18 March 2010

Why the State is key to a real green jobs market

By: Kaavya Nag

The pre and aftermath of Copenhagen has undoubtedly been the heightening of interest in the key words: green jobs (among others of course). However, the excitement and buzz around the notion of a low-carbon job, runs ahead of the actual creation of a successful 'green job' market.

Success is relative, but a real green job market would be one that fuels the clean energy economy. And for that, we need a pre-planned change in the policy climate. One that fuels a clean energy economy and takes green jobs along with that growth curve.

We don't need targets just for the National Solar Mission, we need a bigger vision. We need a thought-space in India's national climate policy, on how to use this opportunity to create green jobs (not just jobs). We need the people deciding national policies to pen down the pathways by which the country will get green jobs fuel clean growth, and for clean growth fuel green jobs. That will be the real game-changer.

If not, it is likely that a green job will remain a 'green MBA', a LEEDs certified green building consultant, and a carbon analyst. And clearly, only some buildings will be green, not all. In addition, the words 'green job' will continue to give the impression that such work automatically brings you below-par a normal job vis-a-vis the pay scale or career prospect path, possibly because you tend to associate the word green with non-profit.

If we want green jobs to deliver to their true potential, an electrician in a retrofit company, a public transport employee and an engineer in a wind energy company won't be the only ones holding a green job. Even the plain old investment banker, librarian and local salesman should fit the bill. 

While the librarian and salesman are currently idealistic green jobbers, they are not unreachable Utopian goals.We can get to Stage I of green jobbing the country by getting the State to create demand for green jobbers, and focus on capacity building though green skill training. Focus on the industries and development that can scale-up green jobs. A good start would be the energy efficiency, renewable energy and agriculture sectors. Green skill training does not create a 'green certified' mechanic, rather it incorporates additional new technology and methods training into existing curricula.

To get to Stage II, we need policy reforms that will create the regulatory environment and give the impetus for low-carbon growth. Including mandatory industry standards in product supply chains and life cycles, operations and maintenance. That is what will move green jobs into the 'open sea' of competition, and make many more jobs green than they currently are.

08 March 2010

And the colour of the 2010-11 Union Budget is...

By: Kaavya Nag

Pranab Mukherjee's Union Budget of 2010-11 proposes an initial step forward in India's transition to clean energy and lower emissions. In his budget speech he said 'while we must ensure that the principle of 'polluter pays' remains the basic guiding criteria for pollution management, we must also give a positive thrust to development of clean energy'. And so the budget aims to give that thrust to clean energy through a series of initiatives: higher outlays, tax and customs breaks (some continued from 2009-10), and a clean energy fund.

Note however the government target of adding 78,000 MW of power by 2012. For this, and in keeping with Planning Commission recommendations, Pranab Mukherjee announced the government's plan to accord the highest priority to capacity addition in the Power Sector. Plan allocation has been doubled from 2,230 crore last year to 5,130 crore this year. The eventual aim of such capacity addition is to get power to the 500 million Indians who currently have no access to electricity. However, the means to that end are currently through increased production of coal and of supercritical thermal power plants.

After a wait of nearly two years, the pet mission of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) - the Jawharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) has gotten its first allowance. Accordingly, the outlay of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE)'s has nearly doubled: from 620 crore (USD 135 million) in 2009-10 to 1000 crore (USD  218 million) in 2010-11. Another major proportion of money for the NSM is expected to come from a clean energy cess on coal (both domestic and imported) - at Rs 50 (USD 1) per tonne. This money, will be channeled through the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) - designated for funding research and innovative projects in clean energy technologies.

This coal cess is expected to generate 3250 crore in 2010-11. For sure, inflow to the NCEF is bound to increase as coal consumption rises in the country year on year (as it has been over the past few years), and is expected to be able to generate millions for the NCEF.

The second NAPCC pet mission - the yet-to-be-announced National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE) - is second in line. While mission details are not out as yet (but rumoured to be launched on 1 April 2010), money-before-plan seems to be the approach for this mission. Nevertheless, energy conservation gets143.94 crore, and the Bureau of Energy Energy Efficiency (BEE) gets 66.92 crore.

These provisions as well as a boost to the renewable energy sector through a cut on excise duty for electric vehicle parts, wind turbines, LED lights and CFL lights promises growth in these sectors. LED lights, wind turbine components and solar cycle rickshaws get reduction in excise duty. Small hydro, solar and micro power projects in Ladakh (J&K) get 500 crore.

However, there is as yet no concerted strategy for India - one that lays out India's plans for changing its renewable energy mix by (for example) 30 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2025, and 60 percent by 2050. These is as yet no plan that will help realise India's voluntary commitment to the international community - of 20-25% reduction of emission intensity by 2020.

Business as usual is likely to be the growth trend: with coal continuing to make up a major proportion of the energy mix of the country in the near future.

So despite a partial roll-back of fossil-fuel subsidies and an increase in taxation on motor vehicles, a clean energy fund funded by dirty energy is rather similar to nature conservation grants coming from petroleum and mining companies. Much like the old Hindi saying 'Ek hath se lo, ek hath se do'. (Give something away with one hand and take an equivalent amount back with the other).

Disclaimer: admitted - funds must start somehow and somewhere. For now, what better than levy a charge on coal. Therefore, by no means does one trash the fund itself, nor its intent. One just questions the point of having a source that you eventually, and ideally want to contain.

The colour of the budget is pale green.