T K Arun
India should commit itself to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2060 — not as surrender to blackmail or pressure, not as a concession, but as an expression of responsible global citizenship, technological prowess and growth ambition.
The world is already warmer than pre-industrial levels by 1.09° C and witness to the damage warming can cause. Heatwaves, forest fires, fiercer cyclonic storms, cloudbursts, floods, prolonged droughts — extreme weather events multiply around the world, including in India. Much of the South Asian coastline is at risk of sea erosion, if not outright submergence. If a chunk of Bangladesh or Mumbai goes under water, the resultant loss, migration and chaos can well be imagined.
Combating climate change is a global challenge. No one country can do it on its own. Since it is no one’s individual responsibility, no one does enough. The choice before a nation is to join the shirkers, hoping others would more than pull their own weight to set things right, or to take on the challenge in right earnest.
Under the Paris climate agreement of 2015, rich nations are supposed to transfer climate-friendly technology to poor ones, along with funds. That remains a supposition. Reason enough to renege on our share of combating climate change? India represents one-sixth of humanity and has the largest cohort of young people who can be trained in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the creative arts, whose imaginative, innovative combination alone can halt, if not reverse, climate change. India also has the third-largest number of unicorns in the world, behind only the US and China. The startup culture is just catching on, and fresh Indian entrepreneurs have gone past the stage of trying to build Indian imitations of foreign successes.
If foreign climate tech is transferred to us, well and good. Well and good, if not, too. New technology is called for in mitigation, trying to reduce GHG emissions or remove them from the atmosphere, and, in adaptation, activities ranging from developing new varieties of crops that will thrive in altered climatic conditions to reinforcing fortification against nature’s fury and developing green ways to stay cool or stave off freezing.
Silicon Valley is the product of American defence forces’ new tech requirements, post World War 2, their willingness to fund projects that held promise and Stanford University’s readiness to turn research into business and bright students into entrepreneurs.
The early fruits of this combination — Hewlett-Packard, Shockley Semiconductor and its many rebel offspring, including Intel, and the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins — built a self-sustaining model of fuelling technology, entrepreneurship, aspiration to change the world and make big bucks en route. America’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) kept adding lateral new blood to this creative ferment, funding, among other things, messenger-RNA technology.
This mode is at work in the Pearl River Delta, driving China to feverish innovation and commercial success that is beginning to rival the US in areas like electric cars.
There is every reason for India to replicate this model with ever greater scale and success. Capital in bounteous amounts is now available, unlike in Silicon Valley’s beginnings. The institutional framework for growing and recycling capital — spanning angel funds, venture funds, private equity public markets and suitable regulation and taxation — is way more developed.
Good ideas, seed funding and young entrepreneurs are what we need. We need new models of urban planning, design of buildings and road networks that will minimise energy use for commuting and climate-control.
We need clean coal technologies, ranging from thorough scrubbing of flu-gases and more complete combustion of coal in power plants to conversion of coal into natural gas, to be used as gas and to be split into hydrogen and carbon fibre. Removing CO2 from the air is imperative and it should be possible to use that carbon, stripped of oxygen, as an industrial input.
A company co-invested in by Leonardo DiCaprio, after he starred in Blood Diamond, already produces artificial diamonds that cannot be distinguished from De Beers’ best. Why not make diamonds so plentiful and cheap as to change their status from a girl’s best friend to competition for Kajaria tiles? Diamonds are just a form of what remains, after all, if you take hydrogen out of methane, or strip oxygen from CO2.
Thanks to the Indo-US nuclear deal, vehemently opposed by opportunists and idiots during its making, India is part of ITER, the global collaboration on nuclear fusion.
Nuclear energy, fusion as well as fission, is clearly a big part of the clean energy solution. India must speed up its fastbreeder plans that make use of indigenously available thorium. Various bits of both kinds of nuclear energy call for startup solutions.
Storage batteries, stored hydel and hydrogen are mainstream answers to the intermittency of renewables. There could be superior ones.
The net zero world is full of opportunity. That apart, India cannot ask the rich world to adopt net negative, removing carbon from the air in proportion to their contribution of the stuff, without undertaking net zero, either.
This article first appeared on The Economic Times: Why India should announce a target of net zero emissions by 2060 on October 27, 2021. Views expressed are author’s own.
About the Author
T K Arun, is a ET consulting editor.