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COVID-19 should not undermine efforts to fight climate change

Presently the whole world is grappling with the pandemic COVID-19 and containing its spread. However, that should not undermine our fight against climate change and the pace of our efforts to tackle the problem as climate change remains an acute threat to global development and shared prosperity.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown in many countries around the world has slowed global GHG emissions. For example, virus containment measures temporarily led to a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions in China, and emissions remained below normal for more than two months. In India air quality index in major cities like Delhi and Mumbai improved substantially during the lockdown period. It is difficult to quantify the longer-term impact of the crisis on GHG emissions, as the pandemic and associated economic shocks are still unfolding. Nonetheless, the IEA estimates that a significant drop in global oil demand, reduced electricity consumption, and limited industrial activity could reduce emissions by eight percent in 2020, to roughly 2010 levels (IEA 2020b). This would be the largest year-on-year decline recorded, six times larger than emission reductions resulting from the 2008 financial crisis.

However, present gains are temporary and once the world economy rolls back to normalcy we will be back to the old situation, in terms of emissions.  Decarbonizing the global economy requires concerted efforts and we need to go beyond the ambition of the first round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which would only limit warming to 2.7–3.7°C. Indeed, a continued focus on short- and medium-term targets (such as 2020 or 2030) could keep countries from making the fundamental changes they need, and make decarbonization costlier and more difficult over the longer term.

Till now India has done a lot to fulfil its commitment but lot more needs to be done. India has leapfrogged from Bharat Stage-IV (BS-IV) to Bharat Stage-VI (BS-VI) emission norms by April 1, 2020 which was earlier to be adopted by 2024. 80 million LPG connections in rural areas and distribution of 360 million LED bulbs under UJALA scheme which has led to energy saving of about 47 billion units of electricity per year and reduction of 38 million tonnes of CO2 per year, are the steps in the right direction. India’s renewable energy installed capacity has increased by 226% in last 5 years and stands more than 87 Gigawatt. The share of non-fossil sources in installed capacity of electricity generation increased from 30.5% in March 2015 to 37.7% in May 2020. All these developments show that we are on the right direction in achieving our goal.

But at the same time, lot more things need to be done and some are difficult steps compared earlier ones. We need to improve mobility system by reducing the need to travel through better land use planning and other strategies. We need to focus on building low-carbon, more resilient urban areas that increase livability, recognizing that by 2050, major portion of our population will live in cities, which are major sources of emissions and highly vulnerable to climate impacts. More stress need to be given to ensure  a plentiful supply of low-carbon electricity to meet growing demand, enhancing resource efficiency of energy production and use, and aligning power sector investments with climate goals. There is also need to protect  land-based ecosystems and carbon sinks, including forests, which are crucial to sustaining human life, but are growing sources of GHG emissions due to land-use change and land degradation.

So, it is too early to pat on our back for whatever we have achieved under climate change goals so far and need to concentrate on achieving greater milestones in the coming years.

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