By demonstrating cleantech’s potential to catalyse climate action and forging international partnerships around technological innovation, India is advancing the COP agenda.
This piece is part of the series, Common But Differentiated Responsibility: Finding Direction In COP27
COP27 got off to a sobering start in Sharm el-Sheikh with the release of the WMO Provisional State of the Global Climate 2022 report. Its findings are disturbing. The global mean temperature in 2022 is 1.15 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial (1850-1900) average, and the eight years from 2015-22 are likely to be the warmest ever on record. The past two-and-half years alone account for 10 percent of the overall rise in sea levels since satellite measurements began nearly 30 years ago. Moreover, atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are now at record levels.
The COP27 lists the promise of clean technologies and innovation among its core focus areas, ensuring continuity with the Glasgow Climate Pact (2021) that had emphasised ‘technology development and transfer for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation action.
The imperative to reach net zero has never been greater. The Egyptian COP27 presidency has defined the summit’s key goals as mitigation, adaptation, finance, and collaboration. Technological solutions need to underpin the first and second goals, and to stem directly from the third and fourth. Indeed, the COP27 lists the promise of clean technologies and innovation among its core focus areas, ensuring continuity with the Glasgow Climate Pact (2021) that had emphasised ‘technology development and transfer for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation action, including accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation’. Going forward, efforts to evolve and mainstream cleantech and green tech must be spurred, and the principle of ‘cooperative action’ promoted vigorously.
India: Adoption of cleantech
India set itself bold climate action targets at COP26. Prime Minister Modi’s historic five-point agenda or ‘Panchamrit’ (five elixirs) consists of achieving net-zero emissions by 2070; attaining the near-term goals of building 500 GW of non-fossil electricity capacity; meeting 50 percent of energy requirements from renewables; reducing 1 billion tonnes of emissions; and reducing the emissions intensity of India’s GDP by 45 percent by 2030. Most immediately, the Indian government aims to establish 175 GW of renewable energy (RE) capacity by 2022. These green commitments provide the framework currently guiding the country’s climate actions, including its strategic use of clean technology.
Cleantech refers to a range of products or services that alleviate the harmful environmental impacts of other products or processes by improving energy efficiency, using resources sustainably, and eliminating or purifying emissions and waste materials. It could, therefore, encompass a broad spectrum of technologies with respect to the production of RE, electric vehicles, green construction, lighting, and other domains.
India’s push for cleantech is very visible. The Indian RE sector is currently the fourth most attractive RE market in the world, ranking fourth in terms of wind power, fifth in solar power, and fourth for the overall installed capacity of renewable power. According to a 2021 study, the total value of acquisitions in India’s RE sector grew by more than 300 percent, reaching US $6 billion in the first 10 months of 2021, from a value of less than US $1.5 billion in 2020.
Cleantech refers to a range of products or services that alleviate the harmful environmental impacts of other products or processes by improving energy efficiency, using resources sustainably, and eliminating or purifying emissions and waste materials.
Proactive measures are being taken to incentivise and drive the growth of India’s cleantech ecosystem. These include waivers for startups, permits for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of up to 100 percent under the Automatic Route, and the establishment of specialised incubators and project development cells, leading to a boom in cleantech startups and innovations. Besides, with RE production efforts increasingly becoming more economically viable, there has been a pronounced growth in investor and philanthropic interests with larger numbers of cleantech startups being able to raise venture capital. For instance, in October 2022 alone, Hygenco—a startup that ‘offers green-hydrogen and green-ammonia-enabled industry solutions’—raised nearly US $25 million; and SolarSquare a business-to-consumer rooftop solar startup raised around US $12.5 million.
Developing the electric vehicle (EV) sector and accelerating the transition to electric mobility form another key plank of India’s efforts to leverage tech in the war against emissions. The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020 aims to boost research and development (R&D) for hybrid and electric vehicle (xEV) technologies; strengthen the country’s xEV manufacturing, support and operations ecosystem; create demand for xEVs; and educate citizens about the benefits of xEVs. Thus far, the adoption of EVs in India has been slow, but as the execution of the NEMMP progresses, there is every indication that this will change. Much like the RE sector, the EV industry, too, is witnessing rapid investment and innovation—around US $6 billion was invested in 2021, which could rise to US $20 billion by 2030. Forecasts predict that EVs might account for around 40 percent of the Indian automobile industry by 2026, putting the country well on track to achieve a 1-gigatonne reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
Clean technologies are increasingly shaping a host of other spaces as well. The Indian Railways, for example, is working frenetically to become the world’s largest ‘green railway’—i.e. reaching net zero—by 2030. Towards this end, it has launched a series of initiatives that include electrifying its entire network, using solar and wind power to meet its energy requirements, and fitting coaches with bio-toilets. The country’s gargantuan LED bulb campaign is reducing emissions by 40 million tonnes a year. And a recent analysis of India’s certified built environment shows a marked push towards green buildings—the period 2017-21 saw a 37-percent increase in the supply of green certified buildings over the previous five years (2012-16).
India’s ambitious green commitments are particularly extraordinary as its annual per capita carbon footprint is well below 2 tonnes—which is about a fourth of China’s, one-eighth of that of the United States, and less than one-third of the global average.
By demonstrating the potential of cleantech to catalyse climate action, and forging international partnerships around technological innovation,[i] India is already advancing the COP agenda. India’s climate actions will be a point of focus not just at COP27 but also during its upcoming G20 presidency. India’s ambitious green commitments are particularly extraordinary as its annual per capita carbon footprint is well below 2 tonnes—which is about a fourth of China’s, one-eighth of that of the United States, and less than one-third of the global average. This places India in a unique position of moral leadership as it champions the cause of climate justice for the Global South.
As India works steadily towards the Panchamrit outlined by Prime Minister Modi, it is important that the government’s strategic investments in technology R&D are boosted; focused efforts are made to match R&D with areas of climate action where scientific breakthroughs are needed the most; and the private sector brought on board as an essential partner to help identify technical challenges, prototype new technologies, offer market insights, co-invest in tech projects, and ultimately help commercialise technology.
Concomitantly, the demand for innovation will need to be accelerated too. India’s central and state governments could increasingly prioritise and promote buying green products, creating certainty among suppliers, reducing costs and risks, and driving more emerging technologies into the market. Cleantech companies must be incentivised further, and could also be supported by helping build the physical infrastructure—including pipelines, transmission lines, and charging points for EVs—that could deliver new tech to the market.
Finally, as Bill Gates points out, ‘Markets, technology and policy are like three levers that we need to pull in order to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. We need to pull all three of them at the same time and in the same direction.’[ii] India must ensure that its climate policies and technologies are complementary, symbiotic, and mutually reinforcing on the one hand, and that markets for technology are built in tandem that can spark innovation, build confidence among tech investors and suppliers, and induce adoption.
[i] For instance, India and France jointly launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA) at the COP21 in 2015. Heads of around 120 nations affirmed their participation in the Alliance to help promote solar energy. More recently, at the COP26 in 2021, India and the UK announced the launch of the One Sun One World One Grid programme under the aegis of the ISA, to develop a worldwide green grid through which clean energy could be transmitted anywhere, anytime.
[ii] Bill Gates, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (London: Allen Lane, 2021)
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