(This article was published on 19 October 2021 and is being republished from The Quint's archives in light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's declaration on 1 November at the COP26 Summit that India will achieve #NetZero by 2070.)
‘The Climate Change Dictionary’ is all about the buzzwords in the global politics of climate change, and carbon-net zero is the buzziest!
Simply put, net-zero is the state in which a country’s carbon emissions are removed from the atmosphere by carbon absorption or sequestration, and cutting down on all emissions as much as we can, balancing out the total emissions and leading to what could be called ‘Carbon neutrality’.
But Why Is Net-Zero Important?
According to the recent IPCC report, the most important scientific report on climate change told us that all countries need to achieve net-zero by 2050 to keep the global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees celsius.
This means if the world is emitting more carbon than it is able to remove from the environment, it will make the globe warmer by more than 1.5 degrees celsius. Currently, we are at 1.1 degrees celsius.
And if that happens, it will not only lead to melting of the glaciers, rising sea levels and deaths of polar bears but also floods and drought, severe heat waves and intense cold waves and loss of lives and livelihoods for millions.
How Is Net-Zero Influencing Global Politics?
The United Nation’s conference of parties on climate change or UN COP 26 which is happening after two years starting Oct 31st is a crucial event where countries declare their climate-related targets and strategies for the coming future.
And while the US and China plan on declaring ambitious targets of achieving net-zero by 2050 and 2060 respectively. India and other developing countries have no net-zero targets to announce and are under extreme pressure to do so.
Why Does India Not Have A Net-Zero Target Yet?
First, because despite being the third-largest carbon dioxide emitter of the world, India’s per capita emissions are much less compared to the world average and especially the US and China. While the US is responsible for 25% of cumulative global emissions, India is at just 3% so far.
And while these countries which are historical emitters have outrun their carbon quota, emerging countries like India are saying that we need to burn more coal to develop because we still have basic development parameters to achieve like electricity in our villages.
Second, because we don’t have the money. Sequestering and reducing carbon emissions is money and technology-heavy task. Which for poverty and hunger struck countries like ours is not that high on the list of priorities.
Developed Vs Developing Countries
When the United States and the United Kingdom and a whole bevvy of first world countries were polluting, they did it with zero checks and balances and handed over an already severely polluted up environment to younger Nations like India.
These countries are now peddling a narrative that seems to put the entire onus of meeting the global climate targets on emerging countries, failing which they are being made to look like the real villains of Climate change.
Along with this, the developed world has often made promises saying they will contribute to the funds needed to achieve net-zero targets. But these promises have always been far and few in between.
Billions of dollars from these “promised funds” are long overdue. And are failing to inspire much confidence among developing countries.
Also, the cost of abating carbon will not be the same for all countries, higher emitters like the US or UK might spend much less because of more efficient economies than countries with fewer emissions.
The expectation of all countries to achieve net-zero around the same time, irrespective of when did they started polluting is unfair, say experts. Taxing those who started late like India, and still leaving historical emitters like the US with a few more decades to pollute, even now.
So India or other developing nations are not the villains making net-zero an unattainable goal for the world, but we are also taking a little extra time to join the global action around net-zero.
However, some experts say India still needs to deeply study, understand and define what net-zero means for a diverse economy like ours. And this will need time, if we are not to make rushed, unsubstantiated promises under global pressure. While a few also disagree.
Either way net-zero is a hot debate on the global stage and while it seems like the key to solving all climate crisis, many experts say that it is being made to sound far simpler than what it actually is. If not diligently followed up with, net-zero targets would soon be reduced to rather empty claims that were based on unrealistic technoloical targets in the distant future.