Leaders of 196 countries adopted an “action proclamation” seeking the “highest political commitment” to combat the “alarming and unprecedented” rate of climate change after days of squabbling in Marrakech, Morocco. This comes amid fears that the United States under the Donald Trump administration may pull out of the watershed Paris climate accord ushered in by US President Barack Obama in 2015. The US withdrawing may result in other non-European rich nations following suit. This is what happened when the US, which agreed to be part of the first climate deal, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, but did not ratify it. If that happens, the future of the Paris accord that comes into force post-2020 would be uncertain. It can derail the push for renewable energy that the accord prescribes. But, for emerging economies like India pursuing the green and clean path makes sense as it has enormous social, economic and health benefits and the adoption cost would be much less than in the high energy intensive developed nations like the US.
The advantage of having renewables as a major contributor in a country’s energy mix is that unlike high-emitting thermal power, it is more accessible because of its low cost. The cost of solar in India is now at a par with thermal power and in the coming years it could be as cheap as a mobile phone call. Solar energy already has high penetration among poor and sunshine-rich states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan. Although the government has set an ambitious target of creating the capacity to generate 175 gegawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2020, it needs to push states to incorporate clean energy into their planning.
For the economy, renewables can boost the manufacturing sector and also attract investment. There is a demand for affordable and reliable renewable equipment in the developing world, especially Africa, and India needs to tap this market where China has been a dominant player. According to the Niti Aayog’s latest estimate, the investment in the renewable sector — wind, solar, biomass and electric vehicles — is expected to increase about 300 times by 2020 to $310 billion as compared $10 billion between 2010 and 2016. Rising air pollution across the world and Indian cities also provide a business potential if two sectors — electric vehicles and turning agriculture waste to high quality bio-fuel — can be promoted. As air pollution is considered the sixth biggest killer in India, an effort for cleaner energy will have health benefits and also yield political dividends. In enlightened self-interest at least, India must shift into high gear in promoting renewable energy.