In January 2020, Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft announced that the $143-billion IT giant targets to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits by 2030, and by 2050 it hopes to have taken out enough to account for all the direct emissions the company has ever made since it was founded in 1975. Anand Mahindra tweeted “bravo @ satyanadella … You have raised the bar for us all.” It is all the more relevant since the Mahindra group had already announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2040, a decade ahead of the deadline set by the UN’s Climate Ambition Alliance.
Aligning India’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, corporate houses, including Tatas, Reliance Industries (RIL), Aditya Birla Group, Mahindras, ITC, Larsen and Toubro, Adani, JSW, Essar, Vedanta, ACC, Dalmia and Ambuja, have mapped their future course of action to achieve ‘net-zero emission’ by cutting down on greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases from factories and end-products. That’s important since India is the world’s third-largest emitter of GHG and accounts for 2.46 billion metric tonnes, or 6.8 per cent, of global emissions. Since the country relies on coal-based power plants to generate electricity, it was the highest contributor to household carbon footprints — from 26 per cent in low-expenditure households to 36 per cent among the rich.
“Against the backdrop of multiple competing interests is the one unifying truth which is that, we all share this planet and will collectively drive it to its rescue or doom,” Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Aditya Birla Group, wrote in a personal LinkedIn blog post in February last year.
Companies are targeting to reduce GHG emission by shifting to renewable power, becoming more energy-efficient and reusing heat to help India achieve goals under the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015. It targets to limit global warming to well below 2 degree celsius while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5.
At RIL’s first-ever virtual annual shareholders’ meet in July last year, Chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani declared his company’s aim to turn net carbon zero by 2035 by embracing new technologies to convert its CO2 emissions into useful products. Sajjan Jindal, Chairman, JSW group, said in the annual report that the steel company is in the process of implementing plans to replace coal with renewable energy.
At the Climate Ambition Summit in December 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “India is not only on track to achieve its Paris Agreement targets, but will exceed them beyond expectations.” He noted that the country had reduced emission intensity by 21 per cent over 2005 levels.
But though corporates are pledging to cut emissions in line with the government's campaign, it is not legally binding on them to come up with an action plan, prescribing a time frame.
Mining and Metals: Technology Drives
Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta group has been in the crosshairs of activists for over a decade because of alleged environmental issues at its plants and mines, be it in Niyamgiri (Odisha), Goa or Konkola (Zambia). Sunil Duggal, who took charge as group CEO of Vedanta a year back, plans to reduce GHG emissions by 20 per cent before 2024/25, over 2011/12 levels. “We will be announcing our medium-term targets for 2029/30 in the next 12-18 months,” he says.
The company plans to revamp turbines at captive power plants. “We are also focussed on switching to lower-carbon fuels, low-energy lighting solutions and raise share of renewable energy,” says Duggal. Vedanta expects a major chunk of the reduction to happen through a renewable energy mix. “As large users of thermal coal, we will also have to examine carbon capture and carbon offsets. In the short-term, we will be focussed on gains in process efficiencies and switching to low-carbon fuels,” adds Duggal.
Turning Vedanta’s aluminium business to net-zero emission will be expensive as the smelters need high amounts of energy. The company currently depends on thermal coal to fuel its captive power plants. The cost to turn net-zero will be less for its oil and gas business, where the primary source of energy is natural gas. “However, as a rule, using today’s technology, getting to net-zero will have a significant impact on our bottom line. That is why, we are developing a meticulous net-zero roadmap over 30 years,” he says. The company anticipates emission reduction programmes will cut down on fuel-related operating costs and financial liabilities, and also have a positive impact on its reputation.
Naveen Jindal’s Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL), on the other hand, sold its independent coal-based power plants to a holding company to reduce emission. It helped the company lower its emission intensity by half, says MD Vidya Rattan Sharma.
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