Green lessons from Tokyo

Rahul Mazumdar | Updated on October 07, 2021

Recycled ‘Green’ medal   -  REUTERS

For India, a mix of recycling, reuse, renewable energy and carbon credits is vital

The year 2021 is one of major events. After the Olympics in Tokyo, the annual COP26 UN climate summit is due to begin in a few weeks at Glasgow. COP26 envisages a carbon-neutral conference, with sustainability at its core, leaving a positive legacy.

In fact, each such mega event in recent times has started highlighting the eminent need to counter climate change. The Olympics in Tokyo have not only lived up to the true spirit of the game during these unprecedented times, but also showcased the transforming need of the hour towards the environment. Tokyo collected more than 150 per cent of carbon credits of what was needed, thereby being a carbon negative global event.

India may have set long-term sustainability goals, but efforts towards it are required to be incremental and continuous. While Japan ranked 18th of 165 countries for progress on their achievement of SDGs according to the Sustainable Development Report 2021 India ranked 120. Events like those in Tokyo provides an opportunity for developing economies like India to draw a few lessons.

‘Recycled’ Olympics

First such learning has been Japan’s extreme commitment to support circular economy. Almost 5,000 gold, silver, and bronze medals were made by extracting precious metals from small electronic devices which were contributed by the citizens themselves. The organisers accumulated plastic waste from the people to produce the podium used for the games in Tokyo, while the torchbearer wore a uniform made from discarded Coca-Cola bottles. Japan also recycled 99 per cent of all items and goods procured for the games and reuse 65 per cent of all the waste.

In India while discussions around circular economy are gaining momentum the country can consider taking some constructive steps in this direction. For a country like India to succeed in such an exercise would require the Union government and States to provide awareness about it, incentivise citizens and industry to promote it towards reusing products and bringing them into the mainstream of circular economy.

A National Circular Mission could be initiated, while setting up a Department of Circular Economy under the aegis of the Ministry of Commerce. It may be worth noting that among the developing countries, Rwanda has a policy for circular economy.

Second, is the need to incentivise carbon-credit at the State level. Leading to the games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government accepted the submission of credits from suitable businesses through Tokyo Cap-and-Trade Program. Credits from it were created by reducing CO2 emissions through developing more energy-efficient capabilities and through operational and behavioural initiatives that save energy.

Given the cash crunch faced by many municipalities in India, working towards carbon credit mechanism could be a good option. To set the momentum, the top 10 cities in India, can explore the Japanese template and use it to monetise by selling carbon credits. Firms can be assigned emission targets in the beginning of the year; after trading, they would be required to submit compliance to their municipal authorities.

Firms that achieved their targets and have surplus can sell them in the market; and those polluting will have to buy the surplus. The municipality can verify these projects, after which the certificates with carbon credits could be issued, which can then be traded in the international market. It may be noted that in July 2021, China launched its own national carbon market.

Hydrogen-driven economy

A hydrogen driven economy is increasingly being appreciated in India. Tokyo deployed hydrogen energy stations by using it during the games relay torches. India organises several sporting events and global summits. Going ahead, adopting these practices during such events would provide the much-needed boost and acceptability to hydrogen and fulfilling its demand thereon.

The government announced the National Hydrogen Mission, details of which are yet to be finalised. Hopefully the best practices will be adopted with a pragmatic timeline.

Fourth, has been the phenomenal use of electric vehicles (EVs) during the Olympics. Around 2,654 vehicles are being used to transport people with 90 per cent of these being electric-driven vehicles, such as fuel cell, plug-in hybrid, and other hybrid vehicles.

In India it is important for the States to incentivise EVs as it would stand to compete with others. Karnataka for example does not offer any direct subsidy but offers full exemption from road tax and registration fees for EVs. Exploring out-of-the-box non-financial incentives to promote EVs should be explored — such as municipalities giving reserved parking for EVs.

The Tokyo Olympics has played its part, and Glasgow COP26 is a few weeks away. Amidst these, India must chart its own path as the impact of climate change will be felt by everybody. While the circular economy deals with eliminating waste and reuse products, carbon credit tries to incentivise emissions, and renewables generate energy from cleaner sources — each has a potential role to play.

As Glasgow raises the bar, India has an opportunity to learn from Tokyo as it treads towards sustainability with greater vigour than ever before on a global platform.

The writer is a Senior Economist with India Exim Bank. Views expressed are personal

Published on October 07, 2021

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