India pledges 1-billion-tonne emissions cut: A big forward step for climate action

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Updated: November 02, 2021 2:57 PM

Net Zero is the state of offsetting total emissions by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, as done by trees and physical removal through futuristic technology.

Factory Pollution (Reuters)This comprehensive package is much more than what was expected of India and marks a significant climate action commitment. (File/Reuters)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announced ambitious plans to reduce India’s projected emissions by a billion tonne until 2030. Modi’s ‘Panchamrit’ policy announcement at the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow saw him accede to global demand and agree to a net-zero emissions target by 2070.

There was increasing clamour for India, the largest emitter and the only G20 country to not announce a net-zero target, to agree to one.

While these policies mark a significant step-up in the country’s existing climate targets, four of the promises are low-hanging fruits; at least one came in response to global pressure.

The 1-billion-tonne reduction in projected emissions until 2030 is, however, the most substantive commitment. This is the first time that India has set a target in terms of absolute emissions. Though not a target to directly reduce emission, it marks a major forward movement towards bending the country’s emissions trajectory.

World Resources Institute data suggests India’s total emissions of greenhouse gases were 3.3 billion tonnes in 2018. By 2030, that figure is projected to surpass 4 billion tonnes a year.

Going by the current growth rate, that would mean India could be emitting between 35 and 40 billion tonnes between now and 2030. Cutting 1 billion tonnes would represent a 2.5-3% reduction in absolute emissions over the next nine years.

While this announcement was unexpected, the Net Zero target was the most anticipated.

Net Zero is the state of offsetting total emissions by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, as done by trees and physical removal through futuristic technology.

Over 70 countries have pledged to become Net Zero by 2050 — a vital aspect for meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement to keep global temperatures within 2°C from pre-industrial times.

While India’s 2070 Net Zero target silences critics, it is along expected lines. More than the target, the big development is the fact that India relented and decided to set a target —something it had held back for some time.

In the climate action plan submitted for the Paris Agreement, India had agreed to reduce emissions intensity, or emissions per GDP unit, by 33-35% by 2030 against the 2005 levels.

It was seen as a modest target even then, something achievable even in a business-as-usual scenario. According to some estimates, India would hit the target by 2022. The increase of the target to 45% reduction is in line with the progress made.

The increase in installed capacity of renewable energy and the proportion of non-fossil fuel energy in the total mix also hold true.

At a climate meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York two years ago, Modi said India would increase its installed renewable energy capacity to 450 GW by 2030. India’s publicly stated target at that time was 175 GW by 2022.

India’s installed renewable capacity has grown leaps and bounds in the past few years, and the increase from 450 GW to 500 GW is unlikely to be challenging.

The rise of non-fossil fuel energy in the total mix to 50% is a natural corollary.

Most of India’s new energy sector capacity additions are being done in the non-fossil fuel and renewable space. India has already announced plans to stop commissioning new coal power plants after 2022 and has set a target of 40% electricity production through non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

This comprehensive package is much more than what was expected of India and marks a significant climate action commitment.

Former climate negotiator for India and International Solar Alliance head Ajay Mathur told The Indian Express that reducing emissions by 1 billion tonnes by 2030 and expanding non-fossils capacity to 500 GW were transformative steps. He added 50% electricity generation from renewable sources speaks volumes of India’s commitment to climate action.

Council for Energy, Environment and Water CEO Arunabha Ghosh said India had demonstrated climate leadership, adding that the ball was now in the court of developed countries to raise their ambition, especially in climate finance.

Ghosh told The Indian Express India demanded $1 trillion in climate finance and would monitor not just climate action but also the finance aspect.

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