Energy-efficient and climate-secure world

India has taken giant strides in introducing emission standards for reducing toxic emissions from vehicles with the adoption of Bharat Stage VI standards in 2020 – but it has not taken equally strident and strong measures to improve fuel efficiency and carbon footprints of vehicles says a new Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) analysis released at a webinar. The report is titled India’s fuel economy benchmarks: How to make them work for an energy-efficient and climate-secure world.

“This is a matter of serious concern. Vehicle numbers and freight transport are growing rapidly, leading to an exponential the rise in fuel consumption at a time when the country –already combating energy insecurity and the impacts of climate change — needs to raise the ambition for decarbonisation. Moreover, if fuel-guzzling is not tamed, it can directly hurt consumers especially when fuel prices are skyrocketing,” said CSE executive director Anumita Roychowdhury.

So far, only Stage 1 fuel efficiency standards have been implemented – that too, only for passenger cars; Stage 2 standards are facing a delay. “These standards are so lenient that most car models have either met or have exceeded them; many are also close to meeting the Stage 2 norms. A lenient benchmark cannot push technological innovations to maximise fuel and carbon savings, nor does it require large-scale electrification to meet fleet-wide fuel efficiency targets,” added Roychowdhury.

“In the meantime, there has been considerable uncertainty around the implementation of the Stage 1 standards for heavy-duty vehicles that are major guzzlers of fuel. Their implementation is now expected in January 2022 after a delay of four years. Moreover, so far two-wheelers are still outside the ambit of these regulations. Time has also come to expedite fuel economy labeling scheme to influence the consumer choice,” said Vivek Chattopadhyay, senior program manager, Clean Air program, CSE.

Effective fuel efficiency regulations for vehicles are needed to tame oil guzzling: As per the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) India Energy Outlook 2021, the energy demand for road transport is projected to more than double over the next two decades, based on today’s policy settings. A total of 300 million vehicles of all types will be added to India’s fleet between now and 2040. Oil demand is expected to increase by almost four million barrels per day in 2040 – this could be the largest increase for any country.

Over half of this growth will be fuelled by freight transport. Road freight activity will triple by 2040. Between 2005-06 and 2019-20, petrol and diesel consumption has already increased by three times and two times respectively. Over 80 percent of crude oil is imported. Chattopadhyay said that India cannot keep the oil splurge in the vehicle sector untamed. Emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping warming gas is directly related to the amount of fuel burnt and therefore, the fuel efficiency of vehicles-kilometers per liter of fuel combusted.

Even though higher credit points are given to electric vehicles, a weak benchmark does not require expansion of electric vehicles in the fleet. This is a missed opportunity. Global experience has shown that a well-designed super-credit the system combined with stringent fuel efficiency norms can help speed up technology transformation and electrification of the fleet.

The next steps

In the face of the raging climate crisis, worsening of energy security, and spiraling fuel prices, India cannot delay adoption of more stringent energy efficiency benchmarks for all segments of vehicles. The road ahead must focus on the following, says the CSE analysis:

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