India’s reluctance to accept highly ambitious goals to check climate change may have stemmed from price concerns earlier, but the country is now ready to accept the challenges, according to Ajay Mathur, Director-General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

Mathur, one of India’s climate negotiators, recently headed the first World Sustainable Development Summit, formerly known as the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. He says India has learnt how to use technology to deal with efficiency challenges. Excerpts :

India has just ratified the Paris deal. There is a feeling that our INDCs aren’t ambitious enough. What are your thoughts on it?

Remember that the INDC we have submitted have end dates of 2030. Also, there would be the global stock takes that encourage all countries to be more ambitious. So, irrespective of the speed of ratification, and I completely agree that this deal was ratified at the speed of light, the challenge of ensuring that we deliver on our INDCs by 2030 remains the same. As far as ambitions are concerned, the vast amount of the INDCs would be achieved through the new infrastructure that is added – whether it is buildings, industries or power plants.

What would we have to look out for as we prepare to implement the measures?

As we look to low carbon options, there are two issues. First is that they typically cost more, and therefore the business models to move to low-carbon options are important. With LEDs, we have shown how this can be done. We need to show this in other things, for example, air-conditioners. How do we get ACs that are more efficient and with low GWP (global warming potential) gases?

The second issue is about the electricity sector in particular. One of our INDCs is that at least 40 per cent of the installed electricity generation capacity would be non-fossil, which is a large amount. If this is supplied by wind and solar, what happens when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing? That means we need a grid that is flexible and has enough storage — either pumped storage, gas on demand or storage batteries. I hope we can resolve these challenges and get whatever storage technology of choice in place by 2025 so that by 2030 this can be done. Achievement of the 2030 goal is dependent both on technology development and price reduction.

Where do you think global climate negotiations are headed?

As far as global discussions are concerned the challenge has been and will continue to be to keep everyone inside the tent. The fact that each country puts up its own pledge on what it can do, I think, is a major step away from the old top-down approach – when a country found it could not meet the targets, it would stand down.

Now countries are assessing what they can do and since they have promised it themselves, the chances that they will deliver are higher. Then they can even be more ambitious.

If you look at the last 3-4 years – whether it is the renewables programme or the LED programme – we now feel we have the confidence to largely address these issues. In LEDs, prices have gone down by almost 85 per cent, from ₹310 to ₹32.

In renewables, prices have gone down from ₹18 kwh to ₹4.32. This gives us the confidence that once you have technologies that are mature that people like to use, a business model can be constructed around it for large-scale dissemination at lower prices.

The Montreal protocol discussions are also coming up. India has been defensive about agreeing to move to low-GWP refrigerant alternates at these meets. How do we move past it this year, as we are looking at a deal?

We want an agreement at Kigali. And we would like it to be such that overall costs – both global and Indian – are minimised. So, as an example, we would like to set up a programme – with various stakeholders including commercial organisations – to bring very efficient air-conditioners with low-GWP refrigerants into India.

When we say very efficient, we mean with energy efficiency ratio of over 5:2 as compared to the best today, which is 3:8, while the average is 3:1.

This will cost more. When we order in bulk, there will be at least three suppliers when we say we want 100,000-200,000 and they will give a competitive price. Now, this may still be more expensive than what we pay today. We could reach out to the energy efficiency fund created globally by governments and by philanthropic organisations and ask them to fill this gap so that you and I still get an AC at the price we can afford, but you get a more efficient one. This is the first tranche.

By the second tranche, prices will come down further and by the third tranche prices will become competitive on its own. So, we can use the energy efficiency fund in a declining manner, create the capacity for manufacturing and bring the prices down, and create a demand in India for very efficient ACs. I think we have learnt now we can move ahead with technologies to bring it at prices that people can afford.

The recently concluded summit saw a nomenclature change and focus on regional dialogues. Why?

The reason why we had the name change and are having regional dialogues are similar. What we are looking at are global issues, but the answers are very local. We need to have the same issues discussed at various places around the world. Besides, India we will have dialogues across the world. That way you get a greater buy-in and geographical particularity to the issues.