The Energy Versus Climate Conundrum
The current energy market is becoming more and more entangled in energy transition with rising concern about climate change due to fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas) utilisation. However, a recent report shows that India is on a lower rank (87th out of 115 countries) in the Energy Transition Index (ETI) despite its “strong political commitment and regulatory environment for the energy transition”. An energy mix with a greater share of renewable energy (solar and wind) can meet both energy security and climate change mitigation needs. Thus, strong climate and energy policies need to be framed and effectively implemented to meet the urgent need to mitigate and adapt to climate change and transition to a low-carbon future. Devising a concrete framework for climate governance can level the playing field for India to contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Climate governance assessment framework (Source: Climate Action Network).
The Government of India (GoI) aims to achieve an ambitious renewable energy target of 175 GW by the year 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Thus, it is continuously investing in schemes such as smart cities, LPG connections to all housing, universal electricity access and other schemes that promote renewable energy capacity. India framed the National Environment Policy in 2006, followed by the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008. The eight prominent missions launched under NAPCC include the national solar mission, the national mission for enhanced energy efficiency, national mission on sustainable habitat, national water mission, national mission for sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, national mission for a green India, national mission for sustainable agriculture, and national mission on strategic knowledge for climate change.
In 2009, under the direction of GoI, the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) was framed as a part of a state-wise adaptation strategy to undertake and promote localized action. Further, GoI had pledged in 2015 to generate an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3.0 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030 as part of a nationally determined target (NDC). However, India does not have a well-defined energy governance framework (see figure 2) to resolve uncertainty in energy sector based on good quality and reliable data on the energy demand and consumption to boost energy transition under the following national strategies and policies:
- The Energy Conservation Act, 2001
- National Electricity Policy (NEP), 2005
- Integrated Energy Policy (IEP), 2006
- The National Policy for Farmers, 2007
- National Solar Mission, 2008
- National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency, 2008
- A Sub-Mission under National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, 2008
- A Sub-Mission under National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change, 2008
The same applies to the following new policies and actions:
- National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 (NEMMP 2020), 2012
- National Smart Grid Mission, 2015
- National Offshore Wind Energy Policy, 2015
- National Mission on Advanced Ultra Super Critical Technology, 2017
- Draft National Energy Policy, 2017-2040
- National Policy on Biofuels, 2018
- National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage, 2019
- India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP), 2019
- Draft National Hydrogen Energy Mission, 2021
Figure 2: Schematic representation of energy governance framework (Source: IEA)
What is CAG doing to strengthen energy and climate governance?
The Environment and Climate Action team at Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), through the Thermal Watch Initiative (TWI), brings together grassroot NGOs and local communities across south India to respond to announcements about coal-based plants in their neighbourhood by providing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) related awareness and information. CAG is actively involved in conducting technical assessments of the EIA and proposes mitigation measures for a plant, using an expert team comprising a technical expert, an environmental lawyer and a socio-economic expert. This information is subsequently shared with grassroot NGOs and local communities to take up against a proposed/existing plant.
CAG also works to create awareness among NGOs and local communities about the EIA process through distribution of information booklets and posters in English, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. CAG collaborates closely with NGOs and persons affected/potentially affected by a thermal power plant to disseminate the possible intervention strategies they can adopt at every stage. CAG publishes a monthly e-newsletter St(o)ppwatch which carries developments about thermal power plants in South India. The newsletter reaches over 1000 subscribers including environment and consumer groups, village representatives and media representatives.
Figure 3: A screenshot of the homepage of TWI website (https://www.thermalwatch.org.in/)
Table 1: Key works of CAG on Energy and Climate.
Other important roles: CAG works to demystify, educate and assist local communities and stakeholders on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, through the following methods:
- Formation of Professional Advisory Response Team (PART): The objective was to provide professional advice, including technical/procedural comments on the draft EIA and executive summary, to affected local communities on the legal, economic and technical aspects of the EIA Process. The local communities who make their representation at the public hearing used the inputs of PART such as written comments citing PART reports and advisory inputs.
- Desktop research on MoEF website: The project conducts regular desktop research on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change website. It took the following steps:
- Conduct desktop research of various environment-related government websites.
- Inform and get inputs from the PART members on any draft regulations put up on the website of the related Government agencies – EIA documents, and other draft notifications such as fly-ash utilization and emission norms, etc.
- Inform local communities about the same.
- Awareness programs: Several capacity building, train the trainer’s programs and workshops were organised for local communities, media and other environmental groups to discuss and train the stakeholders on the EIA process.
- SMS platform: To widen the information dissemination strategy CAG used a Short Messaging Service (SMS) Platform (Awaaz) in 2018 to send messages to stakeholders on the EIA process, updates on thermal power plants and other environment-related matters. This followed a growing realization that local stakeholders are not tech-savvy which inhibits their participation in the e-forum and newsletters.
- Online Forum: An online forum (firstname.lastname@example.org) to connect local communities involved in the EIA process and Thermal Power Plant Network - was created as a platform for discussion as well as to educate, inform and empower local communities and stakeholders on the EIA process with reference to thermal power plants in India.
Working towards the betterment of energy and climate governance needs a clear vision and proper action plan with timelines from local/state/national government, NGOs, Civil Society, businesses and other stakeholders to ensure:
- A shift towards sustainable and affordable energy
- Effective achievement of pollution norms
- Stringent implementation of policies and acts
- Standardised monitoring practices to check compliance
- Timely and credible reporting/disclosure
- Complete transparency
- Strong regulatory framework
- Accountability and self-regulation