OPINION: The transition to sustainability needs to begin now

Wildfires in Australia and California, devastating floods in Canada and Brazil, debilitating heat waves across Europe – extreme weather events are becoming the norm. India is no exception. Our country is being affected by climate change too, resulting in consequences of varying degrees, from mild unseasonal rainfall to outright flash floods, droughts and heat waves.

India’s Meteorological Department (IMD) ) recorded 125 extreme weather events last year in September and October alone compared to just 41 for the same two-month period in 2017. The situation is grim and, with the frequency of such extreme weather events only set to grow, underlines the need for urgent action on the part of governments, businesses and individuals.

At the COP26 climate conference, India laid out a bold aim – to become carbon neutral by 2070 – marking the first time the country had made a carbon neutrality commitment. But in an environment where an all-encompassing, effective policy and regulatory framework is still taking shape,

India Inc can and must take the lead in building a greener future. Encouragingly, it has already begun to do so.

The problem right now is there isn’t enough renewable energy capacity built up to make a full-fledged transition to zero emissions operations. The realization of that utopia is some years away.

In the meantime, India’s energy mix remains dominated by fossil fuels. But, as we wait for renewable capacity to build up, there isn’t any reason why that can’t change. There are enough and cleaner energy alternatives already available and we must begin harnessing them. One such alternative is ethanol . India currently produces sugar that is surplus to its requirements. This excess stock can be diverted to producing ethanol.

The ethanol story in India has tremendous upside. Greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol are 80 percent lower than those from coal. So not only can it help lower India’s carbon footprint but, as a substitute for energy imports, it can also save the country $6 to 7 billion in foreign exchange.

Government policies have laid out a roadmap for increasing the proportion of ethanol in fuels to 20 percent. Such ethanol blending, as it is known, in addition to slashing emissions, can deliver benefits across the value chain.

Farmers will gain income security.It will also open massive new avenues of diversification and investment for the sugar industry. This in turn can drive the rise of new industries and job creation in rural areas.

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