During India’s G20 presidency, experts hope transport and the decoupling of emissions from economic growth will play a more central role in the summit agenda

The European Union's Copernicus Climate Change (C3S) Service earlier this month confirmed July 2023 as the hottest month on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2019. Over the years, environmental experts have repeatedly called for curbing GHG emissions to address the challenge posed by climate change, but the recent erratic weather events, including in India, have proved yet again the urgency for such efforts.

As India leads the G20 Summit in New Delhi on September 9-10, a new report has laid the stress on decarbonising the transport sector in the 20 most developed economies because these nations account for “more than 80 percent of current global CO₂ emissions.” The report calls for a two-pronged approach to decarbonise the sector through mobility and energy transition. By transitioning to a sustainable mode of mobility, we could reduce energy consumption without limiting mobility; and by transitioning to clean energy, we would be able to cover the remaining demand with carbon-neutral energy.

Transport Emissions

Despite global actions to keep global warming well below 2°C, transport emissions continue to grow, which is why the efforts of G20 countries – home to almost two-thirds of the global population and accounting for around 80% of global economic output – to decarbonise the transport sector are so important.

In recent years, this subject has gained considerable attention in government, civil society and even business discourse. However, the dominant role played by fossil fuels in the transport sector keeps on rising worldwide. During India’s G20 presidency, experts hope that transport and the decoupling of emissions from economic growth will play a more central role in the summit agenda.

Fig 1. EVs are the key technology currently available to decarbonise road transport. Image via Shutterstock

Where does India stand among G20 nations?

Though a developing economy, India’s road network is the second-largest in the world after the US and it has the fourth-largest rail network globally. The total number of vehicles in the country grew at an average of 10% per year from 2005-2012. They continue to grow at a rapid pace, which, together with increasing urbanisation, has led to high levels of traffic congestion and air pollution. India has urbanised over 36% of its total population, according to the World Bank data. This figure is expected to rise to 53% by 2050. India’s transport sector has been hugely dependent on fossil fuels (98%). However, this has begun to change in recent years.

What are we doing to address the challenge?

Several countries, including India, have pledged to aggressively cut down GHG emissions or their intensity to achieve a net-zero target. From 2014 to 2017, India incrementally reduced oil and gas subsidies by 75%, while increasing funding for renewable energy six-fold.

India is also aggressively pursuing clean mobility goals. It has set a target to move at least 50% of goods via rail by 2030 and fully electrify its rail system by next year. And it will increase the share of railways from the current 36% to 45% for transportation of people and goods. It is already running metro trains in several cities and planning to launch in some more.

India has set an electric vehicle sales penerales of 30% for private cars, 70% for commercial cars, 40% for buses and 80% for two and three wheelers by 2030 and launched several schemes such as Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME) incentives to achieve the target. If these targets are met, the government hopes to save 846 million tons of net CO2 emissions and oil savings of 474 MTOE. With zero tail-pipe emissions, EVs are estimated to improve energy efficiency by producing about 20% less CO₂ than internal combustion engines.

Fig 2. India aims to have 30 percent Ev penetration of private cars by 2030. Image: iStock

The government has pledged to double the share of freight transported by coastal shipping and inland waterways. It is already developing several inland waterways and supporting adoption of electric boats for ferry services, goods transportation and fishing. Further, it has committed to reducing the emissions intensity of GDP by 45%  in 2030 relative to 2005 levels under the NDC.

What more can be done?

  • More rapid action and faster adoption of mitigation measures are needed as any further delay will require more painful changes later. Despite some positive trends, many countries appear to be lacking in large-scale and aggressive measures to phase out ICE vehicles, cut emission standards, and outline EV policy support.
  • Focussing only on improving vehicle technology may not be enough for decarbonisation because of the growing population and the resultant increase in motorisation and vehicle sizes. Policies should be focussed to shift transportation towards efficiency and less carbon-intensive modes.
  • These efforts must be complemented by measures to reduce vehicle weight.
  • There is a greater need for integrated system approaches. By pooling expertise of IT, transport, and power grid experts, it should become easier to identify measures that can promote greater integration between the power and transport sectors, and, by extension, guide the decarbonisation of the transport sector and energy economy as a whole.