Home / Politics / News /  COP26, a reminder for India to  set  its net-zero target

Leaders and policymakers from across the world will gather in the Scottish city of Glasgow starting this weekend to attend the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also called COP26. Here’s a look at five factors that make COP26 an event to keep an eye on, for both India and the world—and how to understand India’s attempt to chalk out fresh targets in its fight against climate change:


1. Ticking clock

The conference comes in the immediate backdrop of an alarming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body. The threat of the chronic human-induced climate change disaster is now ‘widespread, rapid and intensifying’, the report said in August. The IPCC made it amply clear that the target set at COP21 in the 2015 Paris agreement—that of limiting global warming to 1.5°Celsius above pre-industrial levels—was beyond reach. The threshold could be crossed as early as in the next two decades, and the planet is now almost set to warm by 2.5-4°C by 2100.

India itself has seen a 0.7°C increase in its surface air temperature during the last 120 years, a report by the ministry of earth sciences found in March. The warming environment has contributed to more frequent spells of localized heavy rain, droughts and floods, and an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones in the last few decades, the ministry report noted.


2. India’s net-zero

A key part of the fight is to set a net-zero target—the year when a country expects to start absorbing as much carbon as it emits. The US, the EU and Japan see that year by 2050, and China by 2060. But India is yet to declare a target, despite being the fourth largest emitter. This puts it under the spotlight ahead of COP26, where countries are expected to update their Paris targets.

However, India argues on the lines of parity, emphasizing the “polluter pays" principle. The current carbon dioxide levels are a result of accumulation over decades, and India’s historical contribution is miniscule compared to rich countries. Despite rising per capita emissions, India is almost 60% behind the global average.

The time may be lapsing for such arguments, though. Technological advancements now allow India to adopt clean fuel more in sectors such as transport and power, while prioritizing efficiency measures in sectors where dirty fuel is unavoidable.


3. Costly inaction

India is already bearing the brunt of an injured environment. Extreme weather events have become commoner over the last two decades, and the IPCC report noted that droughts, heat waves and cyclones would only get more frequent in India in coming years.


So much so that India was the seventh riskiest place for climate change based on fatalities and GDP loss owing to extreme weather events, according to an index of 180 countries by German nonprofit Germanwatch in 2019. India lost the most lives to bad weather that year.

Being home to the largest number of poor in the world, India is additionally vulnerable. A recent report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) found that more than 75% parts of India, home to over 638 million people, are extreme climate event hotspots. As many as 250 extreme events took place during 1975-2005, rising to 310 within a span of just 15 years since 2005. 

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4. Early steps

India committed to three goals for 2030 in Paris: bringing emission levels per unit GDP down 33-35% from 2005 levels, boosting non-fossil fuel sources to 40% of the installed power capacity, and creating a carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

India has nearly achieved the first two: as of September, non-fossil fuel sources, including large hydro and nuclear, comprised 39.6% of installed capacity, and emission intensity has dropped 24% since 2005. But there’s a catch. With rising GDP, decreasing emissions intensity doesn’t necessarily mean net emissions are also going down. Moreover, going from installed capacity to smooth integration of renewables in the power grid is an uphill task: just 12% of India’s power comes from wind, solar and other renewables, despite 25% generation capacity.

India may claim early success, but it’s far from saving the planet. Climate Action Tracker rates India’s actions as “highly insufficient". No wonder, the pressure to declare a net-zero target is mounting from the rest of the world.



5. Looking ahead

However, India may not be in a rush to declare a net-zero target. It may remind the world of the “common but differentiated" principle. Besides, the process needs consultation with stakeholders and coordination across sectors.

China cannot be a benchmark: its income level is five times India’s, and being far ahead on the development curve, its emissions could peak as early as 2030. For India, assuming a 5.6% annual growth, that year could come not before 2040, pushing its net-zero to around 2070, a CEEW analysis suggests.

This is true for most developing countries falling in India’s income bucket. This is why net zero requires global participation. For a global net zero by 2050, not only should advanced economies reach there much before that, they also must support developing countries through sustained investment. With a new UN report saying the rich world is not financing this fight enough, this would be a key discussion point at COP26.

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