As the world grapples with the worst pandemic of the century, this Earth Day (April 22) is a reminder that we need to set our house (earth) in order. All our technological advancement and economic progress has been futile as none of it has helped the world community in controlling the pandemic, which has already resulted in the loss of invaluable human lives.

We have clearly landed ourselves in a global mess and this pandemic is just a reflection of it. Depletion of natural resources, pollution, etc., have also increased the frequency of climate-related events. Environmental damage is causing disastrous impacts on human health and this causal connection does not require any further evidence.

The recent visit by the US President’s Special Envoy on Climate, John Kerry, has brought the focus back on climate action. It has also reignited the “developed versus developing” debate. The latest buzzword is “net zero targets”. However, whether we target “net zero” emissions or try limiting global average temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, it requires serious commitment and coordinated action by each country.

New climate order

Shift towards solar

We have been witness to countries retracting on their promises in the past. The ‘green funds’ or billion-dollar climate funds still seem a distant dream. Despite this flip-flop by certain countries, India is one country that has voluntarily gone ahead and taken concrete steps towards reducing its emissions and pursuing what is now being called the ‘net zero agenda’.

India has undertaken one of the world’s largest solar energy installation initiatives. Irrespective of whether it achieves the 175 GW capacity by 2022 or the 450 GW target by 2030, substantial progress has been made in this direction. There are critical technological and tariff-related challenges attached to it. Experts also argue that shifting completely to renewables may pose critical challenges. However, India is aggressively pushing for renewables. The Government is actively pushing for electric mobility while we have already adopted cleaner fuels. The latest Union Budget has allocated huge funds under the National Hydrogen Mission to produce hydrogen from green power sources.

US, China agree to cooperate on climate crisis with urgency

Creating carbon sinks

Initiatives like India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) will help address cooling requirements and reduce the cooling demand in the country. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) have taken a number of initiatives under the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE) to combat climate change. The Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Fund created under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016, has thousands of crores which will hopefully be utilised soon to compensate for deforestation and restore the green cover comprising native species of trees. These initiatives to restore and further enhance India’s green cover will only help India reduce emissions by creating carbon sinks and thus move towards the “net zero target”.

A number of Indian companies have voluntarily committed to the science-based targets in alignment with the Paris Agreement. India has committed itself to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of which climate action is an integral part. Indian states are voluntarily committing to not install any more coal-based power plants. The top 1,000 companies as per market capitalisation are now being asked by the regulator to make disclosures about how they fare on the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) parameters. It may be voluntary for this financial year but it will be mandatory for them to disclose it from FY 2022-23. All of these are steps that will help India achieve its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

No equal treatment of unequals

The Nationally Determined Contributions have to be revised for each country from time to time and it is only fair to do so. However, that does not take the focus away from questions related to ‘climate justice’ in any manner. If India is expected to take concrete steps to achieve the “net zero target”, so are US, China and the European nations. So, if the question is whether the 2050 target should apply to all countries including India, the clear and emphatic answer should be ‘no’ as the nations that have conveniently shied away from committing to these targets in the past should take the lead and ‘walk the talk’. The world has already lost a few crucial years due to the irresponsible behaviour by certain world leaders and clearly India cannot be blamed for it. Be it the per capita emissions or the cumulative emissions, India never has and never will exceed US, Europe or China. Therefore it is only fair that the superpowers show some sincerity and real action. The delay on their part has anyway cost the global community dearly. Unequals cannot be treated equally and it is high time the developed nations realise it.

The author is a partner in the environmental law practice at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co.