Some time in 2023, likely mid-April, India will surpass China as being the country with the largest population. It is a timely reminder of the growing influence that India and its activities exert on the rest of the world, and not just because of its size.
With such a large – still industrializing – country come sizeable energy needs, and with this, the prospect of spiralling greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). India is grappling with the issue of trying to quickly develop equitable economic growth to meet the changing needs and lifestyle aspirations of its 1.4 billion people, while also hitting national and global climate change targets.
It should come as little surprise, therefore, that India has been at the forefront of driving global action on climate change. It has used indigenous technology to optimize its resources and promoted green energy to reduce carbon emissions; Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement to establish a National Hydrogen Mission is noteworthy. Alongside this, India has co-founded the International Solar Alliance (ISA) with France, and in doing so, is leading the global movement towards solar power, with a focus on promoting energy access and transition. Already, the ISA has 110 member countries and is pursuing nine programmes promoting 10GW of off-grid and grid-connected solar projects in developing countries.
India’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 was one of the most important announcements at COP26. In line with the prime minister’s statement, the federal government recently approved India’s Updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which translates the COP26 announcements into enhanced climate targets. It marks a major step in achieving India’s long-term goal of reaching net zero by 2070.
Towards the end of 2022 and following the 75th year of its independence, India took on the mantle of G20 leadership. Its leadership slogan ‘one earth, one family, one future’, is particularly apt, underlining how inextricably linked humanity is, not least in suffering and addressing the effects of the changing climate. During 2022, extreme weather events were recorded in the country during 80% of the year, underlining how much India is already suffering the effects of climate change.
Reflecting this, energy and climate change mitigation are among India’s priorities during its G20 presidency. Specifically, India is expected to focus on climate finance, energy security and green hydrogen, pushing for the provision of finance and technology as critical enablers for achieving the Paris Agreement climate goals.
The G20 presidency places India on the global stage and allows it to establish its priorities and narratives within the international agenda. This makes 2023 a year to watch: How will India continue to fuel its growing energy needs and what decisions will it take about its energy transition?
The country has made huge strides in improving energy access during the past two decades, with near-universal household access achieved in 2019. Its challenge now is to continue to develop the energy network and diversify its fuel mix to meet growing demand. The situation presents India with the opportunity to take bold action, putting it on a path to realizing strong, equitable, shared growth, while also averting the worst effects of the changing climate.
As the situation stands, however, India’s energy mix is carbon intensive. Coal is its primary source of fuel, accounting for approximately 70% of electricity generation, and the country also powers much of its transport through oil. As a result, India is the world’s third-largest emitter of CO2, despite low per capita CO2 emissions. Unlike developed nations with mature GHG infrastructure, India has yet to build a lot of its GHG inventory.
This suggests a need for the country to significantly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. In the interim, it must make heavy investment into methods to combat the emissions problem, for example with implementing cleaner operations, stripping emissions of the worst of the GHGs, and looking at carbon capture.
The good news is that the country’s path to decarbonization could, however, be a net-positive one. India has a unique opportunity to skip this journey by turning to low- and no-emissions technologies. Already India is the world’s third-largest producer of solar energy and enjoys the lowest renewables costs. Plans to increase renewable energy as part of the mix remain in place, and India is pioneering green hydrogen (hydrogen made using renewable energy).
Given this fertile situation, research has pointed to the benefits India would reap from pursuing a Green New Deal. It is estimated that by greening its economy, India could leverage green growth to add $1 trillion to its GDP by 2030 and a staggering $15 trillion by 2070. Additionally, such a transformation could create 50 million jobs.
The World Economic Forum remains committed to support India in its vision and efforts to drive climate action and environment sustainability, during and beyond its G20 presidency. During the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2022, the Forum launched the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders India, a high-level platform aimed at supporting and accelerating the country’s climate action and green transition efforts. The alliance’s members – India’s leading business voices – will, at the Annual Meeting 2023, agree priorities, set targets and announce workstreams and timelines. The Forum is also contributing to the country’s climate and land restoration goals through its Trillion Tree platform, 1t.org. The platform is launching a coalition in India, which aims to bring together the public and private sectors, and civil society to support forest conservation and restoration efforts.
The G20 presidency offers India the opportunity to shape the climate and energy transition agenda at a global level. Reflecting its sheer size and diversity, any successful models it develops can be replicated in other economies, producing a beneficial effect for billions of people. India can establish itself as a role model through its response to these opportunities, potentially having a resounding impact on our collective future.