The impact of COVID-19 has been colossal, marked by setbacks to economies and severely strained health systems across the world. Governments continue to be deal with a profoundly complicated crisis, and many fear that global recovery will not be equitable. Even though the world is yet to fully recover from the onslaught of the pandemic, there is a bigger threat to mankind that is slowly gaining the attention it deserves; and that is climate change.
Several reports that preceded the COP26 global leaders meeting in Glasgow exposed the collective vulnerability of the planet, including developing economies like India. How we survive sustainably as a species, everywhere, must be ingrained into everything we do as corporations, governments, institutions and communities. Indeed, the pandemic should only galvanise our collective vision and sense of urgency.
According to Indian government sources, the country has contributed only 3 percent to climate change in the past 200 years, yet it has not been spared the effects of it. This year alone, we saw two cyclones, deadly flooding and landslides in different parts of the country, events created by extreme weather that continues to displace thousands of people across the nation and threatens the future security of millions.
Climate change may make India lose its GDP by 3 percent to 10 percent by 2100 with an increase in poverty and inequality, according to a report that looks at economic costs of climate-related risks in the country. The progress made so far in providing better livelihood may also be reversed unless collective action is taken to mitigate the effects of climate change.
India has huge potential to be ahead of the game in addressing its climate change challenges. We already knew that the power that matters is sustainable power; years of R&D investment into net-zero power solutions has only proven that. Today there are technologies available that the country can leverage to help industries, entrepreneurs, and communities flourish sustainably while reducing the implications of global warming.
The industry will need to back this journey, and that is why we are issuing a call to arms by joining thousands of companies in the UN Race to Zero, aligning the entire business system and value chain around achieving net-zero by 2050.
The first step to this journey is ensuring that all new products are net-zero compliant; while channelling R&D spends into lower carbon, net-zero and zero-carbon technologies.
Transforming carbon-intensive industries is a good starting point. These sectors, which include activities such as mining, aviation, power generation and maritime, account for 30 percent of global emissions.
In aviation, the physics of generating enough thrust to elevate and safely sustain 300 tonnes of metal in the air for 8,000 nautical miles (the longest A350 journey) has made fossil-based fuels difficult to dislodge. Here, we are seeing progress in that industry has come together to develop and increase the availability of 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel, which mimics the kerosine that we use today. For shorter journeys, electric and hybrid aerospace propulsion gives great cause for excitement.
Meanwhile, in power generation, change is happening at a pace. India has the wherewithal to meet its ambitious renewal energy target of 450 GW by 2030 by ensuring a faster energy transition and infrastructure creation. However, critical baseload power requires a transitioning energy source that is reliable enough to replace fossil fuels.
It is our belief that the renewable power mix should be supported by a network of standardised, state-of-the-art, affordable nuclear power stations, and these can be powered by the UK’s small modular reactor (SMR) solution. With a capacity of 470MW, each SMR can supply enough electricity to power one million homes a year, for 60 years. SMRs can also underpin the immense power needed to create green hydrogen and synthetic fuels.
Five calls to policymakers
Here are five points for policymakers to consider, that can assist and accelerate the net-zero momentum for economies on their sustainable pathway —
First, we need global consistency between countries and regions to establish level playing fields which avoid the risk of carbon leakage.
Second, alongside drastic reductions, we need to concurrently tackle the removal of carbon already in the atmosphere. This will require prioritizing and incentivizing investment in regenerating nature’s natural carbon sinks, protecting existing ecosystems and restoring those that have been degraded, as well as developing and implementing new technological solutions that capture and store or re-use carbon.
Third, policymakers must promote and incentivize circular economies to reduce carbon footprint and build sustainable value chains. This can go a long way in protecting biodiversity and nature, human health and social mobility, without negatively impacting developing economies.
Fourth, financing supports need to become more accessible to businesses aiming to decarbonize. Up to $100 trillion is needed between now and 2050 for economies to reach Net-Zero. This needs to be disbursed beyond companies that are already making progress to those which hold the key to making entire economies sustainable.
And fifth, the entire transition process must be fair to developing economies like India and Africa to spur inclusive growth and job creation — without this, widespread support for net-zero will be impossible to achieve.
If these five wheels are set in motion, then net-zero becomes eminently more attainable.
—The author, Ben Story is the director of strategy and marketing at Rolls-Royce Plc. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)