India contribution to climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report issued a ‘code red’ for mankind, saying that a 1.5 degree Celsius warming of the Earth is inevitable.

Although ‘environmental health’ is being given importance globally, the pace of recovery is not as fast as the rate of erosion.

In the context of India, the agriculture and allied sector is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas after the energy sector and manufacturing sector.

Being heavily dependent on the agriculture sector, India needs to bring some significant changes in its farming system and adopt carbon-efficient methods of farming and livestock management.

India: Climate Change and Agriculture

India’s position in air pollution: According to the World Air Quality Report, 2020, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India and Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital.

Delhi suffers severe air pollution during the winter season due to stubble burning in the surrounding states.

During this period the ‘Air Quality Index (AQI) on average crosses 300 and on some days it even reaches as high as 600-800, while the safe limit is less than 50.

Greenhouse gas emissions: Globally, India is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas after China and the US, emitting about 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 annually.

However, India’s per capita emissions are only 1.8 tonnes, which is significantly lower than the global average of 4.4 tonnes per capita.

India in its “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) has committed to reducing the emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030.

India’s Sectoral Emissions: Globally, electricity and heat generation, agriculture, forestry, and other land use constitute 50% of the emissions.

The largest share of emissions in India is from the energy sector (44%), manufacturing and construction sectors (18%), and agriculture, forestry, and land-use sectors (14%).

The remaining share of emissions comes from the transportation, industrial processes, and waste sectors.

 

Agriculture and Climate Change:

Total GHG emissions: The share of agriculture in total emissions has gradually decreased from 28% in 1994 to 14% in 2016.

However, the emissions of the agricultural sector as a whole have increased to about 650 million tonnes of CO2 in the year 2018.

Emission classification: The emissions in the Indian agricultural sector are mainly due to the use of “livestock sector” (54.6%) and “nitrogen fertilizers” (19%).

Under anaerobic conditions, rice cultivation accounts for a large (17.5%) of agricultural emissions.

Agricultural soil is the largest source of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions.

The use of nitrogen-fertilizers increased N2O emissions by 358% between 1980-81 and 2014-15.


Towards carbon-efficient agriculture

Providing legal support to the concept of ‘carbon-efficient agriculture’: A ‘specific carbon policy’ should be formulated for the agriculture sector, which aims to reduce carbon emissions and reward farmers through ‘globally tradable carbon credits’ be targeted.

In addition, India should clearly specify in its policy how carbon credits will be adjusted while selling to polluting industries abroad, so as to avoid double counting.

Changing dietary practices: India, with the world’s largest livestock population (537 million), must focus on developing better dietary practices, so increasing their productivity is critical.

Promoting water-efficient crops: In addition to livestock, rice cultivation (particularly in irrigated areas of northwest India) is largely responsible for methane emissions.

While rice seeding and alternative ‘wet and dry methods of rice cultivation can reduce the carbon footprint, the real solution would be to move to maize or other low water consuming crops instead of rice.

Simultaneously, a system of rewarding farmers for cultivating ‘maize instead of rice’ would make it more profitable than paddy and would be a favorable situation for all.

Promotion of biofuels: The production of ethanol from water-saving crops like maize, as well as from non-food feed, can be promoted.

This will not only help in reducing India’s dependence on crude oil imports but will also reduce its carbon footprint.

Promoting Fertigation: An alternative to better and efficient fertilizer use could be to promote fertigation (Injection of Fertilizers) and provide subsidies to soluble fertilizers.

The government should provide incentives and subsidies on a drip for fertigation; move to maize or other less water-intensive crops instead of rice cultivation; And it should be promoted by providing similar subsidies on soluble fertilizers like granular urea.

Sustainable Dairy Practices: There is a need to actively pursue sustainable dairy practices, which may include:

Reducing GHG emissions through technological and best agricultural practices interventions and solutions.

Reducing the demand for resources by better-integrating livestock into the ‘Circular Bio-Economy’.

This goal can be achieved through recycling and recovery of nutrients and energy from animal waste.

Integration of livestock with crops and agro-industries at different levels to utilize low-value and low-emission biomass.

Conclusion

Considering that the damage done so far to the environment is irreversible, there is a need for drastic and immediate reductions in carbon emissions.

India being an economy dependent on agriculture can neither give up this practice nor ignore the damage it causes.

India needs a better carbon-efficient approach to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

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