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Net zero emission in India? Why reduction in demand for materials, energy is critical

By Shankar Sharma* 

This has reference to an article “Net zero: Why India, the poorest of super-emitters, will need a different path to net-zero” on the issue of net zero target for India. Rational observers may deem that articles such as this one, can be excused to have missed a few very critical issues, in their eagerness to focus only on the issues of high profile but of lower controversy, such as meeting the ever growing demand for different kinds of energy applications.
However, there is a critical need for everyone of the concerned authorities to deliberate on and address urgently some of the fundamental aspects of our community life in India.
The ever increasing demand for materials and energy, at the global level, has led to the accelerating depletion of our natural resources, which is the primary cause of climate change. So, it becomes obvious that the reduction of the overall demand for materials and energy to a level where they can be sustainably harnessed from nature, has become critically important.
Have we focused on reducing such a demand for materials and energy; at least since 2010? The global level statistics have indicated that there are no such reductions even in some remote corners of the globe.
Have we done all that is feasible to make the entire energy sector highly efficient? It seems so easy to state that we have failed miserably on this count, and we do not seem to care much about the same either, even in 2022. In many energy segments, such as electricity distribution and petrol/diesel engines, the overall efficiency can be said to among the lowest in the world.
As early as 2005 it has been stated that our electricity sector is a leaking bucket (as in national electricity policy); without plugging many such leaky buckets, our successive governments are throwing substantial amount of our meager resources in building more more energy sources (such as power plants, and procuring petroleum products).
Have we done all that is feasible to make the entire energy sector equitable? It can hardly be seen as equitable when we see the evidence of a massive increase in per capita energy consumption of many sections (say between 1980 and 2020), while few sections remain without access to commercial forms of energy even after 75 years of independence.
For example, if our society had done all that was feasible to dedicate just 50% of the additional electricity/energy generated in the country since 2000 to provide lifeline electricity/energy to those who have had no access to commercial forms of energy, we would have achieved a lot more equitable society, and there would not have been a need to find so many official and unsubstantiated reasons to build more and more of power plants, which are of humongous costs to the entire society; but more so for such people.
Have we done all that was feasible to adequately protect the critical elements of nature: rivers, forests, agricultural and grazing lands, fishing grounds etc.? Good health of these elements would have reduced considerable pressure on energy resources, and also led to much less emission of GHGs.
What is the sanctity of various policies such as the national forest policy, which was adopted in 1988, and since when the goal of maintaining at least 33% of our land area covered with forest and trees is going away farther and farther (it is less than 23% as of now)?
 In our obsession with the ill-conceived policies on mining, tourism, roads, railways, airports, polluting industries, commercial enterprises etc., we have not only massively reduced the carbon sequestration potential of these natural elements, but also driven the vulnerable sections of our society to destitution, which in turn have made them incapable of paying for commercial forms of energy.
Has there been a diligent analysis and consultations at the national level of the deleterious consequences and the unsustainable nature of the high GDP growth paradigm, which has been blindly followed by successive governments since 1990s?
Most aspects of our society which are contributing to the high levels of GHG emissions at the country level can be easily associated with such an ill-conceived economic policy pursued since decades without effective review, and which has only further degraded the quality of life for a substantial percentage of vulnerable families since the beginning of this century.
Without satisfactorily addressing such basic issues which have been impacting our natural resources since decades, and which have vastly reduced an already poor quality of life for the vulnerable sections of our country, even if it is theoretically feasible to realize the net zero target of 2070, it will be too little and too late, because by that time most of the elements of nature would have reached point of no return by then.
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*Power and climate policy analyst based in Sagara, Karnataka

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