India announced its ‘Long Term Low Emission Development Strategy’ (LT-LEDS), a roadmap to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 on November 14 at COP27. The plan focuses on “strategic transition” of high-emission sectors, including electricity, transport, industries, and urbanisation, and a short discussion of India’s adaptation needs in the light of its vulnerability to climate impacts. India is the 58th country to submit its plans to the UNFCCC to reduce carbon emissions to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably 1.5 degrees, above pre-industrial levels, in order to limit global warming as required under the Paris Agreement.
The LT-LEDS aims to go beyond India’s climate targets or the nationally determined contributions (NDC) announced in August — of achieving 50 percent of India’s cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil sources by 2030, and reducing emission intensity of GDP by 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — and builds on India’s Panchamrit (five nectar elements) pledges at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) of the UNFCCC in Glasgow, including the target of net-zero emissions by 2070.
The roadmap is a result of a first of its kind inter-ministerial consultation, and a collaborative effort with experts and think-tanks; but this lacks inputs from state governments and inclusion of sub-national strategies that are key to any mitigation efforts by India.
In its present form, the LT-LEDS provides roadmap for sectoral transitions needed for India’s transition to the 2070 goal. It focuses on decarbonising the electricity system by phasing down coal, and expanding and stabilising the renewable electricity grid, increasing the adoption of electric vehicles, and expanding production and manufacturing power of green hydrogen under the Green Hydrogen Mission. It has scenarios for sustainable urbanisation with energy and material-efficiency in buildings, and an economy-wide decoupling of growth from emissions and development of an efficient, innovative, low-emission industrial system as well as restoration and conservation of forests. The strategy also incorporates the Prime Minister’s lifestyle for environment (LIFE) mission that promotes a ‘sustainable lifestyle’.
Not surprisingly, the LT-LEDS includes India’s long-time ambition to scale up its nuclear capacity by three folds by 2032, despite the problems plaguing the sector where investors as well as insurers are beating a hasty retreat from the dangerous and expensive distraction. The other unnecessary inclusion is India’s intention to invest in research and development of carbon removal and capture technologies, aka carbon capture and storage (CCS) that mars an otherwise legitimate and even a possible roadmap. The CCS is an expensive, ineffective, and controversial technology that is being aggressively pushed for continued fossil fuel use, and will do very little to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
The document also spells out the budgetary requirements for meeting the climate challenge, and for execution of the LT-LEDS plans that are in order of tens of trillions of dollars by 2050. Meeting such huge need for resources “is a challenge”, the document acknowledges, and says the money would have to come from domestic and international sources, both in the public and private sector. In this context, the document highlights the lack of adequate climate finance from the developed countries, as is mandated by the Paris Agreement.
However, finance experts at COP27 have pointed out that the LT-LEDS lacks specific details like numbers for mid-term targets, detailed scenarios, and achievable projections that would have made the strategy SMART for monitoring, reporting, and verifying to enable multilateral banks and interested countries to extend bilateral support. Strangely enough, the document does not refer to mobilisation of finance through a domestic carbon market, which the government is in the process of setting up.
On forest conservation and protection, the real carbon capture and storage solution, and the best technology for mitigation as viewed by many scientists, the long term strategy is sorely lacking. It does not go beyond the usual rhetoric of improving/enhancing density and quality of forests, improved protection and restoration of forest and green cover in critical and biodiversity hotspots (including, but not limited to, Himalayan Ecosystems, North-Eastern Region, Western Ghats) and improved climate smart monitoring and forest protection against forest fires. As is evident in the latest forest map included in the report, what India should really be aiming for is zero deforestation, and an immediate end to all destructive activities in the last remaining forests even as it restores damaged landscapes.
That said, India’s LT-LEDS is a commendable start, and if it is indeed a ‘living document’, then all future iterations must include inputs from wider public consultations and detailed discussion with states for accurate modelling, pathway scenarios, and better stakeholder engagement in delivering its goals.