TA Explained: Examining India’s position on Net Zero Emission policy

By Rishabh Shrivastava

Net zero emission – has become a new buzzword. This was especially after John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, visited India and met the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. Kerry’s visit to India comes at a time when the Biden administration has re-entered the Paris agreement and has invited world leaders from 40 nations (including India) to participate in the Climate Summit on April 22 and 23.

It is being expected that the US would formally announce its commitment for net zero emission target by 2050. This move might ensure its return to the global climate leadership role after Donald Trump’s abysmal stand on issues of climate change.

As per Climate Watch Data, 59 countries have formally announced the net zero emission targets so far. In fact, several countries have even prepared a formal law, making net zero targets legally binding. This includes UK, Hungary, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand and Sweden. China in its political pledge has committed to achieve net zero target by 2060.

Caught between the US and China, all eyes are now on India, world’s third largest CO2 emitter, to commit for net zero emission by 2050.

India has been reluctant to state its formal commitment to net zero policy by 2050. In the next two or three decades, it plans to rapidly expand its economic footprint resulting in higher emissions. Hence, India is in no mood to jeopardize its development prospects to net zero commitment at this stage.

Alternatively, the Indian government has time and again tried to emphasize on already existing mechanism of goals and targets under the Paris agreement. It believes that there is no need for a separate net zero commitment framework rather nations shall strictly stick to targets under the Paris agreement and share the progress on the same.

India also feels that countries have done very little to fulfill their obligations under the international treaty. Moreover, the promises to supply suitable technologies and financial aid from developed to developing economies for combating climate change under the Paris agreement remains unfulfilled.

Some global studies have shown that India (and the only G20 nation) is well on its path to achieve the targets under the Paris agreement.

However, the advocating nations and experts for net zero declaration have claimed that it is the only way to meet the objective of the Paris agreement of limiting the Earth’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times.

Amidst this background, we share some recent opinions and editorials of experts that can help you understand the issue of net zero emission, its implication for India and what should be our formal stand.

Navroz Dubash, Professor, Center for Policy Research calls net zero emission targets as “hollow pledge”. He feels that India’s commitment to net zero targets by 2050 could fetch some brownie points on the foreign policy & diplomacy front but will severely hurt its domestic development opportunities. Keeping in mind India’s vulnerability to climate change, Professor Dubash suggests that India should support the reinforced climate action at the global level but calling out for net zero target can be pretty “harsh” for the country. He proposes measures like creating near-term actions, institutional strengthening, and a combination of mid- and long-term targets for India to emerge as a climate leader.

Chandra Bhushan, President and CEO, iForest states that India cannot “shy away” from net zero policy but the question is about “when and how”. He proposes a five point agenda for India to position its stance on the issue. Self differentiation, flexibility, enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for 2030, drafting a law and a parallel international framework on Just Transition are the five key things that India should look out for while dealing with net zero policy.

“Meaningless” and “Scam” is how Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment describes the concept of net zero. In her view, there is no substance to net zero targets being announced by the countries, as they don’t have any plans on how to achieve the net zero targets. She also feels that the concept of net zero is extremely “inequitable” which makes it stand in conflict with established international environmental norms. Narain strongly advocates for asking countries to focus and implement the targets under the Paris agreement rather than talking about the new system of net zero.

The Energy and Resources Institute’s Director General Ajay Mathur highlights case studies from sectors of renewable and power to suggest that a peak and decline in emissions by 2050 is possible for India. The author writes that a dramatic cost decline in renewable energy and energy storage opens an opportunity for the power sector of India to peak before 2050. The author is also of the view that in coming times, “solar electricity will be competitive against coal”, giving India an opportunity to create primarily solar and wind-based electricity systems by 2050.

Lastly, Ulka Kelkar, Director of Climate Program, World Resources Institute draws a positive case for net zero policy saying India can well achieve the target along with economic growth. Kelkar feels that policies to flatten India’s emission curve are already underway, they need a boost through proper tech and financial interventions. In her opinion, strong climate action by India can create 24 million jobs in 15 years. Kelkar also draws a case against coal operated power plans, which if shut before their scheduled timelines and with the country moving to a cleaner source of electricity, can ensure a drastic fall in emissions.

(Writer is a lawyer and an independent researcher. He tweets at @Writer_Rishabh)

Featured image source: Indian Express

What is net-zero? What are India’s objections? Read our short explainer, here.

The Analysis (TA) is a research and communication group | Analyzing India’s legal, policy and political affairs. Write to us at contact@theanalysis.org.in

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