Climate change hurts India more than most. How will it deal with emissions?

Forestry and agriculture may hold the key to reaching their climate goals, but the demands of a growing population complicate things.

What is the carbon context in India?

India’s carbon emissions have grown steadily over the last 20 years to 4.47% of the global total, making the country the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) after China and the US. (Emissions per capita are lower, at about one-quarter of the global average.)

Source: Carbon180

Challenges to India’s low-carbon growth

India is uniquely situated in the global context for carbon mitigation: they face disproportionate risks from climate change with comparatively fewer resources for carbon mitigation efforts compared to wealthier countries. Even though its per capita emissions are lower (about a quarter of the global average), the country remains partially responsible for the global impacts of climate change as one of the top emitters.

What does carbon removal look like in India today?

Land use, agriculture and reforestation

Despite these challenges, India has the potential to mitigate a significant amount of carbon using more bottom-up pathways, with especially promising opportunities in agriculture and forestry.

Forestry is a major rural industry and environmental resource in India. Many support agroforestry in particular as a means of boosting economic and ecological benefits. Photo: Leisa India

Technical carbon removal pathways

At present, most technical pathways remain in a research and development stage, but a few projects are worth noting.

Who is leading carbon removal efforts in India?

Carbon Clean Solutions is one notable startup in the carbon removal space in India. The company uses a carbon capture and utilization solution, which uses a patented molecule that captures carbon dioxide from power plant emissions and uses it to make other useful products like baking soda. The technology can be retrofitted into existing plants, making it more cost-effective.

Two members of the Carbon Clean Solutions team. Photo: Carbon Clean Solutions

India’s future is natural pathways — for now

Faced with developmental, economic, and legislative challenges, India’s road to carbon removal technologies like carbon capture is still in the planning stages. A rapidly growing economy comes with higher electricity consumption, and fossil fuels are expected to remain the primary source of this energy in the coming decades. As long as technological carbon removal’s up-front costs and the demand for cheap(er) electricity remain high, implementation will be sluggish. Leap-frogging is one potential tactic for skirting this challenge, but it will require international knowledge-sharing and support to turn it into a reality.

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