By becoming a leader in the green energy movement now, India can reap economic and climate change benefits for the nation and its citizens in the future, writes Frank F Islam for South Asia Monitor
The United Nations climate change conference ended in Glasgow, Scotland, November 13, more than a day later than scheduled, with an agreement to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. Among other measures, the conference also broadly agreed to: eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, phase down coal power and end deforestation. In addition, it urged rich nations to offer financial assistance to developing countries to help with their transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
Many of the 200 participating nations made a number of specific commitments. For instance, more than 140 countries promised to cut their carbon emissions to “net-zero.”
Nevertheless, many in the United States and other developed countries were somewhat disappointed in the Glasgow Climate Pact. One of the reasons for this was that, as the conference wound down, India and China pushed back forcefully on the language to be adopted on phasing out coal. In the end, the two countries were successful in getting others to agree on “phasing down” coal, instead of “phasing out,” which was the language that climate activists and several western nations wanted.
Despite that major disagreement on the final two days, the fact that any agreement was reached was a big accomplishment. It was the first time in the 26-year history of the conference that participating nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel — the main energy source for a vast majority of countries — which is responsible for global warming.
Noteworthy, among the several commitments made at COP26, was India’s pledge to generate half of its energy requirements from renewable sources by the end of this decade. Speaking at the leaders’ summit at the front end of the conference, Prime Minister Modi told the world that India will achieve the net-zero target by 2070. India's commitment is significant, as it is the world's fourth-largest carbon emitter.
Other highlights of the conference included an announcement by Brazil to reverse deforestation and leading car manufacturers to make and sell zero-emission vehicles within the next two decades.
Having countries like China, India, Nigeria and Brazil broadly agree to implement policies that would mitigate climate change was indeed a giant step forward.
For decades, these emerging nations have been insisting that they needed more time to achieve net-zero targets.
Their argument went like this: it was the industrialization drive of the western European and US economies, which lasted centuries, that was responsible for the current climate conditions. Those countries developed their economies by consuming resources indiscriminately. As a result, they should do more to mitigate climate change, including financing the low carbon transition of poorer countries.
That argument has merit and the developed countries recognized it. Because of this, there was an agreement in principle that there should be some payments but no specific commitments were made.
In spite of this, the Glasgow Pact signals that, finally, there is a consensus of comity among nations that climate change is an existential threat for mankind, and blaming one or the other won’t help address the problem or improve the climate.
The pact also offers emerging economies a new direction. For a country such as India, there is tremendous upside for going green. If done properly, the nation will reap substantial economic benefits.
As automobiles transformed major economies in the early 20th century and information technology did the same in the late 20th and early 21st century, green energy is set to drive the next wave of economic development worldwide. The economic activities will be so significant that they will fuel growth and improve the quality of life of entire regions and nations.
For an idea of the opportunities in the green energy sector, look at one American company, Tesla. In a very short period, the company has left its American and European competitors far behind. Tesla’s market cap — which touched a trillion-dollar not long ago — is more than the combined market cap of Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler, General Motors, BMW, and Ferrari.
Tesla, is not just a fad today. It is a goldmine for investors. More importantly, it is just one example. There are many green energy companies and industries that are set to become the drivers of growth for nations and internationally.
In the United States, the Biden administration sees tremendous economic potential for green energy and is betting big on the green economy. The new around $ 2 trillion spending framework unveiled by President Biden and passed recently by the U.S. House includes $555 billion for clean energy.
India should join with the United States and move to the front on the low-carbon transition drive. Not doing so would mean continued environmental degradation and would also result in missing out on the enormous economic opportunities presented by going green
As in most fields, early investors reap the most benefits. By becoming a leader in the green energy movement now, India can reap economic and climate change benefits for the nation and its citizens in the future.
(The writer is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed are personal)