Millions of Indians’ lives have been altered by a quarter-century of prosperity, allowing the country to rise to its due place on the world arena. India, now the world’s sixth-largest economy, is expected to rise to third position by the end of the decade.
This high growth trajectory also places India as a testbed for one of the most pressing environmental questions: can emerging countries, which are anticipated to produce the majority of global growth in the coming decade, decrease their carbon footprint while achieving their economic potential?
India is now among the top three countries in terms of energy consumption, however it is well down the list in terms of per-capita consumption. Over the next 20 years, its energy consumption will be the highest on the globe.
Surprisingly, it is not only economic growth that is fueling this demand. Over the next two decades, India’s population is expected to rise by 270 million, increasing demand for carbon-intensive sectors such as cement and steel to house the people.
India is also extremely sensitive to climate change, owing to melting Himalayan glaciers and changes in monsoon patterns. The transition to a low-carbon, regenerative economy is critical for a country aspiring to become a $5 trillion economy.
India ranked fourth in the world in terms of installed renewable power capacity in 2019, with solar and wind power leading the way. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target of 450 gigatonnes of renewable energy capacity by 2030, which is five times the present capacity. If accomplished, India would have generated 60% of its power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, far above the 40% objective set in its Paris promise.
Solar energy might be India’s savior. With around 300 sunny days per year, India has the potential to lead the world in solar electricity, which will be less expensive than current coal-fired power by 2030, especially when combined with battery storage.
This will need the development of utility-scale renewable energy projects with novel regulatory methods that incentivize the combination of solar with other renewable technologies and storage to provide “round-the-clock” supply. It will also be necessary to encourage international investment in renewables.
Prime Minister Modi’s recent call for “high speed, large scale, concrete action” to combat climate change, as well as his open invitation to global partners to build sustainable solutions, reaffirm India’s interest in encouraging cross-border collaboration and innovation to accelerate climate action.
Up to the challenge
The decisions taken by the Indian government and people today and in the future years will have an impact on the whole planet. However, the sustainable path will not be simple or cheap. According to The IEA report, transitioning from today’s policy choices to a sustainable-development scenario would need a shift on a scale that no country has ever accomplished. It would also need significant innovation, solid relationships, and enormous sums of money.
India should be up to the task. Under present arrangements, the country’s fuel import expenses are expected to treble over the next two decades. Simultaneously, India is seen as a rising renewables and storage powerhouse, with one of the few countries on track to fulfill the majority of its Paris commitments.
If the country takes a more sustainable route of decreasing emissions and increasing its proportion of non-fossil based fuel for electricity generation, its energy import expenses will be significantly cut, offsetting the expenditures in renewables.
At least one-fifth (21 percent) of the world’s 2,000 biggest public businesses already have net-zero pledges, representing yearly sales of almost $14 trillion. Companies have increased their climate measures even in India. According to the Standard Chartered SDG Investment Map, India alone provides a $700 billion private investment potential in renewable energy.
The private sector can play a key role in altering the core of its business and delivery models, as well as in creating collaborative partnerships that will help them achieve sustainable goals and ensure equitable growth for all.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that we are living in a time of transition. To unleash potential, broaden perspectives, tune in to wider systemic issues, and ultimately establish partnerships that help deliver for the greater good, bold and decisive leadership is required.
India is endowed with an unparalleled pool of corporate and public leadership talent dedicated to a cleaner, brighter future. The 2030 objective is critical for private sector investors wanting to make a difference and enhance the lives of millions of Indians over the next decade.
India has demonstrated to the rest of the world how to pull millions of people out of poverty and improve their standard of living. With its transition to clean energy, India may serve as an example for other countries across the world, paving the way for long-term growth, growing wealth, environmental justice, and a clean energy future.