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Tracing the GHG footprints and why it’s important!

With the increase in the population worldwide over the past decade and the technological and industrial boom that we have seen over the years, the major problem that the present and future generations are facing is the overexploitation of the natural resources. The degrees may vary from place to place, but the profound impact can be clearly seen on the global climate worldwide. All of us have studied this at school and many of us might still remember this, that Global Warming is one of the main causes of global climate change.

Now, what is Global Warming? “ Global Warming is the increase of Earth's average surface temperature due to effect of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels or from deforestation, which trap heat that would otherwise escape from Earth. This is a type of greenhouse effect.”


Green House Gases(GHGs) mainly comprise of Water Vapour, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Ozone. While some of them are naturally occurring in the atmosphere, most of the others are a direct result of human intervention. What the global Earth Science community has been focusing on over the past few years, is to monitor the emissions of these GHGs across the world, especially that of Carbon. According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius (1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade. This is pretty alarming!

Following this, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 was held in Paris, France, from 30th November to 12th December 2015. It was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Conference of the Parties (CMP) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The conference was mainly aimed at negotiating the “Paris Agreement”. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. [Source: UNFCCC].

The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4th November 2016, thirty days after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Depositary.

India is responsible for 6% of the global CO2 emissions following China, which accounts for 28%, the United States for 16% and the European Union 10%. In terms of per capita CO2 emissions, 10 other countries are ahead of India. Following up its proactive role in addressing the issue of climate change since many years on various platforms, India made a strong stand in the agreement as well, with Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi addressing the conference and discussng the nation’s plans and efforts in tackling the issue of global warming.

India promised it’s commitment to reduce the country’s emissions intensity per unit GDP by 33 to 35% below the 2005 level by 2030, and to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide through extra forest and tree cover by 2030. The plan further highlights India’s ambition of installing 175 GW of renewable power capacity by 2022. It is to be kept in mind that all these actions are being proposed while simultaneously making an effort to meet the development challenges that the country faces. This would mean India will have to shift significantly from coal-based power generation to renewable energy sources. It will have to produce 100 gigawatt from solar, 60 gigawatt from wind, 10 gigawatt from biomass and 5 gigawatt from small hydropower by 2022. Another commitment under the treaty requires India to increase its forest cover by five million hectares along with an improvement in the quality of green cover of an equal measure by 2030.

Now, all these commitments are just numbers if not backed by proper scientific research and analysis. We need detailed reports of GHG footprints across the country to identify various sources and sinks of GHGs, especially carbon in our environment. The Carbon Cycle, although being known to us for a very long time, is still not very well understood when it comes to actually quantifying the actual carbon budget locally and globally. But, nevertheless, Earth Scientists have done pretty decent amount of work towards designing a global Carbon budget which gives us an overall idea about the potential carbon sources and sinks in our ecosphere.

What scientists have been doing recently in this regard, is to set up GHG measuring stations across different sites across the world which are chosen according to certain parameters and atmospheric conditions. In India, this is being done by many research labs and institutes like CSIR-4PI, NPL, ISRO, NIO, IITM etc. CSIR-4PI has set up four such GHG measuring stations across India, namely, Pondicherry, Hanle, Portblair and Hosakote. NPL is planning to set up one station at New Delhi, while ISRO has both ground based and Satellite based GHG monitoring facilities. NIO mostly deals with the oceaninc contribution towards the Carbon budget. The main idea behind setting up these stations is to understand the natural carbon cycle taking into account the interactions between the land, ocean, vegetation and atmosphere. Getting an estimate about the natural limit to Carbon emission from a region can then help us identify and isolate the human contribution and help us find out the sources of these GHG emissions. Having a temporal and spatial series of such estimates from a network of GHG facilities will povide a deep insight into the carbon budget of our country across various regions and will lay the path to monitor the GHG footprints across the country. One of the many results of such obervations was the revelation of the fact, that, Temperate Asia(Mainly comprising of India, China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) was actually a better sink of Carbon than being an alleged source.

Apart from the scientific community, the industrial front has also made some great attempts towards this common cause of monitoring GHG emissions. On July 23rd, 2013, WRI India, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) launched the India Greenhouse Gas Program (India GHG Program), a voluntary initiative to standardize measurement and management of GHG emissions in India. Representatives from more than 20 founding member companies joined environmental and government leaders for the launch of the India GHG Program, which will promote profitable, sustainable and competitive businesses. The India GHG Program was formally launched in New Delhi at the India Habitat Center with Mr. Jamshyd Godrej, Chairman, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd and Chairman - Board of Directors of WRI India, Dr. R K Pachauri, Director General, TERI, Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Mr. Krishan Dhawan, Chief Executive Officer, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, Dr. Ashok Khosla, President, Development Alternatives, Mr. Pankaj Bhatia, Deputy Director Climate & Energy Program, WRI and Director GHG Protocol, Mr. Siddarthan Balasubramania, Director, WRI, and other industry leaders calling for urgent action to identify business opportunities in measuring and managing GHG emissions.[Source: www.ghgprotocol.org]

The India GHG Program aims to help companies in India monitor their progress towards voluntary reduction goals in a consistent and credible manner. The program will provide companies with tools and technical assistance to build inventories, identify reduction opportunities, establish both annual and long-term reduction goals, and track their progress based on the GHG Protocol, the most widely used accounting and reporting standard in the world. The India GHG Program is a powerful partnership between WRI India, TERI, and CII, building upon their extensive knowledge base and understanding of local business environment. The program leverages a deep commitment to support business leadership and develop robust, context-specific measurement and management tools.

Even TRAI has laid down some ground rules and regulations for monitoring the Carbon footprints in the telecom indutries, as they are one of the prominent sources of carbon with their increasing customer base and network all over the country. The technical documentation can be found at : http://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/GreenPeace_N.pdf .

Looking at all of these initiatives and given the fact the Earth is indeed heating up at an alarming rate, it is high time that more and more such intitatives are taken collectively by the Govt. and the private sector to regulate and monitor the GHG emissions over the regions and work towards developing new technologies and methodologies to put a cap on these emissions and possibly produce GHG sinks to manage the emissions in a more effective way in order to save the country and the world from the this dire threat of Global Warming. 

Credit: Sambit Kumar Panda, Bangalore