India is steadily marching towards a development agenda that is sustainable and inclusive, yet keeping in mind the exigent demands of its billion-strong population for socio-economic progress. This is in line with the country’s strong commitment to achieving globally negotiated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). India has had considerable success in decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by reducing emissions intensity of GDP by 24 per cent between 2005 and 2016.

While the emissions intensity of GDP has come down, the emissions in absolute terms have not, causing widespread warming and a range of adverse social and ecological effects. As per an IPCC report, an increase in global temperatures by 1.5°C relative to pre-industrialisation levels can lead to a dangerous rise in the sea level and disproportionately affect vulnerable populations through adverse health impacts, loss of livelihood opportunities, as well as food and economic insecurity.

India is likely to be one of the nations most significantly affected, given its large coastline, huge population, and high levels of inequality and poverty. Community focused, sustainable development is the need of the hour to combat climate change and its many threats.

The transport sector

One of the major culprits for the increase in emissions is the country’s transport sector which accounts for 13.5 per cent of the country’s energy-related CO2 emissions, with road transport accounting for a whopping 90 per cent of the sector’s final energy consumption.

ICE vehicles, which constitute a vast majority of our motor fleet, are rightfully criticised for increasing air pollution, jeopardising societal health outcomes and perpetuating the use of fossil fuels — all of which threaten India’s SDG efforts. Reducing transport-related emissions by adopting clean mobility solutions should be an important part of any sustainable development strategy to combat climate change and its impacts (SDG 13).

EVs, a ray of hope

To help India meet its SDG goals, a strong push towards clean mobility is crucial and here EVs provide a shimmering ray of hope. They eliminate tailpipe emissions, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, improve community health, safeguard energy security, and improve prospects for employment and upskilling.

Coupling electric mobility targets with renewable energy targets will further help in decarbonising the transport sector. If powered by clean energy sources, EVs can help in increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix (SDG Target 7.2) and contribute to tackling air pollution and related health effects (SDG Target 3.9). The linkages do not just stop here. With the EV industry slated to generate 10 million jobs in India, EV manufacturing can offer job creation, entrepreneurship, and formalisation and growth of MSMEs (SDG Target 8.3).

It can promote sustainable and inclusive industrialisation (SDG Target 9.2) and facilitate the integration of small scale industrial enterprises in value chains and markets (SDG Target 9.3). At the end of their life cycles, batteries can be mined for precious metals, helping achieve sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources (SDG Target 12.2). Recycling and proper end of life management of used batteries can also substantially reduce waste generation (SDG Target 12.5).

India has taken a number of initiatives to promote EV uptake and manufacturing. Notwithstanding these measures, there is still scope for greater action on this front. SDGs can be our guide yet again, providing principles that can animate policy. Universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services (SDG Target 7.1) should serve as the normative bedrock for all EV-related decision making. India must also commit itself to providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems (SDG Target 11.2) by mainstreaming EVs across all vehicular segments including buses for emission-free public transport.

Upgrade infrastructure

The industrial sector may be encouraged to upgrade infrastructure and adopt clean and environmentally sound technologies (SDG Target 9.4) by electrifying freight transport and embracing EVs for delivery and ridesharing. It may further enhance scientific research and upgrade technological capability (SDG Target 9.5) to disrupt existing value chains and establish India as a focal point for EV manufacturing and related exports.

SDGs are not just principles to abide by but promises to our future generations for a secure and safe future. EVs hooked to renewable sources can be a magic bullet that can cover a wide range of SDG goals while keeping it aligned with existing measures identified for the country's clean economic revival.

A lot of groundwork has already been done in terms of prioritising this sector and having the right policy support from the government. As experts and decision makers from around the world meet for the Transport and Climate Change Week in Berlin, India must affirm its resolve to pursue a mobility future that is sustainable, and premised on the broader consensus built across nations on the basis of trust. It is high time electric mobility is entrenched as a cornerstone of the country’s sustainable development agenda.

Samantray Senior Manager at the Ola Mobility Institute (OMI), where she heads Electric Mobility and Energy research and advocacy.

Narain is Researcher - Electric Mobility and Energy - at OMI.