India needs to consider climate change and the health impacts of air pollution as the nation plans its growing future electricity infrastructure, Shayak Sengupta and colleagues argue in a new study.
The findings of the analysis, which compares emissions from India’s rapidly growing energy sector and the various impacts and implications of climate change and air pollution policy interventions, show that current widely applied policies are insufficient to cut emissions or reduce air quality inequities nationwide.
India is the world’s third largest economy and power producer, yet large segments of the population still do not consume electricity. As a result, electricity demand is expected to increase drastically over the next decade as this population becomes more affluent and energy infrastructure expands.
However, even now, emissions from India’s current energy sector – which is currently heavily reliant on coal – are not only contributors to global climate change but also air pollution. Nearly all of India is subject to outdoor air pollution, resulting in nearly a million premature deaths annually. India’s impact on global climate and public health is projected to grow unless significant changes are made to its rapidly expanding energy sector.
Sengupta et al. developed a model of Indian power generation and demand, which also assesses the impact of various policy interventions, including carbon taxes, balancing electricity generation and consumption across the country, and sulfur-control regulations.
According to the findings, without new investments in low-carbon energy infrastructure, policy interventions alone are unlikely to have any real impact on India’s total emissions and are likely to cause disparate inequities in energy cost and air pollution exposure across different regions.
“As India continues to develop its economy, balancing the near-term and long-term effects of its electricity sector policies, as well as their impact on social inequalities, will be critical to ensure a low-carbon transition that is green as well as just,” write Ranjit Deshmukh and Sushanta Chatterjee in a related Perspective.