Lacking, a will to control emissions

Lacking, a will to control emissions

China offered to cut its carbon intensity — the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product — by 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. This followed the US proposal to reduce its emissions by 17 per cent below the 2005 levels by 2020.

Not willing to be labelled an international pariah in this game, India also followed suit. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced that India would consider reducing its carbon intensity by 20 to 25 per cent. What does this entail for us?

Reducing carbon intensity will involve an attack on two fronts: a) reducing the energy intensity of products, processes and systems; b) switching to non-GHG emitting processes and products such as solar power and electric vehicles.

This is easier said than done. Why? For the simple reason that the existing economic stratification of our society has the bulk of the population in the poor to lower middle class who can afford only the cheapest means of existence. This, in turn, makes it difficult to introduce new, energy efficient or non-GHG emitting technologies which are expensive.

Firm stand

It is well-known that a CFL lamp is much more energy efficient than an incandescent bulb. Yet, the latter continues to be popular because its price is a fraction that of the CFL lamp. In such circumstances, can the Indian government, as the Australian government did a few years ago, down the shutters of those making incandescent bulbs?

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency has an ongoing scheme of labelling household devices, based on their energy efficiency. This is to ostensibly encourage buyers to go in for the higher efficiency gadgets. Unfortunately, what happens is that the industry charges higher prices for efficient devices, thereby putting off the general Indian buyer who is swayed more by the price than the running cost.

There is the alternative of banning the production of items below a certain energy efficiency threshold. But here the government comes up against a vast army of small scale manufacturers who are producing the stuff, who do not have the wherewithal in terms of finance and expertise to switch to making better products. Closing them down will result in an explosion of unemployment which no political party will countenance.

Continuation of the use of old equipment is antithetical to energy efficiency, but where is the political will to scrap old vehicles? Often, it is the system in place which discourages people from adopting more energy efficient technologies. For example, fleet owners are not so enthusiastic about switching over to new technology trucks offering better fuel economy because of high prices. Now, if the subsidy on diesel is lifted, the cost-benefit calculations may change that equation.

About one-third of our energy consumption is accounted for by the  transport sector. Any decrease in specific energy consumed per  tonne-kilometre or passenger-kilometre would be a big gain in the fight to lower carbon intensity. But for this to happen we have to change the rules of the game to favour mass transport.

Whether it be in industry or commerce, trade or services, the practices and technologies to improve India’s present carbon intensity are well-known. But tremendous political will is required to implement them. Considering the parlous state of our politics and the fractured mandates all over the place, such a will seems doubtful.