Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s announcement at the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties or UN COP-26 in Glasgow on Monday, 1 November, that India will achieve net-zero by 2070 has taken the global forum by surprise.
India had, so far, refrained from declaring any such targets despite the PM’s meetings with several international delegates earlier this year. While some climate experts are lauding the move, several others are dismissing this announcement by calling it ‘unrealistic’ and ‘counter-productive.’
While India says she will achieve net-zero by 2070, Germany, Sweden and Nepal will do it by 2045, the US, UK, Japan and European Union aim by 2050, and Russia, China and Saudi Arabia by 2060.
What is Carbon Net-Zero?
Carbon net-zero is when a country’s carbon emissions are removed from the atmosphere by carbon absorption or sequestration. It means cutting down on as many emissions as possible, balancing out the total emissions, and leading to what could be called ‘carbon neutrality’.
To limit global warming, the global temperature will have to be kept under 2 degree Celsius. To achieve this, countries will need to become carbon net-zero.
While developed countries have announced ambitious net-zero targets given their technological abilities and financial capacities, achieving the same targets is an uphill task for developing countries.
India’s 2070 Target Came as a Surprise
Until very recently India was vehemently against announcing any net-zero targets, and had even rejected calls to announce a target last week. In fact, India is one of the only major emitters that had not announced their net-zero targets in the build up to COP26.
Less than a week ago, India’s Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav said that the solution to climate change is “not setting net-zero carbon emission targets as dozens of nations have done.”
This is why the PM’s statement about the 2070 target is a bit of a surprise.
International Media on Modi’s Announcement
The PM’s statement found mention across international news portals, with a BBC report saying:
“While the 2070 net-zero target may have disappointed activists and experts in Glasgow, Mr Modi seems to have impressed people back home... Most headlines are using words like ‘big’ and ‘major’ to describe the announcement.”
Time magazine said that “a target that climate advocates recognized as further off than is ideal but potentially transformative for the world’s third-largest emitter.”
The piece also said, “The 20-year lag behind other powerful nations’ targets may make India’s goal seem unambitious. If other major emitters were to align efforts along similarly extended time frames, the world would have no hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.”
The report, however, had little to say on India’s demand of $1 trillion of climate finance for the developing countries, from the developed world.
Meanwhile Bloomberg Green reported:
“Though India’s goal is two decades behind rich nations such as the US and the UK, it’s compatible with what scientists say is needed to avoid catastrophic global warming… The challenge for India is figuring out how to finance the transition to net-zero, which will require trillions of dollars of investment.”
Bloomberg Green also stated that it’s in “India’s interest to stem global warming, even if the problem was caused mainly by carbon dioxide accumulated in the atmosphere by countries that industrialized first.
The nation of 1.3 billion people is one of the most vulnerable to climate impacts. Extreme weather events like heat waves, floods and disruptions to the rainy monsoon season will have devastating impacts.”
The Guardian, in its report, made a pertinent point about lack of technological preparedness, and said, “Advancements in hydrogen technology and storage will also be needed to help India’s industrial sector wean itself off coal, which is unlikely to happen until around 2040, according to experts.”
2070: An Unrealistic Target for India
To achieve the net-zero target by 2070, India will have to acquire carbon-capture technology (which is able to absorb or sequester all emissions that we have not been able to cut-down). This technology, however, is exorbitantly priced, and not scalable at the extent required.
“The overseas media will focus on India's net-zero by 2070 statement. While it may mean something diplomatically – the last major economy in the bag – it will not be what drives change in India. Much more intriguing are the announcements on railways, on non-fossil capacity and the benchmark for renewable energy. These are what give scope for India to drive a low-carbon development transition in the next decade."Dr Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research.
Experts say that such targets that are far ahead of India’s current NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions: steps that all countries declare they will take towards climate adaptation and mitigation) might force India on a low-carbon development pathway.
“Meeting these targets will not be a simple matter and will require additional investments and supporting policies."Ulka Kelkar, World Resources Institute India.
India Should Focus on 2030 Targets Instead
Sunil Dahiya, analyst with Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), told Outlook India that India should instead “focus on 2030 targets which we have been discussing nationally for some time.”
He said that India should consider a peak-coal year within this decade “given the fact that we are not only facing the climate crisis but we are also facing a domestic ecological and social crisis due to reliance on this dirty fuel.”
In an interview to Carbon Copy, RR Rashmi, a former principal negotiator for India at the UN climate change negotiations and ex-special secretary in MoEFCC, said that net-zero is for those countries that should have peaked emissions by now.
“So, in 2021, it is no longer valid to talk about a 2050 net-zero ambition. It is certainly worrying that we have started talking about the goal for 2050 even before the world has met its NDC targets for 2030."RR Rashmi, former principal negotiator for India at the UN climate change negotiations and ex-special secretary, MoEFCC
Emphasis on Climate Finance a Pertinent Point
PM Modi also spoke on the need for developed countries to deliver on their promises of climate finance. Under the Paris Agreement in 2015, the developing countries had promised to deliver on their NDCs if the developed countries helped them in doing so financially.
"India expects developed nations to make climate finance of one trillion dollars available at the earliest. Today, it's important to track climate finance just like we track the progress of climate mitigation. It would be appropriate justice to create pressure on nations that don't meet their own promises of climate finance," he said.
“India is rightly asking for climate justice and asking developed nations to fulfill their promise of providing tech transfer and finance. In the past, developed nations have failed to fulfill their promise,” said Vibhuti Garg, Energy Economist and India lead, IEEFA.