Soon after the Biden Administration took over and vowed to resume its commitment on climate change, that took a backseat for four years during the tenure of Donald Trump, US President’s special envoy on climate, John Kerry, visited India ahead of the Climate Leaders’ Summit. The US assured the world of its commitment to a net-zero emission target for 2050.
The move was seen as the country’s bid to reclaim its position in global climate leadership, even as several other nations, including the United Kingdom and France, have already enacted legislations towards achieving a net-zero emission scenario by the middle of the century. On the other hand, developed nations such as Canada, South Korea, Japan and Germany have also expressed their intention to commit themselves to a net-zero future. Even China has promised to go net-zero by 2060.
However, India, the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the United States and China, is yet to show any keenness. During his last visit, Kerry aimed to talk New Delhi through softening its stance and exploring the possibility of pledging itself to a net-zero goal by 2050.
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Recently, Ravi Shankar Prasad, a former additional secretary in the ministry of environment, forests and climate change, and one of lead negotiators for India at global climate meets, said that the “net-zero emissions target is unjust for developing nations like India” .
“While the feasibility and efficacy of such a strategy for all countries is questionable, it also strikes at the root of the basic tenets of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Simultaneously, it undermines the achievement of a climate-just world,” he wrote in an article published at the Indian Express.
What is net-zero goal?
Net-zero, also referred to as carbon-neutrality, is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while removal of gases from the atmosphere requires advanced technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Net-zero does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero. Through carbon absorption it is possible for nations to have negative emissions, if such absorption and removal of greenhouse gases exceed the actual emissions. Bhutan is a case in point and often called a ‘carbon-negative’ nation as it absorbs more than it emits.
Why the push for net-zero goal?
Countries are being put under pressure to commit to a net-zero emission goal for 2050. There are views that the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of keeping the planet’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times is by achieving global carbon neutrality by 2050. Scientists and environmental experts fear the present policies and actions against emissions reduction won’t be able to prevent even 3-4°C rise in surface temperature by the turn of the century. The net-zero formulation does not assign any emission reduction targets on any country. Moreover, unchecked emissions by rich and developed countries over past several decades are significantly responsible for global warming and the resultant irreversible climate change.
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A country can become carbon-neutral at its current level of emissions, or even by increasing its emissions, if it is able to absorb carbon or remove greenhouse gases more. From the perspective of the developed world, it is a big relief, because now the burden is shared by everyone, and does not fall only on them.
What are India’s objections?
India is opposed to the net-zero emissions target as it is likely to be the most impacted by it. Over the next two to three decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it aggressively pushes for growth and development on all fronts. No amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions at the scale is looking at. Moreover, most of the carbon removal technologies right now are either unreliable or expensive.
India’s arguments are not unfounded. The net-zero goal does not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement. It only requires the signatory nations to take the best climate action it can. Countries need to set five-year or a 10-year climate targets for themselves and the results. Apart from that, the countries are also required to set more ambitious targets than the previous one for every subsequent time-frame.
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The implementation of the Paris Agreement has begun recently and the majority countries have their submitted nationally determined targets with an aim to achieve them by 2025 or 2030. India’s argument is that countries must focus on delivering on what they have already promised instead of opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero targets outside of the Paris Agreement framework.
Where do other countries stand?
Data shows India is the only G-20 country whose climate actions are compliant to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C. Even the actions of the European Union, often seen as climate-progressive, is assessed as “insufficient” while India is praised for doing more, relatively speaking, on climate change than many other countries.
Rich-poor divide in climate target
India often pointed out that developed nations have failed to deliver on their past promises and commitments to climate change. No major country achieved the emission-cut targets assigned to them under the Kyoto Protocol, the climate policies that were in place before the Paris Agreement. While some countries openly walked out of the Kyoto Protocol without any consequences none of them delivered on the promises that they made for 2020.
The developed countries also faltered on their commitment to provide money and technology to developing and poor countries to help them mitigate the impacts of climate change.
India has been insisting that the developed countries should take more ambitious climate actions now to compensate for the unfulfilled promises from the past.
However, India says it is too early to rule out the possibility of achieving carbon neutrality by middle of the century, even though she does not want to make an international commitment at this stage.