India’s Stance on Net Zero: Act with Rationale

There is enough scientific evidence that tells us that climate change impacts are very much tangible as well as ravaging. These impacts are not only restricted to floods, droughts, melting glaciers, extreme events but are also striking hard on some of the important components of our very existence viz water, transport, energy, ecosystem and human health. To quote The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.” Developing countries like India, being the 5th most exposed to the menace of a changing climate continue to bear some of the greatest hardships emanating from climate disasters and extreme climate events. Published evidence shows that it is very much imperative to master plans that are sustainable as well as resilient to climate change ramifications.

India in its INDC has vowed to ameliorate the volume of emissions per unit of GDP by (33-35) % by 2030 vis a vis its 2005 levels. Along with this, the country has also made a commitment to increase the percentage of electricity coming from non-conventional sources to 40% by 2030. It has also assured to expand its forest cover to an extent capable of soaking no less than about (2.5-3) billion tons of carbon di oxide by 2030.  In order to keep a tab on the advancement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has issued a directive to all the developing countries to submit their Biennial Update Report (BUR) containing details of their greenhouse gas emission inventories spanning over a time frame which is definitely not more than 4 years old. As of now, India has submitted 3 BURs in 2016 ,2018 and 2021. Estimates from the latest i.e. the third BUR 2021 reveal that India’s volume of emissions per unit of GDP has slashed by 24% between 2005 and 2016 time period. This signifies that the country’s discretionary goal to bring down the emission intensity of GDP by (20-25) % from 2005 levels has been achieved earlier than the target of 2020. However, it is to be noted that these emission estimates of BUR obtained mostly at the national level donot factor in the varied sources and consequently diverging trends of greenhouse gas emission levels that persist across states characterized by a mixed bag of socio-economic background. So, in order to get a true as well as an authentic picture of India’s progress towards the attainment of its climate targets, what is essential is to take into account the most recent available data at the regional level and refurbish the emission inventory list. As per Central Electricity Authority estimates, India is just 2% short of its declared INDC target of achieving 40% share of non-fossil fuels by 2030 which is indeed a praiseworthy feat in the attainment of climate goals. Besides adopting multifarious initiatives, the country has also declared a target of installing 175GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. This comprises 100 GW from solar, 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from bio-power and 5 GW from small hydro-power. This was later raised to 450GW by the year 2030.

The above mitigation endeavours are no doubt worthy of admiration. However, the million-dollar question that is now storming the minds of the top-notch administrators of the government of India is whether announcing a target in the upcoming 26th Conference of Parties (scheduled to be held in November 2021) to bring down the country’s greenhouse gas emission levels to a null character by 2050 would compromise the development prospects of its more than 1.2 billion population. Well, their apprehension is not something beside the point, in view of facts that emissions in the country are still showing an uptrend and development requirements are quite substantial. Although the country has received an enviable rating from independent scientific Climate Action Tracker among booming economies, yet India’s net zero target by 2050 would require a complete revamping of its already existing coal dominated energy base, transport and heavy-duty industries. This would not only cost a fortune but would also be detrimental to the overall health of the economy, specially at a time when the country is struggling hard enough to cope with COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the so called “hard-to-abate sectors” (e.g. housing, airlines, agriculture etc.) will pose enormous intimidating challenges in an attempt to seek remedial measures. Additionally, the future connotation of such a paradigm shift may influence the ability to grasp that extra financial assistance and technical knowhow to facilitate movement towards a low carbon development corridor.   Furthermore, going by UNDP figures, a whopping of more than 800 million people hinges on climate responsive sectors (like agriculture, forestry, fisheries etc.) in India for their sustenance.  Needless to say, adaptation aspect is just ineludible and must be put high on agenda. Thus, before taking a vow on net zero, it is of supreme importance to know the underlying nuances of the net zero scheme. India should prioritize its short-term switch first and then start channelizing efforts in the right direction for transformation in the long run. Collaboration with global players, international cooperation, transfer of technology, mobilization of adequate finance from developed to developing countries, prudent measures, skill development, building sound infrastructure, pathbreaking research are some of the essential prerequisites of weeding out carbon from the economy. Any response of India should be in conformity with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities as set forth in the UNFCCC before making any over ambitious statement in the forthcoming COP26 event.  Last but not the least, India should adopt a pragmatic view and spare rational thoughts for striking an appropriate balance between growth vis a vis clean energy evolution. Aspiring for an overnight radical metamorphosis may prove to be pernicious to the economy as a whole.

Dr Kuheli Mukhopadhyay is currently working as an Assistant Professor in the department of Economics at Sonamukhi College, Sonamukhi, Bankura, West Bengal, India.  Her research interests revolve around Environmental and Health Economics, Issues related to Sustainable Development, Economic and Social dimensions of Climate Change.  


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