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Carbon neutral resource efficient strategy for India

In a general parlance, Resource Efficiency means using less resources to provide the same level of well-being. However, in a stricter sense, the term encompasses strategies of dematerialization revolving around savings, reduction of material and energy use and re-materialization encapsulating reuse, remanufacturing and recycling in a systems-wide approach to a circular economy.

At this juncture, it becomes pertinent to understand the meaning of the term carbon-neutrality. Carbon neutrality is about ensuring that the activities result in no net release of carbon dioxide or similar substance into the atmosphere.

So next time when you choose to take a walk to the grocery shop instead of driving, remember that it is not just your health that you are saving on, but also, the planet.

As India continues its path on development and as Resource consumption is directly proportional to development, we cannot do away with resource consumption, but rather focus on resource efficiency. Increased resource efficiency is essential for continued socio-economic progress and increasing material efficiency is a key opportunity to move towards the 1.5° C goal set by the Paris agreement, 2015. India’s bold commitment for carbon neutrality has already set the heads nodding in the world leader conferences around the world.

At the time of Paris agreement in 2015, emissions from the production of materials as a share of global greenhouse gases had increased from 15% in 1995 to 23% in 2015. This corresponds to the share of Green House Gas emissions from agriculture, forestry, and land use change combined, yet to a sheer surprise they have received much less attention. An estimated 80% of emissions from material production were associated with material use in construction and manufactured goods. Thus, Construction and manufacturing are two industries with highest contribution towards global carbon footprint. Residential buildings were the most important product of construction and cars the most important product of manufacturing.

Having said all this, it is pivotal to spot opportunities from these two sectors and it would not be wrong to state that changes are already in order, for instance, with the advent of companies such as Tesla, there is a paradigm shift to sustainable fuel source taking place in the passenger car segment. Along the same lines, Union minister Nitin Gadkari in December 2021 announced that he has bought a car that will run on green hydrogen produced at Faridabad's oil research institute for a pilot project. Material efficiency strategies, including the use of recycled materials, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the material cycle of residential buildings by 50-70% in India in 2050.

The largest reductions of life-cycle emissions could be attained by changing patterns of vehicle use for example car-poor instead of going solo, and shifting towards trip appropriate smaller vehicles. This is mainly because they reduce not only the demand for materials but also the energy use during the operation of the vehicles. Here, we have a small cause of concern as COVID has made people move away from public shared transport to private transport, but at the same time, has reduced overall traveling due to the work from home and digital connect mode.

Now that we’ve talked about few changes that should be brought and the goals that they are likely to achieve, how exactly are we going to inculcate these changes? The simple answer to this question is, Policy intervention.

Cross-cutting policies such as revision of building standards and codes, use of building certification systems by governments, green public procurement, virgin material taxation, removal of virgin resource subsidies, and recycled content mandates.

Another potential policy path could be the integration of material efficiency considerations into existing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the Paris agreement. Under the Paris Agreement, India has three quantifiable nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which include lowering the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030; increase total cumulative electricity generation from fossil free energy sources to 40% by 2030; create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons through additional forest and tree cover.

Recently in August 2021, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi had announced that India has already installed 100 GW of renewable energy, adding that India is the only country among G20 nations that is progressing rapidly to meet its climate goals. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference, he also delivered the National Statement in Glasgow, Scotland wherein he mentioned Panchamrit covering key points on carbon neutrality. Conclusively, it may be said that strengthening carbon credits and creating a stronger markets for it will incentivize companies to adapt high cost resource efficiency technologies in their operation. While the carbon market has recovered to a level after the 2009 crash, the market is still very nascent in the country. Resource efficiency measures that involves extra expense is taken up only by the market leader companies and their suppliers that have carbon neutrality in their agenda. A stronger case for transformation can definitely be achieved through financial incentives.

That being said, with the path that India is trending, the country is likely to achieve the carbon neutral and sustainability goals by 2050. India is already one among the only four (India, Japan, China, Turkey) countries in the world that explicitly mention Resource efficiency as a mitigation measure in their NDC. In addition to the existing initiatives on renewable energy, it can also be expected to hear policies promoting recycling or other material efficiency initiatives in the near horizon.

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