mentioned projections for the increased demand on materials and natural resources clearly indicate that the total material and energy demand/consumption for the country by 2040/50 will be massive as compared to what it is now. In order to meet this massive demand/consumption, the proposed efficiency measures may provide 20-30 %, but the remaining 70 to 80% additional demand will have to come from fresh extraction/import.
12. Such an eventuality by 2040/50 shall basically mean that there will be unmanageable demand on our natural resources with the consequences of massive pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil. Hence, the efficiency improvement measures alone will not be able to prevent the unsustainable pressure on the natural resources.
13. Because of such a scenario one of the guidelines of NREP, 2019, which is the reduction in primary resource consumption to ‘sustainable’ levels, in keeping with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and staying within the planetary boundaries, will not be met.
14. Hence, NREP should have the primary focus of reducing the overall primary resource consumption to sustainable levels by the end of each decade such as 2030, 2040 and 2050, and the additional focus should be to bring down the pollution/contamination of air, water and soil to a healthy level.
15. Such an objective cannot be achieved unless NREP discusses diligently the consequences of High GDP growth rate paradigm for a populous but resource constrained country, as has been pursued by the successive governments during the last 2 or 3 decades.
16. The recent past history of high GDP growth rate: The country has been recording high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate for more than 20 years. Since 1996 onwards the country has logged a high average GDP growth of more than 6% till 2005, and more than 7% since 2006 onward. Such a high growth year after year can lead to the multiplication of the size of our economy in a short duration. Whereas a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% of GDP will take about 40 years to increase the size of our economy by 4 times, 8% CAGR of GDP will take only 22 years. 
There is an urgent need for our society to carefully deliberate on the consequences of a high GDP growth rate year after year by taking a holistic view of the impacts on natural resources from a long term perspective and the overall health implications for the entire society. Such an impassioned analysis of what is required for the overall welfare of our communities will be able to provide the correct and sustainable developmental pathway for the country. The efficiency improvement measures implemented with such an overarching approach will serve the society well.
In summary, there is a need for NREP to objectively consider various other related policies, the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the 3 Acts on environment, the relevant global reports such as IPCC, a diligent look at the constraints of the society, and what is needed for the sustainable development of the society. Without considering all these aspects of our society in an objective sense, coming up with a policy on efficiency in isolation will not live upto the real objective.
At a time when the country is facing very many challenges such as the fast depleting natural resources (less than 20% forest and tree cover against the national forest policy target of 33%, pollution concerns on air, water and soil, alarming levels of ground water table etc.), huge population base, unmet basic demands of a large section of the society etc. the NREP can play an important role if it takes a holistic approach to the resources need of the country on a sustainable basis, instead of looking at the efficiency of usage alone.

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