The Glasgow promise

| Updated on November 02, 2021

India’s commitment to hit net-zero emissions by 2070 is grounded in the reality of climate justice

Of the five commitments that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow on Monday, there’s one that sums up India’s approach to the climate problem — achieving net-zero emissions by 2070. This goal might appear to be far out into the future, but it is grounded in the reality of climate justice. For the world to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, it is necessary that the advanced economies get there well before that while giving the emerging economies and the less developed countries more time to make the transition. India has put the onus on the advanced economies, particularly the US, to scale up their promises. A drastic scaling-down will hurt the poor, whereas a gradual one will be a win-win. That said, India’s other commitments to be achieved by 2030 appear ambitious, notably the one to meet 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030. Now, the share of solar and wind is 11-12 per cent. This ties in with the resolve to reduce the carbon intensity of the economy to below 45 per cent. The target of creating 500 GW capacity in non-fossil fuels seems achievable, given that solar, wind and hydel power collectively account for a capacity of about 150 GW.

The Prime Minister has sent out three messages. The first is that the country continues to operate under the principle ‘aim for the stars, you will at least hit the rooftop’. In the case of solar, the achievement by 2022 is likely to be less than 50 GW, halfway to the target. Yet, India’s solar expansion has been quite significant. The second message is for the developed world. Right through the run-up to the Glasgow COP, India balked from announcing its net-zero date, despite overtures by the COP26 President, Alok Sharma, and the US Special Envoy on Climate, John Kerry. Now it is evident that the idea was to make the shock-and-awe announcement at the conference, so as to combine it with a demand for adequate funding. Modi has called upon the wealthy countries to mobilise $1 trillion to the developing countries as soon as possible. The developed world was supposed to be mobilising $100 billion a year beginning 2020, but they are woefully short. Finally, Modi has sent a strong signal to domestic industry to turn away from carbon.

If India does not walk the talk, it may lose traction on the world stage — not least because it is the third largest emitter after US and China, even if its per capita levels are modest. It has resolved to increase its coal production from 730 million tonnes a year in 2019 to 1,149 million tonnes in 2024. A review of this target may be called for, in view of the falling cost of renewables and the global research in storage technologies. While coal remains the baseload option, its share in power output should fall from current levels of 75 per cent to effect the desired transition. Turning green should also be about reducing deforestation and preventing wasteful use of energy.

Published on November 02, 2021

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