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Explained: What is the net-zero goal and why India is avoiding an international commitment?

Arfa Javaid

John Kerry, the US President’s Special Envoy on Climate recently visited India on a three-day tour. He is working towards achieving the target set by Paris Agreement.

His recent visit was to nudge India to drop its opposition and pledge to a net-zero goal by 2050. However, India is not ready to enter into a binding agreement towards carbon neutrality by 2050. 

What is the net-zero goal?

For net-zero or carbon neutrality, a nation must achieve a balance between its anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century. 

In simpler terms, carbon neutrality is a state where a nation's carbon emissions are compensated by absorption through carbon sinks such as forests and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage. 

Negative Emissions

It is when the absorption and removal of the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere exceed the actual emissions. Bhutan leads the world as it is a carbon-negative country. 

India's current position on net-zero

India, the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, has neither announced a net-zero year nor has submitted an updated climate plan to the UN. 

It, however, pledged to limit the emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35% by 2030 over the 2005 level, reach 40% of the installed capacity via non-fossil fuels, increase forest cover to absorb 2.5 Billion tonnes worth of carbon dioxide, despite its increasing energy demands. 

India which heavily relies on coal, nearly 70% of India's electricity generation is through coal, has scaled up to power from renewables such as solar and wind to 450 GW by 2030.  

Why India is opposing net-zero?

The Government of India welcomed the findings of the recently released UN IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, but stated that the developed nations have contributed much to the rise in global temperatures and therefore a swifter and faster curb must be instituted on their carbon emissions. 

India is the only one opposing the net-zero target as its emissions are likely to rise at the fastest in the world over the coming decades. This is because it aims to pull hundreds of millions of people from the clutches of poverty and no amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions. 

As Paris Agreement only requires signatories to take the best climate action it can, India's arguments are valid. It argues that countries must focus on achieving what they have already committed rather than opening up a parallel discussion outside the Paris Agreement. It further points out the fact that developed nations have never delivered on their past promises and commitments.

India is on its way to achieve three targets it committed under the Paris Agreement framework and may overachieve them in the near future. It is the only G-20 country that is working towards achieving the Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C. Even the European Union and the United States are assessed as insufficient in achieving the Paris Agreement goals.   

It is to be noted that none of the countries has delivered on their commitments for 2020, be it financial assistance, technology, or climate actions.  

Paris Agreement

Adopted in Paris, France on 12 December 2015, the Paris Agreement was inked on 22 April 2016 to reduce the emission of gasses contributing to global warming. 

The agreement replaced a similar agreement on climate change, Kyoto Protocol. At present, there are 195 signatories to the Paris Agreement. It was open for signatures from 22 April 2016 to 21 April 2017. 

Under the agreement, countries need to set a five or ten-year climate target and achieve them. Also, the targets for each subsequent time frame must be more ambitious than the previous one.

Aim of Paris Agreement

1- It aims to keep global temperature rise below 2°C in this century and limit the increase to 1.5°C by 2100.

2- It provides financial and technological assistance to the developing nations to help them adapt to climate change and transition to clean energy. 

20/20/20 targets of the Paris Agreement

The agreement aims to bring down Carbon Dioxide emissions by 20% and targets to increase the renewable energy market share and efficiency by 20% each. 

A very active campaign has been going on for the last two years to get every country to ink an agreement for the net-zero goal by 2050. Experts argue that the only way to meet the Paris Agreement target is to achieve global carbon neutrality by 2050. However, going forward with the current policies and actions to reduce emissions, the world is expected to witness a 3–4°C rise by the turn of the century.

Also Read: What is the Paris Agreement (COP 21) for Climate Change?

Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region: All you need to know about the report by MoES

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