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In IPCC report, a message for India: Need to agree on net-zero emissions target

India, the third largest emitter in the world, has been holding out against the target, arguing that it was already doing much more than it was required to do and that any further burden would jeopardise its efforts to pull its millions out of poverty.

Written by Amitabh Sinha , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune |
Updated: August 14, 2021 3:14:12 pm
India is the third largest emitter in the world (Representational Image)

With a warning that a 1.5 degree warming was likely even before 2040, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has tried to make a case, much stronger than before, for immediate cuts on global greenhouse gas emissions. For India, it is likely to translate into increased pressure to agree to a net-zero target, a deadline by which it should be able to bring down its emissions to a level that equals the absorptions made by its carbon sinks, like forests.

IPCC assessment reports — the sixth edition of which was released on Monday — are not policy prescriptive. They do not tell countries what to do. But their science forms the basis for climate action across the globe, and foundation for international climate negotiations. In the case of the Sixth Assessment Report, the fact that the 1.5 degree Celsius warming has been shown to be closer than thought is likely to trigger widespread calls for stronger, more wide-ranging emission cuts from all countries.

Not that the 1.5 degree deadline has not been discussed earlier. But this is the first time that the IPCC has said that the 1.5 degree warming was inevitable even in the best case scenario. The most ambitious emission pathways would lead to the warming be achieved in the 2030s, overshoot to 1.6 degree C, before the temperatures drop back again to 1.4 degree C by the end of the century.

Several countries, more than 100, have already announced their intentions to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. These include major emitters like the United States, China and the European Union.

India, the third largest emitter in the world, has been holding out, arguing that it was already doing much more than it was required to do, performing better, in relative terms, than other countries, and that any further burden would jeopardise its continuing efforts to pull its millions out of poverty.

The IPCC on Monday said that a global net-zero by 2050 was the minimum required to keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius. Without India, this would not be possible. Even China, the world’s biggest emitter, has a net-zero goal for 2060.

But other countries would feel the heat as well. For the purposes of global warming and its impacts, the pathways are as important as the destination. Immediate emission cuts and a steady pathway to net-zero is expected to bring better benefits than a business-as-usual scenario and a sudden drop in emissions towards the end to meet the target.

Even for the countries that have pledged a net-zero target, the substantial part of their emission cuts is planned only for 2035 and beyond. The new evidence in the IPCC report is likely to put pressure on them as well to reconsider their pathways.

“The science is clear, the impacts of the climate crisis can be seen around the world and if we don’t act now, we will continue to see the worst effects impact lives, livelihoods and natural habitats,” said Alok Sharma, the UK minister who will preside over the climate change talks in Glasgow in November this year.

Sharma emphasised on the need to keep the hopes alive for a 1.5 degree world, as did all the speakers from IPCC at the release of the report on Monday.

“Our message to every country, government, business and part of society is simple. The next decade is decisive, follow the science and embrace your responsibility to keep the goal of 1.5C alive. We can do this together, by coming forward with ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets, and long-term strategies with a pathway to net zero by the middle of the century, and taking action now to end coal power, accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, tackle deforestation and reduce methane emissions,” he said.

The IPCC report could also lead to renewed demands that all countries update their climate action plans, called nationally-determined contributions or NDCs in official language. Under the Paris Agreement, every country has submitted an NDC, listing the climate actions they intend to take by 2025 or 2030. These NDCs have to be updated with stronger action, mandatorily, every five years from 2025. But the Paris Agreement also “requested” countries’ NDCs by 2020. Because of the pandemic, the deadline was extended to 2021, and expired at the end of July.

About 110 countries have updated their NDCs, but not China or India, or South Africa. On Monday, after the release of the IPCC report, several scientists and officials, including executive secretary of UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa, lamented the fact that only half the countries had updated their NDCs with stronger action.

“All nations that have not yet done so, still have the opportunity to submit ambitious NDCs. Nations that have already submitted new or updated NDCs still have the opportunity to review and enhance their level of ambition,” the UN Climate Change said in a statement on Monday.

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