When it comes to tackling climate change, the targets set are often very lofty. The latest one is the Global Renewable and Energy Efficiency Pledge (Pledge) where 118 countries have agreed to triple their renewable energy capacity to at least 11,000 gigawatts (GW) and also double their annual energy efficiency improvement to more than four per cent by 2030.

Similarly, on nationally determined contributions (NDCs), a lot is being promised but actual progress made on the ground leaves much to be desired.

Yet another case of setting ambitious targets is the decision of many countries to go net-zero by around 2050. However desirable, these targets are ambitious given the current use of fossil fuel and tardy pace of decarbonisation.

According to Net Zero Tracker (an independent reviewer of all member states of UNFCCC), net-zero declaration has been made by 151 countries (either through policy documents or pledges etc) out of which 27 countries have backed it through legislation. The desire to go net-zero has percolated down to sub-national governments also and about 260 cities have made a similar declaration.

The private sector, too, has not lagged behind and more than 1000 publicly listed companies from the Forbes Global 2000 list have given long-term targets to reduce carbon emissions. Incidentally, according to Net Zero Tracker, the global net-zero coverage includes 88 per cent of the emissions, 92 per cent of the GDP (purchasing power parity) and 89 per cent of the population. Comparing the targets set by governments and corporates with the achievements on ground, four reports show how grim the reality is.

Achievement deficit

UNEP’s 14th Emission Gap Report (2023) states that by implementing the current NDCs, the temperature will still rise between 2.4 degree centigrade and 2.9 degree centigrade. The earth’s temperature has already risen by an average of 1 degree centigrade compared to pre-industrial levels and one can see how devastating the effect has been in the form of cyclones, floods, submergence of low-lying areas, droughts etc. The year 2023 has been recorded as the hottest year ever and the month of September as the hottest month. If the earth’s temperature actually rises by 2.5 degree centigrade or more, the effects would be catastrophic. The latest report to be released on climate issues is the one from the Global Carbon Budget and it was made public during the COP28 deliberations itself.

The report states that countries are expected to emit a total of 36.8 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuels in 2023, an increase of 1.1 per cent from that of last year and 1.4 per cent increase from pre-Covid 2019 level.

The report further cites that there is a 50 per cent chance of breaching the 1.5 degree centigrade target in about seven years’ time. India’s annual CO2 emissions in 2023 which is likely to be 8.2 per cent up from last year (Global Carbon Budget 2023), would be double the expected rise in China. In absolute terms, China’s emissions would be around four times that of India. Incidentally, India’s CO2 emissions since 2022 are more than that of the European Union.

Two scenarios

There are two scenarios emerging. First, there is inadequate inaction on the targets set in the NDCs and second, the targets themselves are impractical in some cases and out of sync with ground realities. As far as the latter is concerned, in the recently signed Pledge, it seems that targets are being set without due diligence. To triple renewable capacity, one has to rely on sources that have major potential and they are hydro, solar and wind.

Ramping up hydro capacity in the next seven years is relatively difficult, so one will need to concentrate on wind and solar. Moreover, we would need to rely on those countries which not only have a good potential for wind and solar generation but also have the capacity to absorb such excess generation — China, the US and India.

India, for some inexplicable reason has not signed the Pledge even though as G20 President, it was party to the decision that renewable capacity would be tripled by 2030! Whether China and the US can meet the 11,000-GW target is debatable. If we are serious about climate change, we should be practical and fix targets that are attainable.

The writer is Senior Visiting Fellow, ICRIER and former member (Economic and Commercial) CEA . Views expressed are personal