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Role of Science, Technology and Innovation in addressing Climate Change

Climate change is a global concern that not only impacts the environment, but also the economic growth. The impact is more pronounced on the poor as they are more susceptible to damages, have greater exposure to climate hazards and are less able to cope up with these damages. These factors make it a major governance issue as well. Reduction of carbon emission is a single-fold response that can help mitigate the impacts of climate change. For the very first time, the International Energy Agency predicted a fall of 8% in CO2 emissions amid COVID-19 pandemic. India also witnessed 30% drop in CO2 emission in April 2020, due to economic slowdown and restricted activity. This was witnessed for the first time in nearly four decades.2 Though these impacts are short term, it has evoked debate over the long term strategy of the government to tackle energy usage and the emissions. Precisely, in the post COVID strategy, the experts propose that India should think of  ‘green recovery’ that ‘builds back better’, by cutting carbon emissions to reinforce economic growth. But how can this be actually achieved?While India is in a process of formulating a new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP 2020), hence to achieve low carbon technology innovations and build climate resilience, should be an integral part of mainstreaming the clear policy directives for innovative technologies. The article provides some insights to reflect on these dimensions.

Addressing Climate Change through STI Climate change triggers the non-linear risks associated with extreme weather events; which particularly impacts biodiversity, agriculture, water, health, and livelihood sectors. To bridge mitigation and adaptation and build resilience, the Government of India has put forward a National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2009.The genesis of NAPCC was domestic and global climate developments that necessitated a holistic national programme to respond to climate change. The action plan creates awareness among the public representatives, various government agencies, scientists, industry and the community as a whole, on the threat posed by climate change and the steps proposed at country level to counter the climate change impacts. Eight national missions (National Solar Mission, National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency, National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, National Water Mission, National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, National Mission for Green India, National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change) constitute the core of the NAPCC which represents a multi-pronged, long-term and integrated approach to achieve goals in the context of climate change. One of the key aspects common in all these missions is the relevance of Science, Technology and Innovations for better adaptation and mitigation towards climate change impacts. The Science, Technology and Innovation Policy of India, 2013 prepared by the Department of Science & Technology (DST), recognizes the role of the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) system in the NAPCC. The document states that the STI system will ‘serve as a source of strategic knowledge to cope with the challenges of climate variability and change as well as to meet equity-based differentiated and shared responsibilities of India.’

The country has made significant progress in STI specially in critical sectors, such as renewable energy. However, more pronounced linkages between industry-academia-government need to be strengthened. The new STIP 2020 helps open-up fresh avenues to tackle this and bring forth more concentrated impact on ground. India’s Science, Technology & Innovation can help usher long-term economic security, increase community resilience, and create a path for sustainable development. Right from expanding investment (both public and private sectors) to creating self-reliant and indigenous innovation/technology, research and innovation are vital to ensure the smooth sail towards a green economy. To effectively act on decarbonization by STI interventions following indices should be ticked upon:

  1. Stakeholder collaborations – Strategic S&T collaborations and partnerships between developed and emerging nations, cooperation between the public and private sectors and the setting up of national frameworks for innovation will be needed to create an ‘ecosystem’ for development and diffusions of new climate-relevant, low carbon technologies. Technology cooperation between the global north and south must be seen as a win-win proposition. For instance, Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA) launched by India is supporting technology-based, high-end affordable product development and providing an enabling platform for frontline techno-economic alliances. Adding particular interest to STI relevant to climate change mitigation and adaptation, there exists sheer relevance to international collaboration.
  2. Enhance Financing – There are several government departments and research agencies engaged in research, development, and demonstration of low carbon technologies. However, there is an urgent need to spend more on innovations since ‘climate action’ is a public good. Also, low carbon growth strategy can be at the heart of several interlinked governmental initiatives such as Smart Cities, Make in India, and Clean India Mission; hence public and private funding can be facilitated. Encouraging other stakeholders to support financing STI in emission reduction can also be the case, for instance, private funds in India (mostly raised through non-government philanthropy) provided about $9.5 billion in 2018 for the social sector, of which only 7% was spent on climate change. Hence, mobilizing public and private sources of finance to drive decarbonization can be the focus.
  3. Create Enabling Ecosystem– Science, technology and innovation need supportive ecosystems, right from funding opportunities, ownership, product certification, market access, to public procurement. Accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, making significant gains in energy efficiency, reducing emissions, increasing sink capacity and enhancing resilience within and across forestry, agriculture, oceans and food systems requires major technological shifts supported by innovations on the massive scale. This can be further strengthened by including social and institutional systems and designs. For example, innovations in urban planning could help reduce future energy demands (and associated GHG emissions) for transportation as well as in residential and commercial buildings.

