India cannot bind itself to net zero emission target: Chandrashekhar Dasgupta
Net zero emission targets may be crucial to check devastating impacts of climate change, but they also undermine the principle of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities” of developed and developing countries
India can endorse the global net zero emissions target date of 2050 but ensure it does not bind us to it individually, said former ambassador to European Union and China and climate negotiator Chandrashekhar Dasgupta in an interview with HT’s Jayashree Nandi. Net zero emission targets may be crucial to check devastating impacts of climate change, but they also undermine the principle of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities” of developed and developing countries. Dasgupta’s views are significant ahead of the Leaders Summit on Climate to be hosted by US President Joe Biden on April 22-23, which will also be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The White House announced on January 27 that President Joe Biden will take steps to put the United States (US) on an “irreversible path” to a net zero economy by 2050. There is diplomatic pressure on others including India to also join the net zero target club. Excerpts from an interview:
Can net zero emission targets truly put the world on a low emission trajectory?
It is important that global greenhouse gas emissions come down to net zero by mid-century if global warming is to be restricted to tolerable limits. This does not mean that every country can, or should, achieve net zero in the same year. Indeed, in committing themselves to the global target, several countries have made it clear that this not their national target date. China, Brazil and Ukraine have a 2060 target date. Singapore has pledged to reach the target “as soon as possible in the second half of the century”.
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Long-term net zero pledges by themselves will not put the world on a low emission trajectory. They are no substitute for concrete, accountable short-term national action programmes.
Do national net zero emission targets by 2050 reconcile with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities?
No, they undermine the principle of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities” of developed and developing countries. Developed countries with high per capita emissions should reach the net zero target well before 2050, and others should follow as soon as feasible. Indeed, some developed countries, such as Finland, Norway and Sweden, have pledged to achieve net zero emissions before 2050. Other developed countries should follow this example.
Are carbon capture and storage technologies feasible?
They are technically feasible only if local geological structures permit safe underground storage of carbon emissions. We also have to consider the huge costs of these technologies and their impact on universal access to energy and poverty eradication.
What would a national 2050 net zero target mean for India’s economy?
First, it would require us to immediately scrap all existing coal-based power plants and factories, or alternatively, retrofit them with carbon capture and storage technology. This would entail astronomical costs at a time when the economy is already reeling from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Second, it would hit our Aatmanirbhar Bharat policy for a six. It would necessitate an immediate switch-over to imported, existing clean energy technologies at a huge cost, denying our own industry the time required for indigenisation or development of affordable indigenous technologies. Let us not forget that the US lodged a complaint against us at the WTO when we took some modest measures to promote domestic manufacture of solar cells and modules.
Third, we need to examine the trade-related implications of surrendering our principled position on “common and differentiated responsibilities”. The European Union is set to impose levies on carbon-intensive imports, even from developing countries.
It would be naive to think that the countries calling on India to adopt a 2050 net zero target are motivated purely by altruistic concerns unrelated to commercial interests.
What, according to you, should be India’s stand at COP 26 (UN Climate Conference)?
We should declare our commitment to the target of achieving global net zero emissions by 2050 and state we shall contribute to this end in full conformity with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” and our national circumstances, enshrined in the UN Framework Convention and the Paris Agreement. This endorses the global target date but does not bind us to it individually.