Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Lessons from Uttarakhand and Texas

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Road to decarbonisation

The article deals with the common threads running through the recent flash floods in Uttarakhand and the severe cold that snapped the power grid in Texas.

Time-bound net zero carbon target

  • Most governments and corporates are in agreement over what needs to be done to reach the target of net-zero carbon emission target. Which include:
  • Fossil fuels must be steadily but inexorably replaced by clean energy electricity should be increasingly generated from solar and wind.
  • Transport should switch from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.
  • Energy demand should be conserved and more efficiently consumed.
  • Technology and innovation must remain the centrepiece of all activities.
  • Governments and corporates have also to agree on removing the legacy obstacles that lie on the pathway.

3 Legacy obstacles need to be removed

  • Two events last month will explain better the reasons for this concern.
  • A chunk of the Nanda Devi broke off and triggered flash floods downstream that then washed away or damaged several hydroelectric dams and led to the loss of hundreds of lives
  • A severe cold snap crashed the electricity grid system in Texas, plunging a wide swathe of the state into darkness.
  • These two events were unrelated, other than possibly by the link of climate change, but on examination of the reasons for the consequential material and human misery, they offer common insight.

1) Poorly designed planing system

  • In both cases, the authorities were caught unprepared. This is despite the fact that there had been precedents.
  • One reason for this lack of preparedness could be the presumption, based on historical data.
  • The lesson is that whilst the past is a useful guidepost, it is an imperfect one especially in view of the spate of natural disasters across the world in recent times, and that planners should be cautious about linear extrapolations.
  • Certainly, for the journey of decarbonisation, there is little of the distant past for them to hang onto.

2) Siloed and fragmented physical and regulatory oversight mechanisms

  • The tragedy in Uttarakhand reflected the costs of institutional fragmentation and lack of coordination in decision making.
  • The suggestions made in the aftermath of the Kedarnath flooding regarding land use and watershed management and the best means of securing an optimal balance between construction and the Himalayan ecology.
  • But the suggestion had not been implemented in large part because energy is a concurrent subject and there is no one ministerial or regulatory body responsible for this domain.
  • Further, these recommendations required the coming together of various non-energy ministries which, given the current vertically siloed structures of responsibility and accountability in our system, did not happen.
  • The glacial burst may have been beyond anyone’s control; the consequential downstream damage was avoidable. 

3) The lack of investment in energy infrastructure

  • One reason why solar and wind did not pick up the power slack in Texas was because the grid was not resilient enough to absorb the surge in the flow of intermittent renewable electrons.
  • India’s transmission system is not capable of managing the energy transition.
  • This problem will clearly have to be addressed if decarbonisation is to proceed smoothly.
  • But to do so, many issues will have to be resolved.
  • Not least, how much will it cost to upgrade the infrastructure? How will it be financed?
  • Who will take the lead on driving this change e?
  • Questions that are easier to set out than answer.

Way forward

  • To ensure that decarbonisation translates into effective action on the ground, policymakers will have to build structures that reflect the woven, multidimensional, interdependent and interconnected nature of the energy ecosystem.
  • This means creating mechanisms that facilitate inter-ministerial and inter-state collaboration within the country and multilateral cooperation internationally.

Consider the question “There are legacy obstacles in the road to decarbonisation. What are these obstacles and suggest the pathway to remove these obstacles?” 

Conclusion

In order to achieve the targets on carbon emission, India needs to draw on these lessons and build robust systems, regulatory mechanisms and facilitate investment in the creation of resilient energy infrastructure.

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