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DISTANT DREAM OR A POSSIBLE FUTURE?
While many countries globally have been chasing to reach the carbon-neutral status, only a few seem to be living up to their pledges as of now. The famous ’Paris Agreement-2015’ was glorified and celebrated that finally, 196 countries have united with an intent to mitigate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developed countries, home to 18% of the global population, are responsible for over 60% of these emissions, with China and the USA leading in pumping these emissions into the climate, however, the efforts made by them seem far from reaching their pledged targets.
Bhutan- a country which has been the dark horse of the net-zero race is not only the first to achieve the carbon-neutral status but is carbon–negative (yes, it produces more oxygen than it consumes). But this did not happen overnight. The leadership, common people’s commitment and clear targets have enabled them to achieve this mighty status after working hard for it over the years. Decoding the achievement, the major share goes to respecting and protecting their forest cover. As per its constitution, 60 per cent of the country shall be environmentally protected (have forest cover at all times) and the country has made every effort to maintain it (banned logging exports in 1999.). It generates about 2.2 million tonnes of CO2 each year, yet its forests absorb three times this amount, which eventually creates a carbon sink. Additionally, free hydroelectric power generated by Bhutan’s many rivers is used instead of less environmentally friendly fossil fuels and to further complement its Green statusthey provide free electricity to the rural farmers. Here, conservation of the environment has become a duty for every citizen and they have been judiciously following it too- setting a world record of planting more than 49,000 trees in one hour is just a small example. Though people debate that Bhutan was able to achieve it because of its limited population and favourable geography, many similar populous countries like Maldives and Luxemburg haven’t been able to manage it yet. Bhutan is surely a guidebook for nations in this race to achieve carbon neutrality status if not a replicable model.
Speaking of India, it has been progressing fairly concerning its pledge i.e. to reach carbon neutrality by 2070 and reduce emissions to 50% by 2030. A United Nations report released last year stated that India’s per capita emissions are 60% lower than the global average. The emissions in the country grew 1.4% in 2019, much lower than its average of 3.3% per year over the last decade. Credit may be given to the government for promoting and encouraging reliance on renewable energy. Initiatives like National Solar Mission- to promote ecologically sustainable growth while addressing India’s energy security challenge have enabled India to increase its solar capacity from 2.5GW to a whopping 46GW in the last 7.5 years. Achieving a record low solar tariff of INR1.99/unit is also commendable. National WindSolar Hybrid Policy 2018 is another measure to provide a framework for the promotion of large gridconnected wind-solar photovoltaic (PV) hybrid systems for optimal and efficient utilization of wind and solar resources and transmission infrastructure and land. Bharat Stage (BS) VI norms –an emission control standard to keep a check on air pollution and many more such initiatives have helped India in cutting its CO2 emissions by 164 million kg. But is this enough to meet the target by 2070? If not, then what more needs to be done and how? A small village panchayat of Jammu that was recently in news perhaps may throw some light. Palli village in Jammu’s Samba district has done what seemed impossible for many. It became India’s first Carbonneutral panchayat, with the inauguration of a 500 KW solar power plant. Palli village is fully powered by solar energy and with all its records digitised and saturation of benefits of all the central schemes. PM Narendra Modi lauded the village’s efforts and iterated that it is also an example of ‘Sab ka prayas’ (Everyone’s efforts). “Every household in Palli offered ‘rotis’ to the workers who completed the solar power plant,” he added. Being termed as a success model/ case study by many, it will encourage more panchayats to follow in its footsteps which will ultimately have a ripple effect on towns, cities and soon the nation. This small achievement surely has made us learn that every effort taken towards saving our planet counts- small or big, individual or united. If Palli and Bhutan can do it, so can India and so can the world. While we can rely on our governments to introduce more stringent measures, policies and guidelines, the least we can do at the individual level is to adapt sensitive behaviour towards climate change. It is happening and at a much faster pace than we thought – severe heatwaves, floods, droughts and air pollution is just the beginning. So let us take pledges at the individual level to save our planet in whatever manner we canplanting a tree; switching to public transport (bonus if electric); adopting cleaner cooking methods-solar cookers or switching to energy-efficient appliances, as it is rightly said- ‘Big things often have small beginnings. It is time to become that small beginning to change the ‘Carbon Neutral’ status from a distant dream into a reality.