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1-billion-tonne emissions cut: Why it’s a big leap forward

This is the first time that India has taken any climate target in terms of its absolute emissions.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Glasgow |
Updated: November 2, 2021 11:34:20 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Monday Nov. 1, 2021. (Phil Noble/Pool via AP)

While these mark a significant step-up in India’s existing climate targets, four of the five promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday are relatively low-hanging fruit – with at least one in response to global pressure.

The most substantive new commitment, however, relates to the 1-billion-tonne reduction in its total projected emissions from now until 2030. This is the first time that India has taken any climate target in terms of its absolute emissions.

Though it’s not a direct emission reduction target, something that only developed countries are expected to take, the reduction marks a major step towards bending India’s emissions trajectory.

According to the World Resources Institute, India’s total greenhouse gas emissions were about 3.3 billion tonnes in 2018. It’s projected to rise above 4 billion tonnes per year by 2030.

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That would mean between now and 2030, India could be emitting anywhere between 35 to 40 billion tonnes at the current rates of growth. Cutting 1 billion tonnes would, therefore, represent a reduction of 2.5 to 3 per cent in its absolute emissions in the business-as-usual scenario in the next nine years.

This was also the most unexpected of the five new announcements.

The most anticipated promise was about setting a Net Zero target, something that the world had been demanding of India for long.

Net Zero is a state in which a country’s total emissions are offset by absorptions of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, like that done by trees and forests, and physical removal of carbon dioxide through futuristic technologies.

More than 70 countries have promised to become Net Zero by the middle of the century, and this is being considered vital for meeting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times.

India’s Net Zero target of 2070 silences its critics but it is along expected lines. The big thing here is not the target itself but the fact that India finally relented and decided to take up a target, something it had been holding back on for quite some time.

In its climate action plan submitted under the Paris Agreement, India had promised to reduce its emissions intensity, or emissions per unit of GDP, by 33 to 35 per cent by the year 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

Even at that time, it was considered a modest target, something that could be achieved in a business-as-usual scenario. In fact, some estimates suggest that India would achieve this target by 2022 itself, eight years in advance. The increase of this target to 45 per cent reduction is, therefore, in line with the progress made.

The same is true with the increase in installed capacity of renewable energy, and that of the proportion of renewable sources in India’s electricity generation.

Two years ago, Modi, speaking at a climate meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, said India would take up its installed capacity of renewable energy to 450 GW by 2030. At that time, India’s publicly stated target was 175 GW by the year 2022.

The installed renewable capacity has been growing rapidly in the last few years, and the enhancement from 450 GW to 500 GW is not likely to be very challenging.

The increase in proportion of renewable energy ources in India’s electricity generation to 50 per cent is a natural corollary of this.

Most of the new capacity additions in the energy sector are being done in the renewable and non-fossil fuel space. In fact, India has already said it does not plan to start any new coal power plants after 2022. As of now, India was already targeting 40 per cent electricity production through non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

Put together, this comprehensive package is much more than the world was expecting of India and marks a significant commitment to climate action.

“Reducing 1 billion tonnes of emissions by 2030 and expanding non-fossils capacity to 500 GW are enormous and transformative steps. 50 per cent electricity generation from renewable energy sources speaks of India’s leadership and commitment to climate action,” said Ajay Mathur, head of International Solar Alliance, and a former climate negotiator for India.

Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of Council for Energy, Environment and Water, said that India had demonstrated climate leadership and now the ball was in the court of developed world to raise its ambition, particularly, in matters of climate finance.

“This is real climate action. Now India demands US $1 trillion in climate finance as soon as possible and will monitor not just climate action but also climate finance,” Ghosh said.

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