Explained: PM Narendra Modi’s commitments at COP26 summit on climate change
Here’s an explainer on what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed at the UN-led COP26 summit on climate change mitigation, held in Glasgow, Scotland
In one of the most ambitious targets by a developing country to combat climate change, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced that India will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070.
The announcement, made at the UN-led COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, will push the developed world to enhance climate finance for the 2021-2030 period.
The Indian PM also made it clear that rich countries will have to provide $ 1 trillion in climate finance to the developing world to achieve its climate change mitigation targets, while speaking out in support of vulnerable island nations that are in the danger of submerging because of rising sea levels.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a UN body, had said that the global sea level rose by a factor of two - that is, 4.3mm per year - between 2013 and 2021, and the rate of rise is expected to jump further in the coming decade due to rising carbon emissions.
India’s five-point climate action plan, which PM Narendra Modi described as “panchamrit (five values)”, is set to give a firm push to India’s plans for increasing renewable energy, and switching to electricity and hydrogen fuels for transport.
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India is No. 4 in the world when it comes to installed renewable energy capacity, and its non-fossil fuel energy has increased by more than 25% in the last seven years, reaching 40 % of country’s energy mix this year.
However, India will continue to grow on fossil fuels for another 20 years, and only after that, its emissions will start to fall, show various studies done on the country’s energy basket.
All this will also depend a lot on technology transfer from the western world and the installation of new green energy hubs in India.
Here’s an explainer on what India committed at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.
Net zero by 2070
A paper done by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, then vice-chairperson of the now dissolved Planning Commission, which was released in October 2021, says India’s emissions can peak around 2035 and then move towards net zero sometime between 2065 and 2070.
But another paper, done by the Council for Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), says India will have to peak by 2040 to achieve its target of reaching net zero by 2070. For this to happen, the CEEW said coal-based power generation must peak by 2040 and then come down.
The CEEW also said solar electricity generation will have to go up to 5,630GW by 2070, while the wind energy will be second biggest contributor by providing 1,792GW by 2070.
To achieve net zero, the share of electric cars and the contribution of biofuels for heavier vehicles will have to reach 84% by 2070, the CEEW said, adding that the majority section of industry will have to shift to cleaner biofuels or hydrogen.
As of 2019, India installed a capacity to generate about 134GW of clean energy from solar, wind and nuclear sources, the Centre for Science and Environment said.
India, as of today, has about 210GW of coal-based capacity – with 39GW under construction and another 25GW in various stages of approval. “Reducing the life [span] of [such] plants to 25 years can help in achieving net zero,” Montek Singh Ahluwalia said.
There is unanimity among energy experts that India’s dependence on coal will have to be cut drastically in the next 10-15 years to achieve its net zero target, and the country will have to swiftly switch to cleaner fuels.
Ahluwalia also warned that phasing out coal will have financial implications for poor states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. In Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, for example, close to 15% of the state revenue comes directly and indirectly from the mining sector.
In addition, these states will lose out on employment as new employment opportunities in the renewable energy sector will be created in western and southern India, which have better solar and wind resources.
With India aiming to cover one-third of its geographical area with trees and forest cover, the country’s carbon reducing capacity will go up considerably.
Forests can absorb up to 20 % of carbon emissions, according to an environment ministry study conducted in 2011 when India’s green cover was about 24% of the its geographical area. With the green cover increasing, the country’s carbon sequestration ability will also improve.
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Net zero basically refers to the balance between the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted and the quantity removed from the air. A country is said to have reached net zero when the quantity of greenhouse gases it adds to the atmosphere is equal to the quantity it manages to remove from the air - cancelling each other out.
Net zero was the most hotly debated subject at the COP26 talks in Glasgow as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said achieving net zero by 2050 is a must to limit an overall global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius to pre-industrial levels by the end of 2100.
India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, the US and the European Union bloc, and according to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report released on August 9, it will be among the most severely affected countries.
500GW of non-fossil fuels by 2030
This target is easier said than done even though India has prepared a road map for having installed capacity to generate 450GW by 2030.
In an analysis for the 500GW target, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said India’s Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has done a projection for the country’s energy mix for 2030 that shows it will need to have solar energy installed capacity of 280GW and wind energy installed capacity of 140GW. The rest of the energy needs will come from nuclear.
This would mean India will produce half of its energy requirements from renewables, which PM Narendra Modi promised at the COP26 summit.
According to the CEA, India’s total installed electricity capacity will be 1,100GW by 2030. The CSE said that target is achievable if India stops investing in coal.
Cutting carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes
Modi announced in Glasgow that India will reduce projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes (Gt) between 2021 and 2030 - but that does not mean India will cut emissions. It basically means 1 billion tonnes of lesser emissions from the business-as-usual scenario.
According to the business-as-usual scenario, India’s projected carbon emissions by 2030 will be 4.48 billion tonnes, almost double its present emissions, according to the CSE. This would mean a 22% reduction in carbon emissions.
India’s projected emissions in 2030 would be 3.48 billion tonnes, just 9% of the remaining carbon budget of 400 billion tonnes.
Of the total global emissions, India’s share will be a relatively small 8.4%, while China and the US will continue to be two biggest carbon emitters, the CSE said.
In per capita terms, it would mean India will have emitted 2.98 tonnes of CO2 in a business-as-usual scenario, and going by this target, it will be 2.31 tonnes per capita, less than that of any industrialised country in the world including China.
As of today, India’s per capita emissions is 1.98 tonnes of CO2. If you compare this to the world, the US per capita emissions will be 9.42 tonnes in 2030, EU 4.12 tonnes in 2030, India’s will be 2.7 tonnes in 2030 and China’s will be 8.88 tonnes per capita.
According to the IPCC, global CO2 emissions must be 18.22 Gt in 2030 for the world to limit the rise in the overall temperature to under 1.5°C.
Reducing carbon intensity by 45%
Carbon intensity measures emissions of CO2 for per unit of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So, reducing carbon intensity means India will emit less carbon for its economic growth and its adaptation of cleaner technologies in various sectors of the economy.
According to the CSE, India has achieved 25% of emission intensity reduction of its GDP between 2005 and 2016, and is on course to achieve more than 40% by 2030.
Achieving 45% won’t be difficult considering India would be meeting half of its energy demand from cleaner technologies by 2030, and there is a broad hydrogen road map for the country to adopt over the next 10 years.
India has taken measures to reduce emissions from the transport sector, and the energy intensive industrial sector - especially cement, iron and steel, non-metallic minerals and chemical, which contribute about 30% of the total emissions.
In the coming years, India will have to make the measures stringent and force industries to comply with them, Ahluwalia said in his paper. The CEEW said that India will have to reinvent its mobility systems to move people and goods in a more efficient manner.
“India can significantly reduce its carbon intensity by giving incentives to adopt hydrogen as fuel for new industries and for non-peak hours,” said Chandra Bhushan, CEO of I-Forest.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate finance as money from government, private and alternate sources of financing. Climate finance is needed for mitigation because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions.
It is also needed for the adaptation process, as significant financial resources are needed to adapt to adverse effects and reduce the impact of changing climate, according to the UNFCCC.
Modi categorically said the developing world expects developed countries to provide climate finance of $1 trillion at the earliest to meet net zero targets and adopt a cleaner growth trajectory.
Till end of 2020, the rich countries were able to provide $80 billion dollars of climate finance. In 2009, developed countries pledged to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries deal with the impact of climate change.
The finance ministers of rich countries at a G20 meeting pushed back the year to 2023 in a bid to end a possible deadlock at the Glasgow summit.