Features

Roads not so green

Subhra Priyadarshini

doi:10.1038/nindia.2008.140 Published online 11 March 2008

Indian cities see more road traffic every passing day

As India makes global headlines for a small, affordable car dubbed the 'dream of the masses', the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned, yet again, that the country should be alert to the 'consequences' of thousands of such cars taking to the roads.

In a related study, the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo, has also identified road traffic as the biggest contributor to global warming in the transport sector, adding fuel to the raging debate in India.

In the first comprehensive analysis of the climate effect from the transport sector on a global scale, the researchers have broken it down to four sub-sectors: road transport, aviation, rail, and shipping. They calculated each sub-sector’s contribution to global warming. The researchers have looked at the radiative forcing (RF) caused by transport emissions. The RF describes the warming effect in Watts per square meter (W/m2).

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concludes that since pre-industrial times, 15% of the RF caused by man-made CO2-emissions have been from the transport sector. It also looks at other emissions. It implies that more attention needs to be put on the fast growing road sector.

Talking to Nature India, William. C. Ramsay, Deputy Executive Director of IEA, the body which advices 27 countries across the world on energy issues, calls the transport and power sectors in India as the 'two biggest culprits'.

"India has a huge population that’s moving around. Now, you are talking about manufacturing a Rs one lakh car. The result is going to be that several millions of people will move around in those cars. The country needs to be alert to the consequences," he said in a wide-ranging interview.

Now is the time to implement all those stringent policies

Ramsay, who released a special issue of the 'World Energy Outlook' focusing on India and China some time back, said this year’s estimates by the global energy body clearly suggest that if the Indian government does not change its policies in the transport and power sectors, greenhouse gas emissions would grow 'inexorably' through 2030.

"We have been making these estimates for so many years now. Since there is a tendency to underestimate the growth in India and China, we have calculated the energy graph factoring in a high GDP scenario…but the one thing that India, or any other country for that matter, doesn’t have is time. It is scary because 'now' is the time to implement all those stringent policies," he said.

Globally, India's presence in the energy market, which is not dramatic unlike China, could grow at a rapid rate, he said. Domestically, how India generates, transmits and consumes power and how it moves around will play an important role in its security and sustainability.

The projections

Ramsay said in the energy sector, the country has to take into account the forecasts in the nuclear sector. "The proposed nuclear deal with the US could make quite a change to the projections made in the document. I hope India would be able to take advantage of it. If the nuclear deal does come through, it will tilt the balance towards substantially lower carbon content in the power generation sector," he said.

The transport sector, however, needs immediate leadership intervention, Ramsay said.

Leena Srivastava, Executive Director of Delhi-based The Energy Research Institute agrees with the IEA concern. "Power and transport are the two sectors where we will see a tremendous increase in demand," she says. India's current levels of consumption are extremely low and the rate of growth, therefore, is going to be very high.

"Investment in both these sectors is going to remain with us for the next 30-40 years. So, if we make sensible choices now, it will hold us in good stead over a long period of time," she forecasts.

It is easier to look for technological solutions in the transport sector

She also concedes that it is easier to look for technological solutions in the transport sector and seek investments, both domestic and international, for more efficient public transport systems. "In the power sector, unfortunately, even at the global level, there are not too many well- tested technologies that India can access. And of course, the whole issue of coal availability and the quality of coal in India just complicates the entire matter," she adds.

On whether the nuclear deal, if it comes through, will have an impact on the energy demand and supply ratio, she says, "Assuming that the deal does happen, being able to negotiate the fuel supply agreements will take a little more time. Then there is the whole business of access to equipment and manufacturing facilities that exist in the whole world. So, how quickly we can ramp up production is the moot question."


References

  1. Fuglestvedt, J. et al. Climate forcing from the transport sectors. PNAS 105, 454-458 (2008)