The latest Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report declared a ‘code red’ for humankind. It seems inevitable that global temperature rise will breach the 1.5°C mark by the early 2030s. Further, as the report suggests, if we continue to remain on a high emission pathway, temperatures could rise by up to 4.4°C by 2100, leading to a catastrophic situation.
In India, the transport sector is currently the third largest emitter of CO2 and will remain an important part of the discussions and efforts around curbing emissions. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the transport sector could be responsible for around 1.5 gigatons of annual carbon emissions by 2050. India has already committed to more than half-a-dozen focus areas for clean transport as part of its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.
It is now time to revisit these transport commitments and scale up our actions. While this is made harder by the need to increase per capita incomes in the country, which is historically associated with higher emissions, there are certain areas where actions can be immediately scaled up.
To reduce emissions from transport, the role of significantly increasing the share of railways in passenger and freight segments is unquestionable. Current studies suggest the share of railways for freight to be 25-27% as compared to 36% estimated for the year 2005. To achieve rail-share of 45% — a target envisaged in NDC document — would require meticulous planning, massive investment in augmenting capacity, and rolling out proactive policies.
The Energy and Research Institute’s (TERI) research suggests adoption of commodity-specific dealings with customised and assured services to the customers. Piecemeal lightweight traffic should be prioritised, particularly when coal traffic is projected to be taken over by the ‘balance other goods’ category in the coming decades.
Coming to road transport, under the 2021-22 budget, GoI announced Rs18,000 crore for the purchase of buses by state governments. Such allocation should be made an annual practice to support green and efficient modes of transport. In addition, development of metro systems should be done on a rational basis and should be subsidised and sustained by city governments.
As per ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH), there is a ‘need to improve performance of the fleet, improve occupational ratio, and deploy technology solutions to improve service quality and compete with private bus/taxi services’ so as to enhance the contribution of public transport in overall emissions.
Improving non-motorised transport (NMT) infrastructure, along with improved urban planning, becomes critical for safe, efficient, and clean mobility. Investment in NMT infrastructure is a fraction of what is invested in constructing flyovers and metro systems that cater to a limited clientele. Investment in NMT infrastructure could be supported by dedicating a portion of the tax collected on diesel and gasoline towards national highways and rural roads development.
It is important that India does not emulate the path taken by most developed countries and have a higher share of private passenger cars as proportion of its population. Regulating the growth in private vehicles through carbon tax and redirecting demand towards cleaner technologies would save foreign exchange on imported fuel, and reduce road congestion and emissions. The newer vehicles on our streets must be zero emission. Present policies focus on purchase subsidies, which is a good short-term solution. However, aggressively stepping up investment in charging infrastructure is needed, with a differentiated strategy for urban and inter-city segments, as well as augmenting electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing capacities.
Fast tracking the roll-out of a scrappage policy and green tax while taking state governments onboard to implement it in letter and spirit will lead to adoption of efficient and cleaner vehicle technologies. The auto industry must realize the urgency of the situation and come on-board in implementing efficiency measures. These measures are critical for the commercial vehicle segment. Emission standards for all categories of commercial vehicles should be put in place on an urgent basis.
India continues to lag behind on its target of 20% blending of ethanol in petrol and 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030. The time has come to ensure these targets are met well in advance, by ensuring adequate supply of biofuel throughout the year and geography. There needs to be a clear roadmap and understanding between the government and auto industry on the availability of biofuels. Scaling up the production of bio-diesel for blending with aviation turbine fuel is also required.
We do not have much time and choice left but to act towards low carbon transport sector. Without significant intervention, the transport sector could become a hurdle in achieving 2030 climate goals and global net zero emissions by 2050. The need for transforming the sector is imminent and all stakeholders, including policymakers and industries have to come together to achieve the ambitious goal of decarbonizing the sector.
The job is difficult, but we must do all we can to bring down carbon emissions. It is now a question of our very survival.