The Hindu Editorial Analysis
21 April 2021

1) A low-carbon future through sector-led change

In India, a sector-led, action-based approach could provide the framework to drive low-carbon transformation

GS 3: Climate Change


 

Context:

  • In the build-up to the ‘Leaders’ Climate Summit’ organized by the United States this week (April 22-23), there has been a flurry of articles about whether India should announce a ‘net-zero’ emissions target, and by when.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C report called for global carbon emissions to reach net-zero by 2050, call for all countries to announce 2050 as the net-zero target year.
  • Since a disproportionate share of the carbon space has been used up by developed countries, it is important that they act boldly at home, to match the vigour of their diplomatic efforts.
  • Nonetheless, as a climate-vulnerable country, India must also up its game to contribute to limiting global temperature rise, ideally below 1.5°C.
  • While doing so, it should not lose sight of the history of global climate negotiations and its own developmental needs.
  • Though a large country and economy, we are still a very poor country with a significant development deficit — for example, our per-capita carbon emissions are less than half the world average.

What India must do

  • Yet, announcing an Indian 2050 net-zero commitment risks taking on a much heavier burden of de-carbonization than many wealthier countries, and could seriously compromise India’s development needs.
  • We suggest a third path, focused on concrete, near-term sectoral transformations through aggressive adoption of technologies that are within our reach, and an earnest effort to avoid high carbon lock-ins.
    • This is best accomplished by focusing on sectoral low-carbon development pathways that combine competitiveness, job-creation, distributional justice and low pollution in key areas where India is already changing rapidly.
  • This approach is directionally consistent with India moving towards net-zero, which should be our long-term objective.

De-carbonize power sector

  • To achieve net-zero emissions, a key piece of the puzzle is to decarbonize the electricity sector, which is the single largest source (about 40%) of India’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • De-carbonised electricity would also allow India to undertake transformational changes in urbanization and industrial development, for example by expanding the use of electricity for transport, and by integrating electric systems into urban planning.
  • So far, our efforts in the electricity sector have focused on expanding renewable electricity capacity, with targets growing by leaps and bounds from 20GW of solar to 175GW of renewable capacity by 2022, further growing to 450GW of renewable capacity by 2030.
  • While useful as a direction of travel, India now needs to shift gears to a comprehensive re-imagination of electricity and its role in our economy and society.
    • One way to do this is to go beyond expanding renewables to limiting the expansion of coal-based electricity capacity.
    • This will not be easy: coal provides firm, dispatchable power and accounts for roughly 75% of electricity today; supports the economy of key regions; and is tied to sectors such as banking and railways.

The ceiling for coal power

  • A first, bold, step would be to pledge that India will not grow its coal-fired power capacity beyond what is already announced, and reach peak coal electricity capacity by 2030, while striving to make coal-based generation cleaner and more efficient.
  • There is a strong rationale for this:
    • Coal is increasingly uneconomic and phasing it out over time will bring local gains, such as reduced air pollution, aside from climate mitigation.
    • Such a pledge would give full scope for the development of renewable energy and storage, and send a strong signal to investors.
  • A second, necessary step is to create a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission representing all levels of government and the affected communities to ensure decent livelihood opportunities beyond coal in India’s coal belt.
    • This is necessary because the transition costs of a brighter low-carbon future should not fall on the backs of India’s poor.
  • Third, a low-carbon electricity future will not be realised without addressing existing problems of the sector such as the poor finances and management of distribution companies, which requires deep changes and overcoming entrenched interests.
  • Finally, India will need to work hard to become a leader in technologies of the future such as electricity storage, smart grids, and technologies that enable the electrification of other sectors such as transportation.
  • Through a careful partnership with the private sector, including tools such as production-linked incentives, India should use the electricity transition to aim for job creation and global competitiveness in these key areas.

Improve energy services

  • Growing urbanization and uptake of electricity services offer a good opportunity to shape energy consumption within buildings through proactive measures.
    • Cooling needs are expected to increase rapidly with rising incomes and temperatures.
    • Air conditioners, fans and refrigerators together consume about 60% of the electricity in households.
    • Today, the average fan sold in the market consumes more than twice what an efficient fan does and an average refrigerator about 35% more.
    • India could set aggressive targets of, say, 80% of air conditioner sales, and 50% of fan and refrigerator sales in 2030, being in the most efficient bracket.
  • In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this would have the benefit of lowering consumer electricity bills.
  • India can leverage this transition too as an opportunity to become a global leader in the production of clean appliances.

