Kattakada in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district could well become the first Assembly constituency in India to become carbon-neutral, and that too well before the country’s target to achieve it.
Called the Carbon Neutral Kattakada Project, the initiative hopes to neutralise greenhouse gases by 2050, or 20 years ahead of the target pledged by the Indian government.
Carbon neutrality — also known as Net Zero — is the state where the atmospheric CO₂ produced by human activities is neutralised through active measures.
A state of Net Zero is central to achieving a key goal set by the Paris Agreement — signed by the European Union plus 192 countries, including India — to limit global warming by this century-end to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era levels, ie levels that existed before 1750.
The Kattakada initiative is being put in place even as Kerala, as a state, aims to become 100 percent renewable energy-dependent by 2040.
Although Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has also set the state a similar target as Kattakada to achieve carbon neutrality (2050), the Assembly segment is already a good way along on the road to its goal.
IPCC and Kattakada
IB Satheesh, the MLA from Kattakada, who first thought of the idea in October 2021 and is the force behind the project, says two reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) propelled him on the path to carbon neutrality.
The first report notes the widespread impact that the climate crisis has had on human and natural systems, while the second warns of global warming rising beyond control unless greenhouse gas emissions were reduced immediately and on a large scale.
“The underlying message of these two reports was that a climate catastrophe is waiting at the doorstep, and that humanity had to act, and that too, now,” Satheesh told South First.
But for chalking up a programme, Satheesh needed to figure out Kattakada’s carbon footprint — the total amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, it generated.
“That was when I decided on a carbon audit report for Kattakada,” he said. “It might be for the first time that a constituency in the country has published a carbon audit report.”
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The carbon audit report was prepared by the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), under the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology, and Environment.
The auditors looked at several sectors in the six panchayats under the Kattakada constituency: Kattakada, Malayinkeezhu, Maranallur, Pallichal, Vilappil, and Vilavoorkkal.
The sectors it looked at were transport, energy, agriculture, forest and other land uses (AFOLU) , livestock, and waste management.
The report, released last June by state Finance Minister KN Balagopal, showed that about only 22 percent of carbon emission was sequestered — absorbed and stored in organic matter through carbon capture mechanism — by natural sinks, while the remaining 78 percent was released in the atmosphere.
As expected, the energy sector had the highest carbon emission in Kattakada — with electricity contributing 84 percent of the pollution — followed by waste, transport, and AFLOU.
Interestingly, the transport sector accounted for only is 12.7 percent of carbon emissions.
The report said energy consumption would be the most challenging to reduce as it was an essential component of human demands, and suggested transitioning to renewable energy.
“As long as Kattakada is a heavy user of electricity, petrol, and diesel, it will be a heavy carbon emitter,” the report noted.
Kattakada Assembly constituency is spread over Kattakada and Neyyatinkara Taluks of Thiruvananthapuram district. As per 2011 census, it has a population of 2,27,540 of which 1,11,378 are male and 1,16,162 are female.
Agriculture is the primary contributor to the economy and about 15 types of crops are cultivated, with paddy as the main dry-land crop. A good 22.7 percent of the area is forested.
Taking a cue from the report’s suggestion, it was decided to tap renewable energy to power, to begin with, government offices and schools — with a grant from the state government.
As part of this plan, 56 government offices will switch to renewable energy in the first phase; in this case, it is solar energy.
“The installation of rooftop solar panels has started,” said Nizamudeen A, commissioner, Kerala State Land Use Board that is involved in the Carbon Neutral Kattakada Project.
“The vision is to make the government offices and schools in the constituency solar powered,” he told South First.
The move is expected to help reduce emission of around 510 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. That’s a small but significant step as Kattakada Assembly constituency’s total emission is calculated as 2.67 lakh tonnes.
Commissioner Nizamudeen said the total cost for executing this project is yet to be estimated.
But he is hopeful that once a project proposal is submitted to the “department concerned” — the Kerala State Electricity Board —for installation of solar panels, the funds will be approved.
“A lot of schemes for financial assistance are available under various departments,” he said. “When a plan was made to set up Miyawaki forest at the constituency, we approached the social forestry wing of Kerala Forests for funds.”
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Another area of intervention for making the Carbon Neutral Kattakada project workable is waste management.
The carbon audit found the Kattakada constituency’s waste sector to be the second-highest emitter of carbon, with solid wastes being the main culprit.
The need of the hour was emergency interventions, management, and focus on solid waste as well as wastewater and the introduction of a wastewater treatment plant in the region.
“It highlighted the need for the systemic collection of solid waste, its recycling, and incineration for recovering energy,” Satheesh said.
“These aspects had a large potential for reducing emissions from this sector. Initiatives in this regard have already been started.”
These apart, a 20-point programme has also been prepared with the help of various agencies and departments, Commissioner Nizamudeen said.
“The carbon audit, waste management, and energy audit at public buildings and installation of solar panels are part of that programme,” he explained.
According to him, the plan includes cycle clubs at schools and colleges, tree planting and geo-tagging, paddy cultivation, energy audit at houses, and others.
Nizamudeen also said promotion of electric mobility and non-motorised transport is of the highest priority.
“People will be advised to make short distance journeys walking or use bicycles, and rideshares and carpooling among friends and neighbours will be encouraged.”
“Highest priority” will be accorded to reducing fossil fuel dependence and switching to renewable energy, while the people will also be made aware of sustainable management of natural resources and improving tree cover.
“The prime objective is to adopt green technologies in all walks of life,” Nizamudeen said.
Sateesh said he planned to conduct a second carbon audit by December to assess the implementation of the 20-point programme and its outcomes.
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The legislator is also depending on paddy cultivation and better tree cover to play a major role in making Kattakada carbon neutral.
Referring to the carbon audit’s finding that 78 percent of emission in Kattakada was retained in the atmosphere, with about only 22 percent sequestered, he said cropland accounted for the highest carbon sequestration, though waterbodies also played a part.
“Priority will have to be given for carbon capture and carbon sequestration,” Sateesh said.
Sateesh said the Jalasamrudhi programme, which focuses on water resource management and already in place in his constituency, should also help the carbon neutrality drive.
Launched in 2017, the Jalasamrudhi project is aimed at replenishing and rejuvenating water resources in Kattakada.
As per a report of the Land Use Board, the project has shown positive results, with groundwater levels increasing and water bodies turning perennial.
“The Jalasamrudhi programme should bolster the carbon neutral goal,” said Sateesh.
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Carbon Neutrality and Kerala
Kattakada’s carbon-neutral drive won’t be the first in Kerala, which has a couple of credits to its name in this regard.
Meenangadi in Wayanad district is in the race to become the first grama panchayath in the country to become a carbon neutral one. It is learned that by 2025 a declaration in this regard could be made.
Similarly, on 10 December, 2022, a seed farm in Aluva in Ernakulam district was declared India’s first carbon-neutral farm by Chief Minister Vijayan.
It is also the first state in the country to introduce carbon-neutral farming methods in selected locations, with the state budget for 2022-23 allocating of ₹6 crore for this.
In November 2021, Vijayan told the Assembly that a committee headed by the state environment secretary would soon formulate an action plan to make Kerala carbon neutral.