Though India has been witnessing a steady decline in the sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, one of the major air pollutants, there is no room for complacency as it continues to remain the top SO2 emitter in the world for the fifth successive year. In terms of clean energy transition, India has been faring reasonably well and has set one of the world’s most ambitious renewable energy targets but lack of flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) units, a technology that reduces sulphur dioxide emissions, at most power plants is turning out to be a major stumbling block. According to a report by Greenpeace India and Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), India recorded a significant decline of 6% in SO2 emissions in 2019 over the previous year. Still, it holds the dubious distinction of being the world’s highest emitter, followed by Russia and China. Sulphur dioxide is a poisonous air pollutant that increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. In 2019, India emitted 21% of global human-made SO2 emissions, nearly double that of Russia. Thermal power stations are the biggest emission hotspots in the country. Despite making ambitious strides in renewable energy, coal-based power generation continues to be a cause for concern. Renewable energy capacity has been steadily increasing, accounting for more than two-thirds of the new capacity additions during 2019-20. However, this has been overshadowed by the fact that most of the power plants lack FGD units, which are critical in the process of reducing emissions.
There is a need to speed up the energy transition from coal towards renewables in the interest of public health and economy. While ensuring just transition of energy, with the help of decentralised renewable sources, there is also a need to prioritise access to electricity for the poor. India has claimed that it was confident of meeting the Paris climate agreement targets much before the schedule, but it lags behind the developed countries in emission control initiatives. Indian scientists played a pioneering role in coming up with the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that awakened the global consciousness on climate change but the country doesn’t have a clearly defined emission-control target. Though India has adopted a Climate Change Action Plan, more as a device to bargain for a greater share of global climate fund, a system of detailed plans for different types of emissions, sectors and geographical and administrative units is yet to take shape in a comprehensive manner. In developed countries, emission control strategies of greenhouse gases, including compilation of detailed emission inventories and mandatory reporting norms for emissions, have emerged as key elements in coping with climate change.
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