In India, most experts and commentators were welcoming of the announcement, despite the burden of additional costs, and a clear gap between these commitments and the environmental destruction on the ground in India. (Image: Shutterstock)
On November 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took everyone at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow by surprise when he announced that India will reach carbon neutrality by 2070. India has resisted committing to Net Zero targets and maintained its position that the country has delivered more than its fair share as part of the Paris Agreement.
Even on the eve of his departure for Glasgow, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav was insisting that India will not compromise on its need for economic development, while developed countries did near to nothing to cut down their greenhouse gas emissions or deliver on the much-needed climate finance commitment of $100 Billion.
India's announcement to turn Net Zero is much more ambitious than that of China, or the European Union as the Net Zero goal includes four more bold commitments: India will increase its non-fossil fuel power capacity to 500 gigawatts by the end of the decade, up from 450GW; half of India’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2030; India’s 2030 carbon intensity goal — measured as carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product — will be increased from 35 percent to 45 percent; and the country will also strive to produce half of its electricity using renewable energy, and cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 1 billion tonnes by 2030.
In his speech, Modi was unclear on whether these commitments were unconditional, except his appeal to developed countries for increasing their climate finance commitment from $100 billion to $1 trillion per annum to assist developing countries to make the transition to carbon neutrality. That’s a huge ask considering rich countries have failed to deliver the $1 billion by 2020.
Even if India’s Net-Zero goal is a decade behind China and two decades behind the United States, if the emission reduction target covers all greenhouse gases, it will be compatible with what scientists say is needed to avoid catastrophic global warming.
In any case, the proof of this ambitious intent will be the official NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) submission that India is yet to make to the UNFCCC, which should have the roadmap and detailed implementation plan. It will be interesting to see how these international commitments match with the domestic plans of massive uptake of coal power in the coming decades, 30GW under construction and another 27GW in pipeline.
Nevertheless, India’s announcement is being seen as a big relief for the embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who just two days ago, following the lacklustre outcome at the G-20, had warned that the “the COP26 climate summit is at serious risk of failure because countries are still not promising enough to restrict global temperature rises to below 1.5C.”
With Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping not attending the COP in person, and the US not bringing anything new to the table, all eyes were on India, and the Prime Minister played to the gallery drawing applause as well as a few guffaws. The latter mainly from European negotiators that were unable to fathom the import of his announcement, and were seen muttering, “Is it for real?”
Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics welcomed the announcement: “This was a very significant moment for the summit,” he said. “It’s a chance for India to show that it can deliver on both economic development and Climate Change.”
India’s announcement was also welcomed by many South Asian negotiators, “What India does today will inform the choices its neighbours make in the near future and will impact the entire South Asian region,” said a negotiator from the Maldives.
Back home in India, most experts and commentators were welcoming of the announcement, despite the burden of additional costs, and a clear gap between these commitments and the environmental destruction on the ground in India with dilution of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) laws, and blanket approvals for infrastructure projects in the Himalayas, and coal mines in the forests of central India.
“The overseas media will focus on India's Net-Zero by 2070 statement. But while it may mean something diplomatically — the last major economy in the bag — it will not be what drives change in India. Much more Intriguing are the announcements on railways, on non-fossil capacity, and the benchmark for renewable energy. These are what give scope for India to drive a low carbon development transition in the next decade,” points out Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research.(Shailendra Yashwant is currently in Glasgow covering the COP26.)