Policy-making has to be focused, not episodic
Now that it is reasonably clear the rich countries are not going to bear responsibility for gobbling up the carbon space for developing economies, it is important for countries like India to chart out an independent future. Certainly, there must be a continuous diplomatic effort to get the rich to help finance climate-change-mitigation and to freely license new technology. But, starting now, Indian policy-making needs to be more sharply focused on reducing the energy-intensity of GDP and not remain as episodic as it is right now. Delhi’s diesel dilemma, and the furore over whether new diesel cars/SUVs should be banned, is the direct result of the central government doling out more and more diesel subsidies over the years—from R12,600 crore in FY06, these rose to R92,000 crore in FY13 across the country—and not paying any attention to special bus lanes to increase the speed of buses or to reduce the high taxation on them.
At the national level, heavy passenger subsidy in the railways resulted in this being cross-subsidised by charging too much on freight which, over the years, shifted to road where the energy consumption is more than 10 times higher—ironically, with passenger services also deteriorating, the railways share in even this fell. According to a Planning Commission study last year, transport emissions are set to rise from 441 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020 to 820 in 2030, but this can be cut to 752 if the share of rail in passenger and freight traffic rises to 25% and 50%—it is 14% and 40% respectively, today—and 75% of road traffic is moved by buses. Which means, subsidy removal has to have top priority—the government can boast of putting a carbon tax by raising duties on petrol/diesel when oil prices are falling, but it is obvious that this will go if prices start rising. Not charging right prices for either water or the sewage it generates, similarly, is only going to increase the energy consumption in this area; ditto for the agriculture policy that encourages excessive use of water and electricity for growing the wrong crops in the wrong areas.
If greater use of gas is to be encouraged, the policy on pricing cannot be what it is today since that discourages exploration, and there is no question of being able to reach the target of increasing nuclear energy 11 times if the compensation law is not fixed. Since much of urban India still remains to be built, new cities need to be designed to reduce the distance people travel to work as transport is a very big emitter of CO2 and attention has to be focused on new innovation to reduce heating/cooling costs—according to Rohan Parikh who headed green initiatives for Infosys, 40% of the world’s energy is used in buildings and 40% of this is used up in cooling/heating, so a 30% cut in this can lead to a 5% fall in energy usage; Parikh’s work in Infosys not only cut energy usage 30%, his ‘radiant cooling’ solution had a negative payback period since it required less AC plants and less power backup. The power ministry has done a great job in helping dramatically lower prices of LED bulbs and the policy on allowing old power plants to be replaced by new ultra-mega power plants will help raise energy efficiency, but as a general rule, policy-making across the government remains episodic—it needs to be made more consistent.