How India Can Fulfill its COP26 Pledge

On 1st November 2021, Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi made a very bold statement in COP26 meeting in Glasgow when he pledged that by 2070 India will become a carbon-neutral nation. This is a very powerful statement and if followed to its logical end can create a very advanced Indian industrial society and a sustainable and livable planet.

This bold statement reminded me of the pledge that President Kennedy made to the Americans in 1962 when he said that before the decade is out, U.S. will send a man to the moon and bring him back safely.

The difference in these two statements was that except for President Kennedy who was shot dead in 1963, most of the people who listened to him that day and participated in the moon landing were still alive and well in 1969. On the other hand, all the leaders, who spoke in COP26 will be dead and gone by 2070. Thus, unless they all set in motion a concerted effort and produce a doable road map, all these talks will remain empty promises and hot air that politicians love to deliver!

The audacious goal that President Kennedy gave in 1962 to the US had no precedence since very little knowledge and technology for sending the man to the moon existed at that time. Yet the Government of the USA set in motion the creation of a huge industry and manpower base to take up this challenge. Most of the people who worked on this goal, and I had the privilege of knowing one of them (my Ph.D. professor Erich Farber) were driven by the sense of patriotism, pride, and desire to conquer space - the next frontier.

Thus, massive amounts of funding were made available to the southern and other mainstream universities to train and develop engineers and technicians for space applications. Also, the scientific and academic community rose to the challenge by creating new engineering programmes for space exploration.

Thus, the whole NASA program was set up, heavily funded, and designed to send the man to the moon and get him back safely. All the people who worked in this program did it for the pride for the country and were fired with a missionary zeal.

I feel this is the type of program needed in India together with the missionary zeal of scientists, bureaucrats, decision makers to convert the bold statement of the PM into reality. Naturally it requires a tremendous effort on the part of the present Indian leadership to inspire Indians to do it.

Whether they can do it only time will tell.

Possible solutions

(a) Reducing per capita energy consumption

No amount of renewable energy technologies and systems will help the world or India if we continue on the present path of consuming greedily huge quantity of resources and energy which fuel the consumptive and wasteful lifestyle. There is a tremendous chasm between the rich and the poor in the country. The wealth of India’s richest 1% is more than 4 times that of 70% of its population!  The rich need to learn to live sustainably and not in an ever increasing mode of luxury and consumption. 

It is possible to live in an emotionally satisfying and sustainable manner with much less energy than the Americans and Europeans consume. It is a doable goal. Once we reduce our energy consumption then the carbon footprint will automatically reduce.

(b) Extensive efforts needed in R&D and manpower development 

India has a woefully inadequate R&D budget.  It is ~ 0.7% of GDP whereas countries with equivalent and even smaller economics spend 14% of GDP on R&D. At the same time the quality of engineering education in India is poor. So we produce engineers and technicians who are only proficient in passing exams and nothing else.

The Government of India therefore needs to set in motion a massive program of not only improving the engineering education but also in creating an eco-system for creating great teachers. The quality of teachers in most engineering colleges and Institutes is presently inferior. 

(c) Biomass energy for electricity production

To become truly carbon- neutral, it is necessary that whatever CO2 we generate should be fixed continuously. This can happen when we produce electricity and energy from biomass since it recycles CO2. At our Institute, NARI, we have done work on Subabul (Leucaena leucocephala) which produces fodder (its leaves are excellent fodder); fuel (the wood from its stem) and fertilizer (its roots fix nitrogen in soil).  Similar multipurpose trees should form the backbone of biomass energy production and utilization strategies.

Biomass should be complemented by carbon-neutral sources like nuclear, wind, solar etc. The main thing is that a mix of energy alternatives will be needed. No single source will be sufficient.             
Way forward

Fifty years is a long time to plan and though so many things are unknown, yet nothing is impossible. We Indians are the same people who do wonderfully well when we go to the US and Europe.  So, we are competent enough to work towards carbon-neutral India, provided there is a sense of purpose which is inspired by the existing leadership.  Lot of CO2 mitigation technologies exist presently but once the program progresses and accelerates large number of out- of- box solutions will be developed.

The biggest challenge, nevertheless, is how to make the rich reduce their consumptive lifestyle. Once a person is used to the opulent lifestyle it becomes difficult for them to give it up. Yet Mahatma Gandhi with his powerful thought and example inspired the rich not only to reduce their lavish lifestyle but also help in financing the Independence movement. We cannot wait for another Gandhi to be born. What is needed is that all the like-minded people should use the social media extensively to shame them and specially the mass media which glorifies them. 

Becoming carbon-neutral by 2070 will not only help the world but will also make India into a new industrial power because developing renewable energy technologies on that scale can only be done by a very advanced industrial society.

One of the things that we need to do is not to ape the Chinese or the American model which is based on excessive greed but to develop the technologies and systems keeping our own ethos in mind. Our mantra of development should therefore be “Use of high and efficient technology guided by the wisdom of spirituality”.



More by :  Dr. Anil Rajvanshi

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