Budget 2023 Expectations: Making a case for nature-based solutions to fight climate change
The Union 2022-23 Budget showed hints of promise. There was a clear focus on green hydrogen for energy storage and a continued push for increased adoption of renewable energy
Ramnath Vaidyanathan Last Updated:February 01, 2023 11:13:00 IST
Representational image. AP
As the government heads into the last full Budget before the 2024 elections, as a sustainability professional and, well, a denizen of this rapidly heating little globe we call earth, I’m hopeful and skeptical in nearly equal measure. Will the budget just focus on appeasing the masses in the near term, or be a little more ambitious in definitively tackling climate change in the long term to give us a fighting chance at survival?
This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s exhausting and unnecessary to reiterate the magnitude of the mess we find ourselves in or where we need to be or even what we need to do. We’re now in a decisive decade of action. Quite literally, make it or break it. Though there are faint silver linings around these dark clouds.
The recent UN report on ozone layer restoration is a testament and blueprint of how quick and decisive action can reverse environmental degradation. With ozone, all it took was a global push to ban chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and now the ozone layer is on track to be restored within decades. We know a similar solution for climate change lies in a rapid, and global, transition from fossil fuels to green energy. What makes this tough is the financial implications of this switch.
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Cost of adapting to climate change
Having said that, the cost of mitigating climate change will be far lesser than the cost of adapting to it retroactively. There is hardly any aspect of life that is not impacted by climate change, be it health, jobs, or the economy. The Global Risks Report 2023 features the failure to mitigate climate change in the top 5 risks both for the short-term and the long-term.
So when we say people and planet alongside profit, we are not speaking from a place of idealism but of pragmatism. Climate change will have a genuine impact on global financial security. But we cannot rely on the corporate initiative. Unless we institute strict and immediate regulations and laws that enable climate affirmative action and penalise the opposite, we will not be able to solve the climate crisis in time.
Budget 2022 focused on green hydrogen
The Union 2022-23 Budget showed hints of promise. There was a clear focus on green hydrogen for energy storage and a continued push for increased adoption of renewable energy. The Budget also proposed (which was also implemented) incorporating biomass pellets as partial coal replacement in thermal power plants, and providing support on agroforestry to farmers belonging to Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes. It is my opinion that agriculture, and nature-based solutions in general, may hold the key to fighting climate change at least for India.
Here are 3 nature-based solutions to take up in the upcoming budget to fight climate change:
Globally, energy use in industries contributes to over 24 percent of all emissions. At Godrej Industries Limited, we aim to be a net-zero carbon emitter by 2035. Currently, more than 55 percent of the energy we consume comes from renewable sources. We were able to achieve this largely due to the replacement of natural gas and other fossil fuels with biomass briquettes (made from agri-waste) for our thermal energy requirements. We then transitioned to co-generation plants based on the same biomass to also produce electrical energy. Owing to these efforts our specific GHG emission was reduced by half from our baseline data and we have a clear reduction pathway to meet our Science-Based Targets
In their latest mandate, the power ministry directed all coal-fired power plants to use biomass pellets as at least 7 percent of fuel mix (with coal) to generate electricity. The major challenge currently with biomass is the availability and quality, particularly in the monsoon months.
The most obvious solution to this is bringing the principles of circularity to the biomass value chain. At Godrej, we’re working closely with farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi to help them manage their crop residue. The impact is twofold – we are able to reduce incidents of stubble burning in the region and improve the air quality in the region while also converting the stubble into briquettes which can be used as fuel in local mills. Circularity will help create an entire economic value chain around agri-waste.
We are also working with NGOs, government authorities, and communities on afforestation projects with the aim of sequestering carbon in these spaces. Additionally, this will also help restore lost green spaces and reverse land degradation, which in turn will allow biodiversity to flourish.
Push for national emissions standards for agri commodities
Agriculture, forestry, and land use contribute to over 18 percent of all global emissions. But the agricultural sector can easily transition from being a carbon emitter to a carbon sink. A great example is how Colombia has adopted sustainable agriculture practices to expand its palm oil production. They used integrated farming strategies such as increasing the use of organic fertilizers, planting oil palms on degraded land, using oil palm biodiesel as a substitute for fossil fuels, improving the yield of oil palm through increased production efficiency, and by producing biochar at the time of replanting. Consequently, not only is there no deforestation associated with their palm oil plantation, but instead they have validated and reported a positive increase in CO2 capture by the crop that is higher than greenhouse gas emissions associated.
As India expands its palm oil plantations in an inherently sustainable manner, national emissions standards for agri commodities could help accelerate sustainable land use practices that can capture more carbon than is emitted. This will enable our agri commodities to be reported as carbon positive in customers’ scope 3 inventories and can thus command a premium for sustainable commodities which is increasingly difficult to source.
Exploring the potential of algae sequestration
When we think of carbon sequestration, we tend to immediately think of trees and soil. However, there is a third factor that holds immense potential to capture Carbon, the solution for which lies in our oceans. Oceans contain microorganisms and algae that capture far more carbon than trees, which is reason enough for us to explore the vast potential of the oceanic ecosystem.
These organisms can store carbon through photosynthesis and can also “digest” carbon dioxide to produce organic material which is used in a multitude of ways, either as raw material for product manufacturing or as food sources for animal feed. Besides, they are also another source of biofuels.
As you can see, we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to nature-based solutions. There is research going on on bioenergy mining, enzyme-based plastic recycling, biomimicry as a replacement for pesticides, and others as we speak. Mother nature is magnanimously bailing us out by providing solutions to the mistakes we’ve made in damaging her. Let us take heed.
The writer is Associate Vice President and Head – Environmental Sustainability, Godrej Industries Ltd (@GodrejGroup) and Associated Companies. Views expressed are personal