4 Lessons on How to Transform to Zero-Emission Transport in India
India’s transport landscape is varied and changing quickly. Photo: Ibrahim Rifath/Unsplash

Vehicle ownership per capita has grown five‐fold in India since 2000. As a result, passenger transport activity has more than tripled, and energy demand more than doubled from 2000 to 2020. The transport sector is the third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting sector in the country, accounting for 14% of energy-related emissions.

With climate change, air pollution and congestion rising, shifting to a sustainable transport system in India is critical. India submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in 2015 and has set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. In August 2022, the government submitted its updated NDC to UNFCCC with targets to reduce emission intensity of GDP by 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

The NDC Transport Initiative for Asia (NDC-TIA), implemented by WRI and other partners, is working to help India facilitate this paradigm shift to zero-emission transport. The project is coordinated by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog); jointly implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), WRI India, the International Transport Forum (ITF), the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), Agora Verkehrswende and REN21; and supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action through its International Climate Initiative.

Drawing on the analysis and narratives raised by NDC-TIA partners, here are four key lessons on how to transform to zero-emission transport in India.

1. Electrify Mobility, Not Just Vehicles

Shifting to electric mobility involves more than changing transport fuel sources. The transition requires a new ecosystem built around policy, infrastructure and financing. Thanks to policy support and technological advancement, India has more than 1 million electric vehicles (EVs) across all vehicle types, including nearly 300,000 new registrations of electric two- and three-wheelers in 2021. With recent policies such as FAME II that provide subsidies for electric buses, the country is poised to become one of the largest global electric bus markets too. India has set a target to reach 30% EV sales across all vehicle types by 2030.

Building up a charging network is crucial to accelerating EV adoption. NDC-TIA partners have worked with NITI Aayog to identify needs for a comprehensive roadmap of charging infrastructure deployment, particularly to serve the needs of the growing electric two- and three-wheeler market. Recent work led by ICCT explored the landscape of battery swapping for electric two-wheelers in India and suggested strategy frameworks to spur its application.

The NDC-TIA has also supported the Delhi Government in adopting EV charging in residential areas, shopping malls and workplaces. Many of the barriers to EV adoption stem from a general lack of understanding of the technology and ecosystem. The Delhi Government, with the support of WRI India, organized a series of public awareness campaigns to promote the benefits of EVs and to address concerns of stakeholders. Delhi recently pledged to provide one charging station for every 15 EVs sold by 2024, an estimated 18,000 stations based on its current charging and swapping infrastructure action plan.

2. Clean Mobility Requires Grid Decarbonization

To reap the benefits of transport electrification in GHG emission reductions, the power generation mix must be adequately decarbonized. Currently, the vast majority of India’s transport energy need is met by petroleum products (95%) with small shares met by biofuels.

India has instituted a range of policies to improve energy efficiency and diversify energy generation, key among them the country’s target of achieving 50% installed electricity generation capacity from renewable energy sources by 2030 as part of its updated NDCStudies suggest that the electricity carbon intensity in India by 2030 needs to be 46% below current levels to reach a 20% overall reduction in GHG emissions.

As well, to enable deeper reductions of transport-related GHG emissions, a more comprehensive emission framework is needed, such as life-cycle assessments, as well broader actions as part of the “Avoid-Shift-Improve” framework. The NDC-TIA has provided technical modelling, organized capacity building activities, and undertaken analysis of India’s key transport energy and emission models to inform transport decarbonization pathways. GIZ is currently modelling renewable energy-based EV charging to evaluate its associated socio-economic benefits. ITF is exploring how existing and new life cycle assessment tools can accommodate analyses of the emissions of emerging vehicle technologies and mobility services. And ICCT established a baseline of fleet average fuel consumption for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles to help develop new emission standards.

3. Collaboration Is Key to Enabling a Faster Transition

NITI Aayog, as the coordinator of the NDC-TIA’s work in India, has invested in establishing close relationships with many stakeholders, including the public authorities from the energy and transport sectors as well as businesses, manufacturers and service providers. In August 2021, the Forum for Decarbonising Transport was launched to initiate multistakeholder dialogues on the development of transport decarbonization policies and foster better collaboration.

Communication is a central element in facilitating systematic change. As part of the Forum activities, NITI Aayog and WRI India, with support from GIZ, have organized two workshops, including one on financing. This brought together representatives of ministries, domestic banks, international financial institutions and private companies. Stakeholders worked to understand each other’s needs, identify problems, and match the demand and supply in financing.

4. Don’t Assume a Just Transition

The transition to zero-emission mobility will alter the entire transport system – from vehicle supply to provision of transport services to mobility options for end users. However, the impacts can be mixed and complex. Critical perspectives have found that the impacts of EV policies, in particular, are unevenly distributed across the population, especially vulnerable groups.

Equity considerations associated with EVs must be addressed. The NDC-TIA’s work in India has emphasized the critical role of skill development programs across the automotive value chain and the need to ensure adequate representation of women and marginalized communities in the workforce. Like other countries, the transport and automotive industry is male-dominated in India and the labor force participation of women ranges from 5% to 10%. The NDC-TIA is working to address these issues by bringing stakeholders together to agree on and advance a just transition. Forthcoming WRI India working papers will look into inclusive and equitable access to transport services and opportunities, including the impact of free transportation for women.

While national, state and local governments in India have committed to EVs to meet sectoral mitigation targets, policy interventions that follow the more holistic Avoid-Shift-Improve framework offer the best chance for a broader, more equitable transformation to zero-emission transport. A paradigm shift in mobility where peoples’ needs are placed before vehicles’ is a necessary step towards a sustainable urban future.

To learn more about the NDC-TIA, visit ndctransportinitiativeforasia.org.

Contributions provided by Indradip Mitra (GIZ), Chaitanya Kanuri, Garima Agrawal, Nikita Gupta (WRI India), Malithi Fernando (ITF), Zifei Yang, Anuj Dhole (ICCT), and Angel Cortez, Nikola Medimorec, Chris Dekki (SLOCAT).

Yiqian Zhang is Research Associate for Global eMobility at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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