Forming timelines

  • Going further, India may even consider committing to submit plausible pathways and timelines to achieving net-zero emissions as part of its future pledges.
  • India can also use this period to develop a strategic road map to enhance its own technology and manufacturing competence as part of the global clean energy supply chain, to gain benefits of employment and export revenues.
  • Such an integrated approach, which is ambitious, credible and rooted in our developmental needs — including climate mitigation needs — will represent an ambitious, forward-looking and results-oriented India.

 


2) The long battle against the Maoists

Unconventional wars are not fought merely on the ground; they are battles between minds of steel

GS 3: Internal Security


Context:

  • In the April 3 encounter between security forces and the Maoists in Sukma, a Maoist stronghold in Chhattisgarh, 22 jawans were killed — seven from the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a unit of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and 15 from the Chhattisgarh Police.
  • One CoBRA jawan, Rakeshwar Singh Minhas, who was held hostage by the Maoists, has since been released.
  • It was possibly their attempt to broadcast to the world that they are not all that violent or merciless as portrayed by the administration; that they are in fact humane and compassionate, fighting only for a cause.

Determination and tactics

  • The ease with which the Maoists are able to strike at security forces and indulge in indiscriminate killing from time to time has confounded many analysts.
  • The frequency of attacks may fluctuate depending on the preparedness of the extremists and the strength of the establishment’s retaliation.
  • But the tactics of the Maoists have not changed greatly. They usually spread misinformation about the numbers of Maoists on the ground in a village as well as their location.
  • Communication equipment in the hands of government forces has not greatly improved over the years.
  • Ambushes have, therefore, yielded rich dividends to the rebels.
  • What should surprise an objective observer is the determination displayed by the extremists regardless of the difficulty in periodically replenishing their ranks and keeping them in a reasonable state of morale against great odds.
  • Gory incidents like the recent one in Chhattisgarh have often led to the quick charge of lack of intelligence and planning on the part of the government, as though intelligence is a piece of cake.
  • The criticism conveniently ignores the ruggedness of the terrain from where the extremists operate and the intoxication that an anti-establishment propaganda offers to almost all members of the group.
  • All that the Central and State governments often do to step up their operations is to deploy more policemen and pour in more money and improve technology, but this has an impact only for a short span of time.

Does development help?

  • A lot of well-meaning people, some of whom are from the five States that are often affected by Maoist fury — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Maharashtra — have ceaselessly put forward the argument that rapid economic development of a region alone would lure people away from extremist ideology.
  • To be fair, the governments involved, both in the States and at the Centre, have taken the plea seriously and implemented several development schemes in these areas.
  • However, this has helped only partially. Andhra Pradesh is perhaps an exception where the magic of development has succeeded, especially in Srikakulam district.
  • Civil servants who have served in that area say a dedicated leadership at the district and grassroots levels is one explanation for this transformation.
  • Some also say inducting local youth into the security forces helps in fighting the extremists.
  • Over-dependence on Central forces is counterproductive.
  • For able-bodied locals to comprise security forces is commendable.
  • The Greyhounds, raised in Andhra Pradesh in 1989, is an eloquent illustration of this.
  • History will remember the results it produced under the phenomenal leadership of K.S. Vyas, a courageous IPS officer who unfortunately paid with his life for the valour and dynamism that he had displayed.
  • Economic deprivation and religious fundamentalism often hijack the thinking processes of many populations.
  • One must also realise that shared ideology and resources by like-minded groups boosts their capabilities.

Objectives

  • The objective of the Maoists is to drive a wedge between the security forces and the government so as to sow disaffection against the latter.
  • Another aim is to serve a warning to the government that it has no option but to concede all the demands of the extremists.
  • It is another matter that these demands, such as the formation of a ‘people’s government’, are secessionist in nature, which no constitutionally elected establishment will ever concede.
  • We don’t see this happening in the immediate future.
  • If this assessment proves right, we may see a gradual migration of younger rebels aspiring for a better life going to other parts of the country where there are better educational opportunities.