Let’s Look at the Big Picture: Co-Benefits of Low Carbon Energy Transition

The goal of low carbon energy transition has immense potential to re-enforce the economic growth and development targets of our country. Unfortunately, this is an area that is still largely unexplored. It is imperative to do more research to look at the big picture of low carbon energy transition by evaluating in parallel the co-benefits of this transition.

Co-benefits are ancillary benefits of low carbon pathways like green jobs, reduction in air pollution, health benefits from cleaner environment etc. While these co-benefits have been recognized, questions remain unanswered on how exactly can they be incorporated into the integrated climate change and energy planning for the country. One of the early steps to understand this linkage was taken by the erstwhile Planning Commission which came out with a report to suggest low carbon pathways that are consistent with inclusive growth (‘Report on Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth’ 2014). The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and the 12th Five Year Plan also explicitly mention the importance of considering co-benefits in energy planning.  While co-benefits have received an explicit mention in reports like this, there is limited knowledge-driven research.

One reason for limited research in this area could be that most of these co-benefits are difficult to quantify. The research community needs to bridge this gap and develop appropriate ways to quantify and understand these co-benefits better. This will enable policymakers to weigh various co-benefits of a climate-related policy along with its costs in a structured way.

The jobs creation effect of clean energy is one big co-benefit but there is only a handful of research on it. One of them is a recent report, ‘Greening India’s workforce’  by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW),  which demonstrates the staggering job creation impact that renewable energy market will have in future. According to this analysis, solar rooftop will employ more than 300,000 workers in the next 5 years. As these green jobs will require the workers to be equipped with a range of skill sets, the report highlights that understanding the skill needs for different types of clean energy projects and uniting them with the national skill development agenda can go a long way.

Understanding the impact on air- pollution as a co-benefit of low carbon transition is another area that needs more exploration. Studies show that due to regional socio-economic differences and urban-rural demographic transition, emissions vary across states. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) uses real-time satellite-based monitoring of air pollutants, their inventory of data can be used for this purpose. On the same tangent, it will be also useful to have more research on putting an economic cost to air pollution.

At an overall level, at present, there is only one research that proposes a method to analyze several co-benefits together. The research uses Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA), a method that evaluates overall preference among alternative options which accomplish several objectives. MCA in climate change debate can be used to undertake a qualitative assessment of the likely impact of a climate-related policy objective on several co-benefits taken together. A higher score indicates that the policy objective does more to contribute to a given co-benefits outcome and a lower score indicates that it contributes less. Although this method has its merits because of its subjectivity, there are concerns about operationalizing it. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that this research has taken the first step towards analyzing several co-benefits together in a structured way. Other methods can be explored and debated.

Investigating the above-mentioned co-benefits and other co-benefits, individually and together is the need of the hour. It will help us to see the bigger picture and understand that low carbon energy transition and development are not necessarily at odds with each other.

(Simi Thambi is a Young Professional in the Energy Division)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not represent the views of NITI Aayog.