Last week John Kerry, the US President’s Special Envoy on Climate, visited India in an attempt to rekindle a climate change partnership that had been all but put on hold during the Donald Trump administration. The immediate purpose of this visit was to initiate a dialogue ahead of the virtual Climate Leaders’ Summit convened by US President Joe Biden on April 22-23 where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the invitees. This Summit is Biden’s first big international intervention in climate change.
In its bid to reclaim the global climate leadership, the US is widely expected to commit itself to a net-zero emission target for 2050 at the summit. Numerous other countries, including the UK, France, Japan and South Korea, have already enacted laws promising to achieve a net-zero emission or expressed their intent on committing themselves to a net zero future. Even China has promised to go net-zero by 2060.
India is the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the US and China, but is the only major country who has yet to commit to the global cause.
Net-zero, also referred to as carbon-neutrality, is a state in which a country’s emissions are balanced by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Such absorption can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, further removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
An ongoing campaign has been to get every country to sign on to a net-zero goal for 2050. It is being argued that global carbon neutrality by 2050 is the sole way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of preventing the planet’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times. It is important to note here that current action being taken to reduce emissions would not be able to prevent a 3–4°C rise.
India is the only one opposing this target because it is likely to be the most impacted by it. Over the next few decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow exponentially, as it presses for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. No amount of carbon sinks would be able to negate the increased emissions. Most of the carbon removal technologies are either unreliable or very expensive.
Additionally the net-zero goal does not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement. It only requires every signatory to take the best climate action it can. While most of the countries have independently submitted targets for the 2025 or 2030 period; India has been arguing that instead of opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero targets outside of the Paris Agreement framework, countries must focus on delivering on what they have already promised.
Studies have shown India as the only G-20 country whose climate actions are compliant to the aforementioned Paris Agreement goal. Even the EU’s actions, considered the most progressive on climate change, are assessed as “insufficient”, implying that India is doing more in climate action than many other countries. Thus India currently insists that the developed countries should take more ambitious climate action to compensate for the unfulfilled earlier agreement.
India has not ruled out the possibility of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2050 or 2060; but does not want to make an international commitment so much in advance.
The article has been written by Kyra Songadwala for The Paradigm
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