India pledges new climate crisis goal: Net zero by 2070
India will reach carbon neutrality by 2070, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced as part of a five-point action plan that included reducing emissions to 50% by 2030, making the boldest pledge on Monday at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, where he also urged developed countries to deliver on their promise of climate financing.
This is the first time India has committed to net-zero emissions, a target that is particularly hard for developing nations that need to balance commitment to economic growth. India, Modi said, was the only major economy that delivered its Paris Agreement commitments in “letter and spirit”.
“By 2070, India will achieve the target of net-zero emissions,” the PM told more than 120 leaders at the critical talks. He added four more commitments: The country will increase its non-fossil fuel power capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW) by the end of the decade, up from 450GW; half of India’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2030; India’s 2030 carbon intensity goal — measured as carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product — will be increased from 35% to 45%; and the country will also strive to produce half of its electricity using renewable energy and cut carbon-dioxide emissions 1 billion tons from business as usual by 2030.
But Modi reiterated that rich countries have to ramp up their contributions to help less developed nations decarbonise. “It is India’s expectation that the world’s developed nations make $1 trillion available as climate finance as soon as possible,” Modi said. “Justice would demand that those nations that have not kept their climate commitments should be pressured... climate finance cannot lag climate action.”
India has the lowest per capita emissions of the world’s major economies -- emitting 5% of the total, despite accounting for 17% of the world’s population. In absolute terms, India is the fourth largest carbon emitter after China and the US. China has pledged to turn carbon neutral by 2060 while the US and the European Union – as a block, EU nations together account for the third largest volume of emissions – aim to do so by 2050.
India hasn’t submitted an updated nationally determined contribution (NDCs) with these commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) yet.
During his speech, Modi was particularly stern about the steps taken by developed countries. “All of us are aware of the reality that the promises made so far on climate finance have only proved to be hollow…world’s ambitions related to climate finance cannot be at the same level as they were during the Paris Agreement,” he said.
“Today as we track the progress on climate mitigation in the same way we must also track climate finance. Justice will truly be served if the pressure ids put on those countries that have not lived up to their climate finance commitments. For many developing countries climate change threatens their very existence. We will have to take big steps as it’s the need of hour,” he added.
Senior officials said India’s actions will depend on climate finance, which will be made available by developed countries. “We have a long fight in the next two weeks over climate finance and it will be critical in determining whether India puts this in NDCs. It will be the biggest point of negotiation for us,” said a member of the Indian delegation who is in Glasgow, who asked not to be named.
Bhupender Yadav, Union environment minister, said: “As a leader, PM has upheld the views and imperatives of all developing countries. He has underlined that climate finance and transfer of new technology will be critical for transition”.
Energy experts and environmentalists welcomed India’s submission, saying that it balances India’s development needs and also demands more action, especially on finance from historical emitters.
“India has walked the talk on its commitments and has now significantly upped these. The developed world must meet its commitments on finance and technology now. Good that imperatives of our development were also underscored while adding to our commitments,” said Manjeev Singh Puri, former ambassador, climate negotiator and distinguished fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute.
Experts also said Modi’s announcement is a win because it’s consistent with what scientists agree is needed to meet that target. To keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5C, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that the world has to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by about mid-century and then hit net zero across all greenhouse gases by 2070.
“India’s pledges are significantly more ambitious than its current NDC,” said Ulka Kelkar of the World Resources Institute India, referring to the NDCs under the Paris accord. “These will take the country on a low-carbon development pathway and give strong signals to every sector of industry and society.”
Many developing countries in Asia have announced net zero targets - like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malayasia. “The experience of many European economies over the last 30 years shows that it is possible to achieve sustained economic growth while significantly cutting emissions, even after accounting for consumption and imports. For India also, strong climate action will help reduce air pollution and create new jobs,” added Kelkar.
A former senior climate negotiator from India said the country “was under immense pressure to commit to a net zero target from US and other developed nations”. “We all know it. But now, 2070 is out there and India has indicated a direction. It will be pushed to include this in its NDCs and will be subjected to review as per the provisions under Paris Agreement. At the same time India could not have been reluctant on a global stage when many countries are announcing net zero targets. So India will have to take this commitment seriously and plan it out. It cannot be conditional to finance alone,” said this person, who asked not to be named.
“This was a very significant moment for the summit, with Prime Minister Modi pledging stronger action by India on climate change, with five new targets...This demonstrates real leadership, based on a track record of action and ambitious targets, that can deliver on both economic development and climate change, from a country whose emissions per capita are about one-third of the global average. The rich world must respond to Prime Minister Modi’s challenge to deliver a strong increase in international climate finance,” Lord Stern of Brentford, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science said.
Several world leaders spoke till the time of going to press, each ramping up an end-of-the-world rhetoric. For UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, global warming was “a doomsday device” strapped to humanity. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said people are “digging our own graves” and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, speaking for vulnerable island nations, warned leaders not to “allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction.”
“There’s no more time to sit back,” Biden said in a more measured warning that also apologised for his predecessor’s temporarily pulling the US out of the historic 2015 Paris agreement, something he said put the country behind in its efforts.
Earlier in the day, PM Modi, speaking at the Leaders Event on Action and Solidarity, said India is extremely vulnerable to climate change. “Adaptation hasn’t got as much attention as mitigation to climate change. This is not justified, especially for countries bearing the brunt of climate change,” he said.
Cropping patterns in India are changing due to monsoonal flooding and unseasonal and extreme rainfall. India’s infrastructure needs to be made resilient to climate change and climate change adaptation should be mainstreamed he said.
At his address at COP26, the PM began with recounting India’s recent efforts on climate change. “We are making all possible efforts in a resolute manner and working hard. In terms of installed renewable energy capacity, India is ranked fourth; it has increased its non-fossil fuel energy by 25% over the last seven years; and it now represents 40% of our energy mix,” he said.
Net zero refers to a balance where emissions of greenhouse gases that raise the planet’s temperature continue are offset by the absorption of an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. Experts see net zero targets as a critical measure to successfully tackle climate change and its devastating consequences.
(With Bloomberg inputs)