Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India on the country's 75th Independence Day, announced to make India an Energy Independent nation by 2047, 100 years of independence. The set target has multiple action line items such as gas-based economy, a network of Compressed Natural Gas, and Piped Natural Gas, and doping ethanol in petrol blending to make the country a hub for hydrogen production.
The Prime Minister also highlighted the completion of Indian Railways to be 100 per cent electrification with a target of becoming Net Zero Carbon Emitter by 2030. The Independence Day speech also stated the country's equal emphasis on environmental security and national security in biodiversity, land neutrality, climate change, waste recycling, and organic farming.
The article simplifies what this means to a corporate operating in India and what Action it can take to collectively contribute to the ambitious target. One needs to pay attention to specific climate patterns as the country is witnessing unpredictable upheaval in weather patterns and environmental factors, including scattered seasonal rainfall, flooding, droughts, and landslides. The government of India's assessment report, Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region, states that the frequency and intensity of droughts have increased significantly between 1951 and 2016 and warned that heatwaves would intensify by four-folds by the end of the century. The country's average temperature has already increased by around 0.7 degrees Celsius during the 1901–2018 period due to greenhouse gas emissions and rise by approximately 4.4 degrees Celsius by the end of 2100.
The Global Climate Risk Index 2021 reported that India, a second-most populous country globally, was the seventh most affected country in 2019 by the devastating impact of climate change. India is the world's third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the United States and China. Some studies claim climate-related factors could cause India's GDP to decline by up to 9% and contribute to the shifting and fall of production of major crops such as rice by 40%. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that rising sea levels will submerge 12 coastal cities by the end of the century.
A country like India has reasons to be concerned about the impacts of climate change as a large population depends on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture and forestry for livelihoods. India's geography is highly diverse, mimicking a subcontinent, comprises the Himalayan mountain range, coastal plains, and the Great Peninsular Plateau. Therefore, adapting to a narrow and single priority will not work to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The government has listed priority sectors such as energy management, solar energy, ecosystem preservation, sustainable agriculture, and others. It is a collective effort of the government, private players, and individual citizens.
India has one of the largest youth populations globally, with more than 50% of the population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35 with an average age of 29 years. It is a dividend that can be harnessed smartly for the cause of climate change. The first and foremost is to introduce climate change and positive Action as a school curriculum. It is yet another way of engaging minds at a young age and apply one of the Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in the Constitution of India in the protection and improvement of the environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife of the country.
India is a diverse country with 75 per cent still lives in rural areas on small farms with limited or no access to electricity. Similarly, a large portion, 70 per cent of the Indian population, still use cooking stoves that burn on firewood and dung, contributing to greenhouse gas pollution. These are neither energy-efficient nor healthy for Indian home settings, especially for girls and women who manage the kitchen. Multiple initiatives can offset greenhouse gas emissions with minor iterations and provide alternatives to farm practices, traditional lighting, and cooking. These include recommendation of climate resistance farming practices such as alternate and low water-intensive crops, promotion of sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices; harnessing solar-powered home and community lighting and water pumping; installation community and home-based biogas units to power stoves, replace conventional wood and dung burning stoves with more efficient ones. Afforestation and agroforestry in rural areas, mangroves for coastal belts, and flood adaptation practices in hilly terrains are other prominent Carbon neutrality initiatives. The other industries that benefit households are the distribution of energy devices based on solar and the provision of drinking water.
The Indian companies and, more so, global corporations have a massive role in these climate actions. They can augment their commitments by pledging and investing in carbon neutrality initiatives to become carbon neutral by 2040, 2030, or much earlier. The strategic investment in climate action helps in Creating Shared Value for the corporate. As many corporations have signed up with the UN Global Compact, funding and investment in such carbon neutrality initiatives advance corporate sustainability, meeting fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption. It also reiterates and reinforces a principles-based approach to doing business among stakeholders.
The above initiatives augment India's Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana scheme that envisages smoke-free Rural India by providing concessional LPG connections to reduce health disorders, air pollution, and deforestation. These carbon neutrality investments certainly boost India's ambitious goal of an 'Energy Independent' nation by 2047, 100 years of independence. Collective Affirmative Action means achievement by 2037, a decade ahead of the planned target.
(The Author is Director-CSR, CGI Asia Pacific Global Delivery Centers of Excellence, and views do not reflect official position)