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Exploring Carbon Neutral Development for India’s Subnational Regions

Many countries, subnational regions, and companies have recently announced carbon neutrality or net zero emission targets. The world as a whole needs to become carbon neutral by the middle of the 21st century to limit global warming to 1.5C.

For India, development is a priority, but India’s subnational regions are in a position to mainstream climate action into their development efforts. Even as they build infrastructure and create economic opportunities, they can do so while avoiding carbon-intensive options and protecting their natural resources.

We discuss some pioneering initiatives, unique approaches, and voluntary commitments from different parts of the country that are beginning to explore carbon neutrality. Together these demonstrate the importance of: 1. Strong leadership 2. Coordination mechanisms 3. Innovative finance 4. Inclusive processes

Leadership for carbon neutral development in Ladakh

In August 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced that the Union Territory of Ladakh will be developed as a carbon neutral region, which is highlighted in India’s latest Biennial Update Report (BUR3) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Indian Government’s Special Development Package for Ladakh focuses on infrastructure development including a proposed 7.5 GW solar park. Ladakh is also exploring geothermal energy from hot water springs, solar dryers to reduce post-harvest losses, and solar power-based micro-irrigation. It also plans to pilot hydrogen fuel cell electric buses and cars that will run on hydrogen produced from renewable energy.

This sets a strong development vision for the region albeit one that needs to be implemented while protecting its unique ecosystem.

Information coordination for carbon neutral Sikkim

The Himalayan state of Sikkim is vulnerable to temperature rise, glacier melt, and drying of water bodies. Like most Indian states, its State Action Plan on Climate Change focuses on adaptation. It has become India’s first fully organic farming state. Till recently its emissions from energy, industry and waste were less than the emissions removed by its forests and land.

As the economy develops, Sikkim aims to remain a carbon neutral state. This requires the state to measure and monitor how emissions are growing in different sectors. The state’s climate inventory and monitoring system (SCIMS) is designed to do just this. Based on such information, the state can implement coordinated actions across more than 15 departments and monitor the mitigation impact of such actions over time.

Sikkim’s initiative of coordinated data management is a pro-active example of how states can contribute to India’s national climate targets under the Paris Agreement.

Innovative finance for carbon neutral Meenangadi

In 2016, Kerala state selected Meenangadi in Wayanad district to become a model carbon-neutral panchayat. The vision was to achieve zero carbon development and local self-sufficiency in food and energy. Thanal, a non-profit organization helped formulate the strategy for the panchayat based on past emissions and expected trends. The annual plans of the local government became the main instrument for undertaking projects such as solar lighting, electric autorickshaws, energy efficient equipment, waste management, and biogas.

To become carbon neutral, Meenangadi intends to conserve existing trees in its homesteads, coffee plantations, and forests, and to plant an additional 6,00,000 trees. An innovative tree banking scheme was launched in October 2020 to incentivize people: it allows them to mortgage trees on their land in return for interest-free bank loans. The initial loan amount and interest are paid through a grant from the state government, and the principal amount has to be paid back if the tree is cut.

This scheme not only provides an incentive to protect an invaluable resource and carbon sink, but also boosts the income of residents.

Inclusive processes for carbon neutral Bengaluru

Bengaluru recently announced a carbon neutrality target. The commitment aims for a carbon neutral Bengaluru in 2050 with an interim target in 2030. In developing this agenda, the city seeks to engage with various stakeholders and address the equitable distribution of its social, environmental and economic benefits.

To enable this, decision makers need to place people at the heart of climate neutrality planning, from vision setting, policy framing to implementation. Whether it is providing sustainable mobility, protecting lakes, or conserving tree cover, the city should strive to pursue its carbon neutrality goal in an inclusive and participatory manner.

India’s states, union territories, cities, and villages are showing how they plan to develop economically and socially while staying within environmental limits. In mainstreaming climate considerations into their development trajectories, they are employing strong leadership, cross-sectoral coordination mechanisms, innovative financial models, and inclusive planning processes. Other developing regions can also learn from these examples to usher a just transition to a net zero future.

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