By Gyan Pathak
India’s much awaited announcement to achieve net-zero status was finally made by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in COP26 in Glasgow. The pledge of net-zero by 2070 has cheered his constituency at home, but disappointed the world that has been making all efforts to get pledges from every country for net-zero by 2050. In this sense, it is a delay by 20 years. However, the other four pledges for considerable increase in targets by 2030 have kindled great hope for the world. Given the spectacular performance on past pledges, India can do a magic even by overachieving on its new pledges and shortening the delay, but this magic would be possible only if it could be supported by sufficient climate finance.
Scientists say we must halve global emissions by 2030, and reach net-zero by 2050, in order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. India is even more concerned than any other country on climate change impacts due to high level of poverty and dependence of a large population on climate-sensitive sectors for livelihood. It is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world and it suffers from extreme weather conditions, draught, flood, and even lacks drinking water in many parts of the country. In this backdrop, achieving net-zero as soon as possible is an important task.
It makes India to tread carefully, especially at a time when the other countries have not been fulfilling their commitments on climate actions. A mere pledge would be nothing if not acted upon. The latest Emission Gap Report 2021 released just ahead of COP26 has said that India is an overachiever and may achieve even over 15 per cent on its promise made in 2015 Paris Agreement. The latest announcement even surpassed all recent assurances of the government of India, which was a pleasant surprise for all.
India’s enhanced ambitions to be achieved by 2030 are commendable. Modi has described the announcement as panchamrita (five “elixirs”) that would deliver “an unprecedented contribution from India for climate action”. Though India is yet to formally submit its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), the announcements have raised hopes of the world that it may contain even further increased targets when actually submitted. There are several reasons for this hope.
For example, it was only about a month ago that Modi had announced an increased target of 450 GW installed renewable energy capacity by 2030. However, the new announcement made in COP26 was a new target was 500GW. He even announced that India would get 50 per cent of its energy from renewable by 2030 as against a target of 40 per cent made in its first NDC in 2016. The target was nearly achieved in mid-2021. In the same NDC India had announced 33-35 per cent reduction in carbon intensity but now he has announced a 45 per cent reduction from 2005 level. The new announcements also include the pledge of reducing carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030.
Sceptics find the announcements ambitious, and wonder if these can be realized at all. They say that a lot more needs to be done by India on implementation. They also seek clarification as to how these are going to be achieved. However, given India’s record of overachievement there should not be any doubt. Moreover, the targets are not too ambitious. For example, phasing out of coal mines historically takes 40-50 years, and India’s net-zero target is 2070. At this point of time the question is whether India can reduce this time and make it happen by 2050? Yes, that can be done if there would be sufficient climate finance along with technology transfer, which depends on the developed countries. It should be noted that China, the largest emitter of the world, has pledged net zero by 2060, the United States the second largest and the EU the third largest emitter of GHG have pledged to achieve it by 2050.
Achievement by India so far has been marked by its own efforts with little help from the developing world. As per the preliminary estimates, India’s cost will be $2.5 trillion to achieve even its targets announced in 2016. The developed countries had promised $100 billion a year for climate action long back in 2009, and the amount was to be made available by 2020 to be sustained until 2025. However, they failed in their commitment, and they are not on track to meet the promise until 2023. In this backdrop, if PM Modi has demanded $1 trillion available as climate fund as soon as possible, it is not unjustified, especially when seen in the context of climate justice. Therefore, the critics who say that India has clearly put the ball in the court of developed world are at variance with the commitment and delivery obligations of developed countries. “Now, … will monitor nor just climate action, but delivered climate finance” stand of India is not unreasonable, and cannot be considered as shifting the onus on developed world.
It should be kept in mind that despite the fourth largest emitter of the world, India’s per capita emissions for 2019 are much lower at 1.9 tonnes carbon dioxide as against 15.5 tonnes for US, 12.5 tonnes for Russia, 8.1 tonnes for China and 6.5 tonnes for EU. Historically, India’s emission is only 4 per cent of the total emission of the world so far while the emissions of the US is around 29 per cent, China’s 10 per cent and other developed countries 45 per cent. In this context, there is no wonder that most headlines labelled the Modi’s announcements “big” or “major”.
India is clearly not part of the problem, but part of the solution, which is clearly visible in India’s stand. India occupies only 2.4 per cent of the surface area of the world but has to feed 17.5 per cent population, out of them around 30 per cent are suffering from extreme poverty. There is an acute shortage of housing, electricity, and even drinking water. SDG targets could not be met without sustainable growth, which in turn depend on availability of cheap energy. Since India has big plans for shifting from dirty to clean energy, the world should not doubt India in this regard. India is seriously working on it, and even has great plans to create additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes through additional forest and tree cover. However, the developed world also needs to deliver on their pledges. If together we work, we can even meet the scientific deadline of net-zero by 2050. As suggested in the PM Modi’s speech, the world also needs a great deal of lifestyle changes and adaptation component apart from the mitigation measures. (IPA Service)