Event ReportsPublished on Mar 02, 2021
Ways to attain growth, create jobs, and meet developmental targets with minimal carbon emissions are priorities for both India and the EU.
Green Transitions: Catalysing India–EU relations for a green future
From January to June 2021, Portugal will be presiding over the Council of the European Union. The Portuguese presidency provides a unique opportunity for India and the European Union (EU) to explore ways to strengthen relations and foster greater cooperation. With this in mind, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in collaboration with the Embassy of Portugal in India is organising a series of virtual discussions, titled the ‘Portugal–India Series’ to host leading experts, academics, and policy-makers and to explore areas for future cooperation. The inaugural session of the Portugal–India series on “Green Transitions: Catalysing India–EU relations for a green future” was organised on 16 February 2021, which was driven by the agenda to discuss areas for collaboration for an environmentally sustainable development trajectory. Dr Annapurna Mitra, the moderator and the head of the Green Transitions Initiative at ORF, emphasised that while both India and the EU have been at the forefront of climate action, they are working on different priorities owing to the varying nature of their economies. However, ways to attain growth, create jobs, and meet developmental targets with minimal carbon emissions are priorities for both economies. There have been tremendous developments over the past year that reflects a dramatic shift in the thinking of policymakers, companies, individuals, and organisations. In over a hundred countries, thousands of companies have put net zero emission targets in place, and climate finance and technology is growing rapidly. The resultant change in the whole narrative of having to find a balance between sustainability and growth underpinned the core idea of this discussion. The two distinguished speakers were Girish Sethi (Senior Director, Energy Programme) of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Nuno Lacasta (CEO) of Portuguese Environment Agency. The speakers stressed on the urgent need for green pathways towards growth and elaborated on sectors in which India and the EU have made notable progress. They addressed major challenges to the goal of a sustainable development trajectory and identified key areas for mutually beneficial collaboration. Mr Sethi divided the future pathways for India into three broad pillars. Firstly, decarbonisation of the power sector in India, which would include the role of renewable energy; secondly, decarbonisation of large and heavy industries which are essential in our developmental journey; and lastly, accelerated emphasis on energy efficiency moving forward. Through the Indian government’s ambitious target of 450 gigawatts of Renewable Energy (RE) by 2030 and by bringing 10 percent of total RE into the grid, India has made tremendous progress in decarbonising the power sector. India’s decision to harness its solar power potential is at the forefront of this. Yet, India faces immense technical challenges in the integration of variable renewable energy resources. This is an area where India could learn from the management of developed grids in Europe, through knowledge-sharing and exchange of ideas. With respect to decarbonisation of large and heavy industries, the main challenge is the energy-intensive processes that are involved in the processing of virgin raw materials used to manufacture steel and cement. To achieve India’s target of 8 percent to 10 percent GDP growth, it is necessary to focus on the development of steel and cement industries. Thus, there is a scope for research and collaboration with countries like Sweden and Germany that have advanced technologies, to likewise work towards the development and deployment of technologies at a massive scale to reduce energy usage. Despite the setting of ambitious targets to reduce energy intensity by 2030, there is inequality in energy efficiency between sectors. In some sectors like cement or ammonia, India fares as well as developed economies like the US or the UK in energy consumption patterns, but in other sectors India severely lags. It is in these areas that there are opportunities for collaboration between India and the EU for new practices and technologies — particularly digital technologies — to monitor and measure energy-usage. Mr Sethi also stressed the importance of a green recovery especially for small and medium enterprises, since it employs 100 million people and forms the backbone of the Indian economy. The Indian government has done an exemplary job for these enterprises in the past year by coming up with collateral free loans and packages, but a lot still remains to be done.  Mr Nuno Lacasta began by citing India as an example of a country that has grown economically alongside low carbon emissions. This can be attributed to the massive investments in renewable energy and low-carbon power generation. Since, most of the global population resides in the developing world, it is imperative that development takes place in a sustainable manner with minimal environmental consequences. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the world is also becoming aware of the impact of climate change on countries vulnerable to floods, forest fires, heatwaves and pandemics. Consequentially, there is a need to focus on adaptation and link economic development with decarbonisation. Therefore, India and the EU have the potential to enhance cooperation substantially in job creation related to decarbonisation. In terms of developments, last December, the EU submitted an upgraded climate target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This is the most ambitious target by all means and the EU has embarked upon the journey of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Europe is also focused on a ‘Green Transition’ and sweeping measures, such as the European climate law on carbon neutrality — the first of its kind — are being enshrined. International cooperation is also important for the EU and its member states, and they have pledged to mobilise USD 100 billion from 2020–2025 through public and private investments. Moving specifically to collaboration with India, the International Solar Alliance is a very promising area and this mature technology can be deployed worldwide. Apart from solar investments, India is also a world leader in industries. There are various Indian multinational corporations that own cement and steel companies in Europe, and this is something that can be reinforced and leveraged through business exchanges. Mr Lacasta concluded by recalling the 15th India–EU Summit held in the summer of 2020, where EU President Ursula Von der Lyon and Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen India–EU strategic partnership. They promised to adopt a common road map to guide their action and put forward a joint declaration on resource efficiency in the circular economy. There was an overwhelming consensus on the importance of a green transition to have a better quality of life for citizens all across the world, along with stimulating growth. The speakers comprehensively substantiated upon the various potential areas of further collaboration between India and the EU, primarily underscoring the importance of setting ambitious targets and accelerating investments in renewable energy sources such as solar power in order to reach net zero emissions. Through timely collaboration and proactive measures, both India and the EU are on the path to set an example by becoming climate leaders in the world.
This report is prepared by Saaransh Mishra, Research Intern, ORF.
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