On India visit, Kerry to push for cutting fossil fuel imprint

ByJayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Apr 05, 2021 09:54 AM IST

Officials in the Union environment ministry said there is a diplomatic push to announce a target of achieving net zero emissions by the mid-century, like 58 other countries have announced.

The United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, will meet representatives from the Union government, the private sector, and NGOs, during an April 5-8 visit aimed at consultations on increasing climate ambition ahead of President Joe Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate scheduled for April 22-23.

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry .(REUTERS)
US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry .(REUTERS)

Kerry will focus on mitigating fossil fuel use in India and increasing low and zero carbon investments, a US embassy spokesperson said. The embassy has not yet put out Kerry’s schedule.

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“As one of the world’s largest economies, and a global leader in science and innovation, India is a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis. We see India as an important partner on future clean energy research, development, and deployment, not least because of their successful domestic agenda in this area. A key focus for our Administration is supporting and encouraging India’s decarbonisation efforts through clean, zero, and low-carbon investment, and supporting India in mitigating its fossil energy use,” the spokesperson said on Sunday.

Officials in the Union environment ministry said there is a diplomatic push to announce a target of achieving net zero emissions by the mid-century, like 58 other countries have announced.

India is the third-largest global emitter of carbon dioxide, after China and the US, despite extremely low per capita CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). India emits 7.1% of global emissions and its per capita emissions are 60% lower than the global average. It is also among a handful of countries whose nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are compatible with keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, as specified in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Only five other countries—Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya and Philippines—are 2°C compatible.

India is also on track to overachieve its NDCs. Emission intensity of India’s GDP has reduced by 24% between 2005 and 2016. Its commitment was to reduce emission intensity of GDP by 20-25% from 2005 levels by 2020. India is implementing one of the largest renewable energy expansion programmes with a target of achieving 175GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022, and later up to 450GW, according to a report submitted in February to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The report, however, said that coal will remain essential for India’s developmental needs and energy security.

Experts said India will have to do a careful balancing act. For example, former climate negotiator and ambassador, Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, said in an interview to HT that achieving net zero emissions by the 2050s would be a challenge. “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’ (self-reliance) policy. It would necessitate an immediate switchover to imported, existing clean energy technologies at huge cost, denying our own industry the time required for indigenisation or development of affordable indigenous technologies... Third, we need to examine the trade-related implications of surrendering our principled position on common and differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).” He recommended that India should not bind itself to a global date on achieving net zero emissions.

CBDR, a principle under the Paris Agreement, requires richer countries to take historical responsibility for emissions caused in the past by them.

Responding to a query on whether India has a policy on net zero emissions, a senior environment ministry official last week said: “The world will be better placed to declare any new targets when global stocktaking process concludes in 2023.”

Meanwhile, the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) said on March 11 that if the Biden administration wants the US to be consistent with the target of keeping global warming under 1.5°C, its new 2030 Paris Agreement target should aim for emission reductions of at least 57%-63% below 2005 levels.

The US’s action on climate change is presently “critically insufficient”, according to CAT.

"A net-zero target is not a trivial endeavour for any country—especially for a lower-middle income country like India that has the dual challenge of providing modern energy services to millions while protecting the environment. We will need a number of technologies to become better and cheaper—energy storage, faster EV charging, fuel cells, hydrogen electrolysers, agricultural technologies, carbon capture, and direct air capture - which will be absolutely crucial to achieve any net zero target. Public and private partnerships with the US can play a very important role in technological innovation and adaptation to India's needs. The quest for a net-zero emissions future could bring new jobs and better health for Indians. But much depends on infusion of international capital and disruptive technologies,” said Ulka Kelkar, director, climate at World Resources Institute.

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