Toward an ambitious yet feasible strategy for transport decarbonization in India

Introducing a blog series about our meta-study of India’s road transport emissions analyses.

Modeling exercises are often the backbone of policy decisions, and it’s unfortunate that their complexity frequently leaves them shrouded in mystery. In many cases, this is because the issues the models seek to address are inherently complex. Take transport decarbonization. ICCT recently published a strategy document outlining goals for decarbonizing the global transport sector by mid-century, and it aptly encapsulates the enormous challenge ahead:

“a sector that is almost exclusively dependent on a single energy source, petroleum, operating on infrastructure that represents trillions of dollars of investment over many decades, must change substantially in little more than a generation.”

India faces a similarly daunting task. Its motor vehicle fleet is growing rapidly—the on-road vehicle stock is expected to almost double to over 200 million by 2030—and road transport remains heavily dependent on oil, the majority of which is imported. Not only does transport contribute 14% to energy related CO2 emissions, it’s also one of the fastest growing emissions sectors in India along with industry. At the same time, as per its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, India has committed to reduce the emission intensity of its gross domestic product by 33% to 35% from 2005 levels by 2030. The government has defined emission reduction targets for renewable energy and power generation, but there are many other sectors that lack such sectoral targets, and transport is one.

A policy roadmap that could lead India toward transport decarbonization by mid-century will need strong ambition supported by a feasible action plan. Success with this decarbonization would not only help India steer closer to its climate commitment, but would also offer significant co-benefits like clean air and related health and wellbeing gains.

To help, ICCT is currently undertaking an analysis of the key transport energy and emissions models for India that have been developed by research organizations with well-established modeling frameworks. It’s part of the Nationally Determined Contributions Transport Initiative for Asia (NDC-TIA), a joint program of seven organizations funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). Based on the analysis, we aim to identify decarbonization strategies for the road transport sector that would enable India to follow an ambitious yet feasible decarbonization pathway. Strategies that are commonly employed include vehicle electrification, fuel efficiency improvements, diversification of energy sources, mode shift to public transport, and travel demand reduction.

Study boundary and details

Our study is confined to the road transport sector and we are comparing the eight models shown in Table 1. We are looking at trends between 2010 and 2050, mostly at decadal intervals, and our analysis includes each model’s respective Business as Usual (BAU), Moderate, and High Ambition scenarios, where available.

Research group Model name Baseline yeara
The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) Transport Demand Model 2015
Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe) Activity Analysis Model 2010
Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) Global Change Analysis Model (GCAM) 2015
Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) Transport activity wise India Multi-region Demand Model 2015
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) GCAM 2015
International Energy Agency (IEA) Mobility Model (MoMo) 2020b
International Transport Forum (ITF) ITF 2015b
International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) India Emissions Model (IEM) 2020
a) Baseline year was estimated using CO2 emission trajectories from alternate scenarios. The year from where trajectories for alternate scenarios diverged was considered to be the baseline year.
b) There is limited data available for the IEA and ITF models.

For the most part, the BAU scenarios reflect the extension of current trends without considering any policy intervention or considering only limited policy intervention. Meanwhile, the mitigation scenarios, which in our case are the Moderate and the High Ambition scenarios, consider that policy improvements in the future will reduce emission intensity. The Moderate scenarios consider that existing policies would be achieved to some degree and, in some cases, also incorporate ambitions that have not yet been implemented. Broadly, this could be assumed to be a moderate effort scenario. The High Ambition scenarios are the highest effort and also assume that policy targets would be far exceeded. Note that not all models incorporate all three scenarios. While we analyzed all three scenarios for CEEW, CSTEP, IRADe, PNNL, TERI, and ICCT, we only had access to Moderate and High Ambition scenarios for IEA and only the BAU and High Ambition scenarios for ITF.

About the blog series

We are writing a series of blogs about the things we find intriguing, insightful, or just jarring as we work through this analysis. We hope that by sharing our thoughts in this way, we’ll incite debate and dialogue around the transport energy and emissions modeling efforts being undertaken for India. While acknowledging the complexity of such exercises, we are attempting to bring these out in the open, with an intent to make the process more robust and support a solid foundation for future decision-making.

We are seeking to evaluate how India’s road transport future will look. For instance, how will road transport power itself in the coming decades? Will the road sector continue to be a massive gas guzzler going forward? And, most importantly, what would it take for the country to decarbonize its road sector and which decarbonization trajectory offers the most benefits? In this blog series we will answer all of these questions and more, through the lens of the different models that we analyze. In the next blog, we will discuss the BAU trends in the road transport sector.

This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.

Electrification Tracking progress
Clean air
Emissions modeling