India is now the fourth-largest emitter after China, United States and the European Union, and as per IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report released on August 9, it will be among the most severely affected countries
India can achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2065-70 as its greenhouse emissions will peak by 2035 and if it caps coal usage in the next 10 years, said a new study co-authored by the former vice-chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. But he said this will also depend on rich countries doubling climate finance to US $200 billion per year in the next few years.
The paper titled ‘Getting Net Zero Approach for India at CoP 26’ strongly advocates that India should declare its ‘net zero’ target year at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference or CoP 26 starting from October 31 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. It said that India’s traditional argument that it has to emit for its own development no more holds “diplomatic ground” as there are viable non-emitting energy alternatives available.
Net zero is the state in which a country’s greenhouse emissions are removed from the atmosphere by carbon absorption or sequestration. This is the most hotly debated proposal for CoP 26 as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said achieving net zero by 2050 was a must to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, to pre-industrial level by the end of 2100.
India is now the fourth-largest emitter after China, United States and the European Union, and as per IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report released on August 9, it will be among the most severely affected countries. India has committed to reducing the emission intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% by 2030 and having 175 gigawatt renewable energy capacity by 2030 under the Paris Agreement of 2016. There is renewed pressure on India to enhance its renewable commitment under the Paris deal to 450 GW by 2030 and phase out coal.
India’s environment minister Bhupendra Yadav, before going for the special UN meeting on climate change on Friday had said that net zero is not enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. He said developed countries need to reduce emissions to provide carbon space to developing countries to exercise their right to grow and eradicate poverty.
“While public announcements of 2050 as a net zero target date helps to focus public attention on the need to reduce emissions, it is important to recognise that having a common net zero emissions date for all countries is not the best way of tackling global warming,” the paper said.
It said net zero target years can be given to countries based on the remaining available carbon budget with the least allocation to G20 (richest) countries, which account for close to three-quarters of global emissions. “A trajectory that gets to net zero by the time committed but exceeds the country’s carbon budget is much worse than following a trajectory which keeps within the budget but reaches net zero later,” the paper written for Centre for Social and Economic Progress said.
Based on the above argument, the paper said that China and Indonesia have already announced that they will reach net zero by 2060. “The studies reviewed in this paper suggest that India could reach a peak around 2035 and get to net zero sometime between 2065 and 2070. We could offer something along these lines at CoP 26,” Ahluwalia said in the paper co-authored with Utkarsh Patel, who is an associate fellow at Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy think tank.
To achieve the net zero target, the paper said, India needs short-term decarbonisation targets along with trajectories for the next three decades. The best short term target, the study said, would be a planned phasing out of coal-based power generation as India has already adopted expanding renewable energy capacity to 450 GW by 2030. However, the Indian government has opposed phasing out coal saying it is needed for the country’s developmental imperatives.
The paper outlined several implications for phasing out coal, including huge revenue loss for poorer Indian states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. For states such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, close to 15% of the state revenue comes from the mining sector. Further, these states would lose out on employment, the paper said, as new employment in the renewable sector would be created in western and southern India which has better solar and wind resources.
India has about 210 GW of coal-based capacity, 39 GW is under construction and another 25 GW is under different stages of approval. If the coal-based power plants have a life of 40 years, India will have the capacity to generate 200 GW thermal power by 2050 and achieving net zero status by 2070 will not be possible. “Reducing life of plants to 25 years can helping in achieving net zero,” Ahluwalia said.
The close aide of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the paper, strongly argued that India should not commit to a net zero target without enhanced international financial support, saying the IPCC’s assessment of $600 billion per year as the amount of additional energy sector investment needed in developing countries should be the starting point.
He added that the finance could be divided into internet finance, private flow responding to market conditions, and additional bilateral and multi-lateral inflows. “The additional funding of around $100 billion per year through multi-lateral components should be a good starting point,” Ahluwalia said in the paper. The paper said that another US $ 100 billion can come from the private sector and market-based incentives such as carbon trading.
Former special climate envoy Shyam Saran did not agree with Ahluwalia and said he was “pessimistic” that the funds could come from the developed countries to ease energy transition for developing countries.
Saran, who has repeatedly advocated the traditional position that India should insist on emission reduction targets for the developing world, said any energy transition for the developing world would be costlier than the developed world as patents of almost all technologies are with the West. “The rich world has absolved itself from its climate responsibilities and passed on the buck to the developing world. Net zero is an example of that,” he said.
Sunita Narain, director general of Centre for Science and Environment, said India should reject net zero targets put out by the West since they are flawed and inequitable for developing countries. “The target of 2050 is too far away. We need to keep our focus on 2030, with sharp and real targets. India should seek enhanced emission reduction from the developed world and finance for energy transition,” she said. “We need disruptive action, not disruptive technology.”
Navroz Dubash of Centre for Policy Research said various studies have shown why net zero was important for India and it can achieve the target by 2065, which Ahluwalia said was equitable. “The emergence of new economic opportunities and technologies could dramatically change the landscape, and there may be space for an aspirational statement towards net zero. But given the information we have today, it would be gambling with the developmental future of India to lock ourselves into a hard net-zero deadline,” he had said in an article published in HT in March.
Ahluwalia admitted that the approach could face resistance and economic gains should be considered. “There will be understandable resistance to making such a major break. However, the issue needs to be examined in the context of the enhanced warnings about the impact of global warming and the technological changes that have taken place which allow for making a shift to renewables, both feasible and economic,” he said.