Ladakh plans to utilise its hot water springs for geothermal energy as part of its carbon-neutral commitment. Photo: Researchgate

Indian states, Union Territories taking the lead on carbon neutrality

Ladakh, Chhattisgarh, Sikkim and Kerala are paving the way by setting concrete net-zero targets 

The climate crisis has now been established as one of the biggest existential threats to humankind. Within the realm of climate action, a new glimmer of hope has come in the form of a spate of ‘net-zero’ commitments from countries, states, regions, and companies. For the most part, these are long-term targets, which require immediate action. 

According to the latest assessment published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions is the state of balance between CO2 emissions and CO2 removal over a specific period of time. Due to India’s diverse geography and highly stratified demography, the country is profoundly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Further, these are only expected to increase, which would in-turn have a detrimental impact on the environment, economy and livelihood of India’s population. India’s best interests, therefore, lie in setting targets that would ensure the country is able to achieve sustainable growth and provide inclusive avenues for prosperity. 

Renewables have so far been the mainstay of India’s climate and sustainable development efforts. While the country has sought global momentum for solar energy through the International Solar Alliance (ISA), domestically, India has set an ambitious 450 GW renewable energy capacity target by 2030. Still, the country is not currently judged to be compatible with the Paris Agreement targets essential to mitigate the impacts of climate change. This, however, is not equally true across the country. Some of India’s smaller states (by area) and union territories (UT) have been paving the way and emerging as climate leaders by setting up concrete carbon-neutrality targets.

The UT of Ladakh, for example, committed to becoming carbon neutral with plans to enhance renewable energy by developing a 10 GW solar park, utilising hot water springs for geothermal energy and piloting green hydrogen as an alternative fuel. These plans have already been put in motion. Earlier this year, Ladakh signed an MoU with ONGC-EC to establish a geothermal plant and its pilot green hydrogen fuel cell currently has a 200KW energy capacity.

“[Ladakh’s energy] output will be phenomenally higher than the requirements of the region. It must be ensured that local communities are made part of this gainful exercise and their ‘commons’ are not disturbed. They must be made partners for long-term sustainability. National good with carbon neutrality cannot bypass local communities’ betterment for a better living,” said Tikender Panwar, former deputy mayor of Shimla. 

For the northeastern state of Sikkim, the priority will be tracking and information gathering of the state’s carbon inventory. The Sikkim Carbon Inventory and Monitoring System (SCIMS) will monitor and assess the state’s carbon emissions. Findings from the monitoring system showed that the state is in fact carbon negative, primarily due to the conservation and management of its forest areas. The state plans to build on the existing model of sustainability and ensure carbon neutrality while pursuing development. “Sikkim, one of the few states in the country to have a carbon negative status, has set an exemplary case of achieving economic growth while ensuring environmental sustainability. The state envisions to remain carbon negative even while riding the development ladder to cater to the aspirations of its people. The carbon-negative vision of Sikkim would ensure conservation of the state’s pristine natural ecosystems with several socio-economic co-benefits while mitigating emissions and enhancing sequestration. The actions will be guided in sound decision-making at the state level to maintain its status as a green state while ensuring achievement of Sikkim’s sustainable developmental goals and contributing to India’s NDCs,” explains M L Srivastava, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests at the Forest and Environment Department of Sikkim.

At the other end of the country, in Kerala, a nondescript village named Meenangadi in Wayanad district suddenly grabbed headlines because of its carbon neutrality success. The carbon neutrality project started in 2016, with the support of one of the oldest environmental organisations, Thanal. The gram panchayat in Meenangadi set out to evaluate sectoral emissions in the village, after which they were able to set targets and implement measures to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration. The projects are still in the implementation phase. “Several new innovative nature-based solutions are being implemented. We will do an assessment in 2022 to review the status,” said Jayakumar, executive director, Thanal.

Chhattisgarh’s health ministry made history earlier this year, too, by committing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In doing so, they became the first health sector in the country to commit to the UNFCCC’s Race to Zero Campaign. The state has set an important precedent when it comes to cross-sectoral implementation of climate action, which will be a necessity for successful action. “The state has reported the extent of recorded forest area (RFA) as 59,772 sqkm which is 44.21% of its geographical area. This forest area is remarkably rich in diversity of timber and non-timber plant species. The forest of Chhattisgarh is not only offsetting the huge stock of carbon but also providing the livelihood support to the tribal and rural communities of the state. The state has enormous scope for forest-based climate interventions in both climate change adaptation as well as mitigation. Considering the existing climate scenario of the state, we are continuously working to promote climate adaptation along with reduction in CO2 emissions by implementing the State Action plan on Climate Change (SAPCC), which is currently being revised for 2021-2030. We are regularly building capacity and creating awareness in association with Department of Science and Technology, Govt of India. Recently we completed the first phase of the Climate Footprint Project (a project on capacity building for compiling GHG inventory). At present, we are implementing an adaptation-based project in three forest divisions (Dhamtari, Mahasamund and Baloda Bazar) of the state with financial support from MOEF&CC, Govt of India,” says Manoj Kumar Pingua, Principal Secretary, Department of Forest, Chhattisgarh.

These states are establishing themselves as leaders in India’s carbon neutrality discourse. When it comes to setting such targets in the climate fight, several other nuances need to be considered for a country like India–socio-economic development, and just and equitable transition. Without taking substantial action against climate change, the country is jeopardising the economy, food and water security and lives of the most vulnerable population.  International collaborations, peer-to-peer learning and capacity building are some of the key levers that will enable state-level and national-level climate action and equip India to emerge as a climate champion. 

Views expressed in this piece are the author’s own.

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