OPINION: Priorities for building an energy-efficient Indian economy

OPINION: Priorities for building an energy-efficient Indian economy
Representative image (BCCL)
Temperatures in several parts of India, specifically the northern region, will likely exceed survival standards for healthy humans by 2050. A McKinsey report published in 2020 highlights that several significant Indian cities could quickly breach the wet-bulb 34°C-35°C temperature by the next decade. It is critical to analyse how living and working in India could be affected by the potential of exposure to extremely high temperatures, lethal heat waves, and humidity, as well as what that might mean for the working class and the country's economy.
The middle and lower classes of society, who depend on heat-exposed labour to make ends meet, are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of rising temperatures. Without sufficient adaptive measures, the effective number of lost outdoor working hours will rise by about 15%, posing a 2.5–4.5%, or $150–250 billion risk to Indian GDP by 2030.

A fundamental approach to climate change

Earth's average surface temperature has increased by 1°C since the late 19th century, primarily due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions and other human activities. Therefore, the necessity of addressing the climate change issue was emphasised by world leaders during the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021 (COP26). More than 120 world leaders and 40,000 attendees attended the COP26 hosted in Glasgow in November 2021.
Two weeks of deliberation on science, solutions, political will, and actionable steps to address the climate crisis acknowledged that to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions must decrease by 40% by 2030.
At the COP26 Summit, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered a five-fold strategy for India to play its part. PM Modi pledged that India will cut its economy's carbon intensity by less than 45% by 2030 and will reach its goal of being Net-Zero by 2070. The proclamation dubbed 'Panchamrit', which means five nectar elements, represents the five key commitments by the nation on the world stage.
India also promised to have 500 GW of non-fossil energy capacity and will source half of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030. The PM also claimed that India will cut its anticipated carbon emissions by a total of one billion tonnes by 2030. Through the Panchamrit proclamation, the nation promised to lead the world in driving measures toward a sustainable future.

Carbon-neutrality: a smart energy practice

It is globally acknowledged that the private sector must significantly contribute to the sustainability mission. Several companies have already made net zero commitments and are deploying technology, business models, capital and financing to tackle the tremendous challenge posed by climate change. The energy sector will be a dynamic contributor to this transformation toward a climate-resilient and energy-secure India. It can make it one of the most attractive markets for the best available technologies that support this transformation.
The energy sector has been proactively developing into a leading force for holistic and integrated strategies to address the nation's most difficult challenges at the intersection of energy poverty, energy access and climate change. The Triple Sector Approach (involving communities, companies, and government) has been promoted through data-driven and evidence-based policy support to catalyse climate action through engagement with business, government, academia, and CSOs to unleash innovation and entrepreneurship. Using their own and other accessible energy-efficient, low-carbon, and net-zero enabling technologies, the energy sector is obligated to help achieve 100 GWs of energy savings in support of the Panchamrit proclamation announced at COP26 by 2030.

Leaving a greener footprint

The key to decarbonisation is extensive and responsible energy-efficient improvements as we transition to a climate-resilient and energy-secure future. The IEA Sustainable Development Scenario estimates that the world can achieve more than 40% of the emissions reductions required by 2040 through energy efficiency. Promoting and adopting energy efficiency practices, which is the "First Fuel", is a logical step that facilitates the energy transition through active participation by all sectors of society, including industry, government, and academia.
Energy efficiency can support the world's net-zero energy goals at reduced costs and can achieve India's India’s climate change commitments enshrined in the Panchamrita proclamations and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while providing a wide range of co-benefits at the societal level. A thorough decarbonisation plan to assist and prioritise sustainable efforts in sectors where energy consumption can be dramatically decreased, such as building, energy, transportation, and agriculture, should be the prime focus.
To mandate decarbonisation across the nation, the centre, the state, local authorities, and large organisations should align their goals and implementation efforts. India must cultivate an energy-efficient culture by embracing aggressive and ambitious energy efficiency goals and adopting policies that will encourage energy-efficient building, appliances, and vehicles. This will complement India’s ambitious renewable energy targets and lead to the decarbonisation of the economy.
Dr Satish Kumar is the President & Executive Director of the Alliance for an Energy-Efficient Economy (AEEE).
This column is part of a year-long (2022-23) campaign on the theme “Only One Earth: Sustaining People, Planet and Prosperity” by Business Insider India’s Sustainability Insider.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author/interviewee do not necessarily reflect the views of Business Insider India. The article has been partly edited for length and clarity.