India needs a carbon policy for agriculture

The assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – 1 Working Group has literally issued a ‘code red’ to humanity as we rush towards a planet 1 hotter. , 5 degrees Celsius by 2040. Change Conference of the Parties (CoP26) in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12 with a view to accelerating action towards the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav said the focus should be on climate finance and the transfer of low-cost green technologies.

Although developed countries have collectively issued more than their estimated emission allowances and keeping climate justice arguments in mind, action on the ground is already too late. Nations still argue over historic global transmitters and who should take the blame and fix it. But the fact that 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India is a major cause for concern. We are well aware that Delhi is the most polluted capital in the world according to the World Air Quality Report, 2020. For those of us who reside in Delhi, the winter months become a challenge as the stubble scorching. in neighboring states and low wind speeds raise the AQI above 300 on average, some days up to 600-800, while the safe limit is below 50.

According to the Global Carbon Atlas, India ranks third in total greenhouse gas emissions, emitting about 2.6 billion tonnes (Bt) of CO2eq annually, followed by China (10 Bt CO2eq) and United States (5.4 Bt CO2eq), followed by Russia (1.7 Bt) and Japan (1.2 Bt). But global climate change negotiations often talk about per capita emissions and emission intensity of GDP. Of these top five absolute emitters, the United States has the highest per capita emissions (15.24 tonnes), followed by Russia (11.12 tonnes). India’s per capita emissions are only 1.8 tonnes, which is significantly lower than the global average of 4.4 tonnes per capita. But negotiators are unlikely to be convinced by this argument.

If we take the emissions per unit of GDP of the top five absolute emitters, China ranks first with 0.486 kg per 2017 PPP $, which is very close to Russia at 0.411 kg per 2017 PPP $ of GDP. India is slightly above the global average of 0.26 (kg per 2017 PPP $ of GDP) at 0.27 kg, while the United States is at 0.25 and Japan at 0.21. But India ranked seventh on the list of worst affected countries due to extreme weather events, recording losses of $ 69 billion (in PPP) in 2019 (Germanwatch, 2021). It’s worrying. In our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted in 2016, India pledged to “reduce the emission intensity of its GDP by 33% to 35% by 2030 from the 2005 level”.

Source: MoEFCC. (2021). India: Third Biennial Update Report of the United Nations Framework Convention (Graphic: Ritesh Kumar)

Sectoral global emissions show that electricity and heat generation and agriculture, forestry and other land uses account for 50 percent of emissions. But India’s emissions pie owes its largest share (44%) to the energy sector, followed by the manufacturing and construction sector (18%), and the agriculture, forestry and construction sectors. land use (14%), the others shared by the transport, industrial process and waste sectors. The share of agriculture in total emissions has gradually decreased from 28% in 1994 to 14% in 2016. However, in absolute terms, emissions from agriculture have increased to reach around 650 Mt of CO2 in 2018 , which is similar to China’s emissions from agriculture. .

Agricultural emissions in India come mainly from the livestock sector (54.6%) in the form of methane emissions from enteric fermentation and the use of nitrogen fertilizers in agricultural soils (19%) which emit nitrous oxides; growing rice (17.5 percent) under anaerobic conditions accounts for a significant share of agricultural emissions, followed by livestock management (6.9 percent) and burning of crop residues (2.1 percent) .

A carbon policy for agriculture must aim not only to reduce its emissions but also to reward farmers through carbon credits which should be tradable on a global scale. With the world’s largest cattle population (537 million), India needs better feeding practices with smaller numbers of cattle by increasing their productivity. Rice cultivation on about 44 million hectares is the other responsible for methane emissions, especially in irrigated areas of northwest India.

While direct sown rice and wet and dry alternative practices can reduce the carbon footprint in paddy fields, the real solution lies in switching from rice to corn or other less water-intensive crops. In this context, opening corn to ethanol can help not only reduce our huge dependence on imported crude oil, but also reduce the carbon footprint. If we can design a system to reward farmers for this change by making maize more profitable than paddy, it can be a win-win situation. And if we develop global carbon markets, India needs to make it clear in its policy how it would adjust carbon credits when it sells to polluting industries overseas so that emissions reductions are not double counted. in India and in the country buying carbon credits.

Agricultural soils are the main source of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in the national inventory. Nitrous oxide emissions from the use of nitrogen fertilizers increased by approximately 358% between 1980-81 and 2014-15, increasing at a statistically significant rate of 5,100 tonnes per year. An alternative for a better and efficient use of fertilizers would be to promote fertigation and subsidize soluble fertilizers. Almost 70 percent of the granular fertilizers that are thrown on plants pollute the environment and seep into groundwater, while polluting it. Ultimately, the government should incentivize and subsidize drops for fertirrigation, switch from rice to corn or less water-intensive crops, and promote soluble fertilizers at the same rate of subsidy as granular urea.

Gulati is a professor at the Infosys Chair for Agriculture and Purvi is a research assistant at ICRIER

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