By Dr Sapan Thapar
Being one of the fastest growing economies, India is poised to join the comity of the developed world as we embark on this journey of Amritkal. To follow an environmentally benign growth trajectory, the country is following ‘Panchamrit, which envisages 500 GW non-fossil energy capacity, emission reduction by a billion tonnes and reducing carbon intensity by 45 per cent (all by the year 2030). Even with a modest per capita emission value, India counts as among the top four greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters due to its large population size. The country has been emphasizing on the concept of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capability’ (CBDR-RC) to provide sufficient carbon space for it to grow.
Per capita emission level (computed as total emissions divided by total population), though well below global average, hides a wide variation within the Indian society. To estimate the values, we analyze carbon emissions attributed to energy (electricity, cooking gas and transport).
For the power sector, we analyzed household electricity consumption across two utilities. There are about 21 million households in Uttar Pradesh consuming upto 150 units per month, out of which, half consume less than 100 units. About 6 million households consume over 150 units a month, within which 3 million consume over 300 units. In case of Maharashtra (MSEDCL), over 26 million households consume upto 100 units per month, 6 million consume from 101-300 units, while 1.3 million consume more than 300 units. Using grid emissivity factor of 0.8 kg CO2eq/ kWh, annual emissions for a low consuming household (100 units/ month, or 1200 units/ annum) shall be equivalent to about one-ton CO2eq, while it would be 3 tons CO2eq for a household consuming 300 units/ month.
Now we discuss on the transport sector. Over 3.7 million personal cars were sold in India during 2022, compared to 16 million two-wheelers sold in the same period. Car is associated with higher emissions (150 gm CO2eq/km) compared to a 2-wheeler (80 gm CO2eq/ km). For an annual travel of 6000 km (monthly travel of 500 km), a car owning household shall emit 900 kg CO2eq, compared to 480 kg CO2eq by a two-wheeler owning family. In case of inter-city commutation also, there are similar numbers. On an average, about 0.4 million people in India travel by air daily, compared to 25 million people using rail. A consumer traveling by air for a 2000 km (return journey from Mumbai to Delhi, twice a year) shall generate 400 kg carbon (emission factor of 0.1 kg/ km), while a similar journey on rail emanates a tenth of carbon, 40 kg (emission factor of 0.01 kg/ km).
Aggregating the numbers above, we found that the total energy related emissions attributed to an affluent household shall be 4.7 tons CO2eq, about three times emanated from a relatively modest household (at 1.6 CO2eq). The study reflects a strong correlation between economic prosperity and carbon emissions. Derived numbers indicate nearness of ‘Mean’ and ‘Median’ values, with the high emitting households being hidden under the low-level national (average) value.
A strategy akin to CBDR, on an intra-country level, needs to be formulated, with targets based on propensity to pay. Possible categories can include people in higher tax brackets, frequent flyers, high power consuming households and even SUV owners. This kind of approach shall resonate with the LIFE initiative (Lifestyle For Environment), as well, which advocates for a climate friendly lifestyle.
[This piece was written exclusively for ETEnergyworld by Dr Sapan Thapar, an Associate Director at RTI International India. Views are personal]