Low carbon development in different sectors

The climate policy goals will only be met when the country undergoes technological improvement. Over the past few years, India has committed to a series of policy steps to lead the country towards low carbon growth. However, the work is still in progress. Promoting low carbon technological innovations will contribute to reduce the emissions at local and global level. To bring these technological improvements, several steps need to be followed, right from the basic and applied research to technology demonstration and commercialization in sectors, which are related to energy sources and fuels, environmental goods and services as well as other low carbon activities.

A clear vision and prioritization for STI development for low carbon growth can be brought out by structured analysis, facilitated by using the tools of technology foresight, technology road mapping, technology assessment and evaluation. For instance, in the infrastructure sector, the roadmap for introduction of green technologies can provide a vision for a sustainable and economically viable pathway.

Currently, technology improvements have been perceived as most important in the renewable energy, industry and non-renewable energy sectors. Adaption of imported technology to suit the local conditions emerged as an important aspect with regard to the transport, building and waste sector. Also, indigenous R&D and technology development was considered to be crucial for low carbon development in the agriculture and forestry sector. All the STI interventions in different sectors, however, are governed by the common directive which accounts for social-ecological factors (such as social acceptance, environmental compatibility, resource limits). The indicative list of STI based interventions that can lead to low carbon development in various sectors are listed below:

  1. Renewable energy – Solar energy (solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, high efficiency solar cells), energy from urban and industrial wastes, wind, biomass (bio-fuels, bio-gas, waste to energy) and small hydro, ocean and geothermal energy and new technologies- fuel cells and hydrogen etc
  2. Non-renewable – Advanced coal combustion technology, supercritical and ultra-supercritical technology, technologies for transmission and distribution networks, smart grid technology etc
  3. Transportation – Hybrid electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles, solar electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, improved diesel vehicles, alternative fuel technologies, material substitution technologies (focussing on life cycle CO2 emissions savings), smart traffic infrastructure/intelligent transport systems/use of information technologies for traffic management etc
  4. Infrastructure – Green construction materials (flyash based bricks, RCC blocks, cellular lightweight concrete, bamboo-based materials, bagasse boards etc), partial pre-fabrication technology along with easy to operate machines for deployment, monolithic concrete technology using plastic/aluminium composite formwork, energy-efficient envelope, efficient lighting system, nature-based infrastructure etc
  5. Agriculture – Advanced farming machinery, innovative farming techniques (zero budget farming, organic farming), innovative irrigation technologies (drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation), energy efficient farming technologies, use of nanotechnology, mechanisation of horticulture, research in agricultural extension system etc
  6. Industries – Cleaner fuel technologies, energy-efficient technologies, productivity improvement technologies, technologies for flyash/waste utilization, use of nanotechnology in the cement and concrete industry, application of biotechnology etc
  7. Biodiversity – Remote sensing, ex-situ conservation, biotechnology, information technology etc.

STI interventions for low carbon technology help climate proofing the economy and build resilience across sectors. Focusing on low carbon technology development and innovation across sectors would have certain co-benefits in terms of growth, inclusion, local environment and carbon mitigation.  The reliant strategy in the post COVID era is to respond to grand challenges by taking a longer-term view and building technology and innovation while considering societal challenges. However, the success is highly variable and depends upon absorption capacity of recipient stakeholder and the differential acceptance towards technologies (based on socio-economic and environmental factors). There is no silver bullet to facilitate low carbon development in India.

To achieve the objective of decarbonization the portfolio of strategies is imperative. Facilitation of technology transfer should be the key benchmark to achieve the projected success. National policies, international coalitions, and multilateral institutional arrangements, will all be required to work together in order to promote low carbon technology innovation as a system and create the conditions to successfully combat climate change. And as we are in a process to formulate India’s new Science, Technology & Innovation Policy (STIP2020), it is anticipated that STIP 2020 will help build an ecosystem and create a pathway towards long-term, pro-poor and need based technologies catering local innovation systems to combat challenges of climate change.

About the author

Rashmi Verma

Rashmi Verma is currently a DST-Science Technology and Innovation Senior Policy Fellow at the DST-Centre for Policy Research, Indian Institute of Science- hosted at the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. She has a Master’s degree in Botany and a Ph.D in Environmental Sciences. Her area of research interest include Science, Technology and Innovation in Environment and Climate Change. Prior to this, she had worked in development sector. She has over seven years of work experience in water and sanitation projects in India and in Sub-Saharan Countries. She was also engaged in training and capacity building programs of central and state government departments. She has authored several training manuals, technical reports and scientific publications in journals of International repute.

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