India can grow and cut emissions at the same time: Montek Singh Ahluwalia

Former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia
Technology has now developed in a way that makes it possible for us to keep growing and not necessarily increase emissions, renowned economist and former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told Business Standard in an exclusive interview.


Ahluwalia has authored a forthcoming research study outlining India's possible decarbonisation strategy for the Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP), along with CSEP Associate Fellow Utkarsh Patel. The findings of this study were unveiled and discussed at a seminar on August 6, 2021.


The economist pointed out in the interview that the approach to containing growth of emissions had traditionally been to increase the energy efficiency of gross domestic product (GDP). However, that alone would not prove to be enough under the present circumstances.


With that in mind, he outlined the strategy that could be adopted going forward. "You get the energy you need for growth through electricity. That, first of all, requires massive electrification. Wherever you are using fossil fuels, you switch to electricity," he explained. "And that has to be combined with a switch to green sources of electricity." The last part is critical. Ahluwalia explained that mere electrification did not reduce emissions. "If the electricity is produced by coal, the emission is taking place elsewhere."


However, the present state of technology opens up avenues that make switching away from coal possible. "The big technological breakthrough now is that renewable energy has become cost-competitive with coal. Looking ahead, costs are falling and they are likely to fall further," he said. "As a result, you can meet an expanding need of energy from electricity and you can turn to green sources of electricity so the expanded electricity production doesn't lead to emissions," he added.


The study for CSEP comes at a time when it is clear that we are not on track to meet the Paris target of limiting global warming to ideally 1.5 degrees Celcius. In fact, current policies imply more than 3 degrees Celcius of warming by the end of the century. This will be disastrous, and India will be among the countries most affected. Therefore, concerted and credible action is required by the world at large, including India.


In the interview, Ahluwalia also answered key questions on what India's emissions reduction target should be, and the scope for electrification across sectors.


He also addressed the problems of structural change that phasing out of coal and oil would present. Most importantly, he also suggested what could be India’s strategy for COP26. The United Nations-backed COP26 climate talks are scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

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