Last month I had the opportunity to discuss the dilemmas that India faces in tackling air pollution. A select audience of India’s most influential policy makers, scientists, academics and NGOs, hosted by National Geographic, convened to debate the challenge of meeting India’s rising demand for energy at the same time as addressing the growing threat of climate change.
At current rates, the global population is increasing by 200,000 people a day. By 2050, 75% of the world’s 9 billion people will be living in cities, up from 50% today. We will see some of the greatest growth in both population and urbanisation in India.
As these developments unfold throughout the world, millions of people will lift themselves out of poverty, and a growing middle-class will aspire to a better standard of living. These trends – population growth, more people moving to cities, and a greater desire for products and experiences – all have one thing in common: they require energy.
So how will this demand for energy be met? And how will environmental issues be factored into?
What’s clear is that the decisions made today around energy policies will impact generations to come. This isn’t simply about having electricity available at the flick of a switch, 24 hours a day. It’s about ensuring a sustainable, reliable and competitive supply of energy; one that facilitates growth while tackling the consequences of climate change, as well as rising local air pollution.
Considerations need to include all externalities, infrastructure, technology developments and how potential partnerships can help. India has some big choices to make, and it needs the right policy instruments to set the energy landscape on a sustainable path.
I believe an important part of the solution lies in increasing use of natural gas. It’s abundant, versatile and the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, producing less than half the carbon dioxide and one tenth of air pollutants that coal does when burnt to generate electricity.
It is well placed to become the backbone of the world’s energy system. In India, you can see its impact in the state of Gujarat, already making up 25% of the state’s energy mix.
Over ten years ago, Shell was given a warm welcome to deliver natural gas to Indian consumers through the Hazira liquefied natural gas terminal. This move by the state of Gujarat – helped by its first-rate governance processes – has resulted in savings of approximately US$7 billion, as expensive diesel and naphtha have been replaced by cheaper and cleaner burning LNG.
As well as in transportation, this gas is being used as a fuel for cooking. It’s also helping boost the manufacturing industries of petrochemicals, fertilizers, and glass in the state.
The world is experiencing an energy transition driven by rising demand for energy and an urgent need to address climate change. Efforts to address these challenges are embodied in many initiatives underway in India, including the ‘Clean India’ campaign.
But these challenges aren’t behind us yet. It’s going to take a lot more hard work, as India develops energy strategies on everything from use of natural gas, to increasing use of renewables. We strongly believe gas is a bridge towards an important part of a sustainable future.
There’s no simple answer, and government, industry and civil society all have their parts to play. Collective and individual responsibilities can’t be shirked. Close, cross-sector collaboration is essential.
While there are reams of urgent tasks to be getting on with, for me there’s nothing as important as making bold and comprehensive energy policy decisions. Why? Because they will act as a catalyst for many other actions needed for India to achieve a sustainable energy future.