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Explained: As India strengthens its climate targets, a look at the progress so far, what’s new

At the Glasgow meeting last year, PM Narendra Modi promised to strengthen India’s climate commitments. He made five promises, and called it the 'Panchamrit'. Two of these were upward revision of existing targets, the ones that have now been made official.

India climate targets, India climate committments, Paris Agreement, India coal emissions, Modi Panchamrit, PM Modi, Indian ExpressIndia could be emitting anywhere between 35 to 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in total by the year 2030. (File Photo)

Nine months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a few headline-grabbing promises at the climate change conference in Glasgow last year, the government, on Wednesday, converted two of those into official targets, which would now be part of India’s international climate commitments for 2030.

India’s NDC, or nationally determined commitments, have been updated with these two promises, both of which are enhancements of existing targets, and would be submitted to the UN climate body. The 2015 Paris Agreement requires every country to set self-determined climate targets which have to be progressively updated with more ambitious goals every few years. India’s first NDC was submitted in 2015, just before the Paris Agreement was finalised.

India’s original NDC contained three main targets for 2030:

* A 33 to 35 per cent reduction in emissions intensity (or emissions per unit of GDP) from 2005 levels

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* At least 40 per cent of total electricity generation to come from non-fossil renewable sources

* An increase in forest cover to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent

At the Glasgow meeting last year, Modi promised to strengthen India’s climate commitments. He made five promises, and called it the ‘Panchamrit’, the nectar that Indians prepare using five ingredients. Two of these were upward revision of existing targets, the ones that have been made official and put in the updated NDC on Wednesday.

Accordingly,

* India will now reduce its emission intensity by at least 45 per cent, instead of just 33 to 35 per cent, from 2005 levels by 2030.

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* Also, it would now ensure that at least 50 per cent of its total electricity generation, not just 40 per cent, would come from renewable sources by 2030.

* The forestry target has not been touched.

India’s climate targets: Existing and New

Apart from these, Modi had said that at least 500 GW of India’s installed electricity generation capacity in 2030 would be based on non-fossil fuel sources. Also, he had promised that the country would ensure avoided emissions of at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between now and 2030.

These two promises have not been converted into official targets. But these are closely linked with others, and any progress on official targets would get reflected in these goals as well.

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Modi had also announced a net zero target for India for the year 2070. Net zero is a situation in which a country’s greenhouse gas emissions are offset entirely, either by absorption of carbon dioxide through natural processes like photosynthesis in plants, or through physical removal of greenhouse gases using futuristic technologies.

But net zero is a long-term target and does not qualify to be included in the NDC which seeks five to 10 year climate targets from countries.

India’s progress

The upward revision of the two climate targets — those relating to reductions in emissions intensity and proportion of non-fossil sources in electricity generation — do not come as a surprise. India is on way to achieve its existing targets well ahead of the 2030 timeline.

India’s emissions intensity was 24 per cent lower than the 2005 levels in the year 2016 itself, the last year for which official numbers are available. It is very likely that the 33 to 35 per cent reduction target has already been achieved, or is very close to being achieved. A further reduction of 10-12 per cent from here, to meet the new target, does not appear too challenging, even though these reductions get progressively tougher to achieve.

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The other target — having at least 40 per cent of electricity coming from non-fossil fuels — has officially been reached. According to the latest data from the power ministry, 41.5 per cent of India’s current installed electricity capacity of 403 GW is now powered by non-fossil fuels. Renewables (wind, solar and others) alone account for more than 28 per cent of this capacity while hydropower contributes over 11 per cent.

With most of the new capacity additions happening in the renewable energy sector, a 10 per cent rise in the share of non-fossil fuels in electricity generation is not a unrealistic target.

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Prime Minister’s Panchamrit announced in Glasgow

Tricky Glasgow promises

Two promises that Modi had made in Glasgow have not been converted into official targets. The Prime Minister had announced that India’s non-fossil fuel electricity generation capacity would touch 500 GW in 2030. He had also said that India would cut at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from its net projected emissions between now and 2030.

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Both these promises were tricky. The 500 GW non-fossil fuel electricity capacity target for 2030 is not easy. Of the current installed capacity of 403 GW, over 236 GW, or 58.5 per cent comes from fossil fuel sources, while non-fossil fuels, which include not just renewables like solar or wind but also hydropower, nuclear and others, make up only 167 GW. Capacity additions from non-fossil sources would have to triple in the next 10 years to reach the 500 GW target.

The total installed electricity capacity has more than doubled in the last 10 years (from 199 GW in 2012 to 403 GW now), but it is not only because of non-fossil fuel sources. While renewables have seen an impressive increase, installed capacity from fossil fuels have also doubled during this period.

The promise to reduce at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the cumulative projected emissions till 2030 was even more problematic. It was also the target with least clarity. It was the first time that India had enunciated any climate target in terms of absolute emission reductions. But it appears it was announced without much preparatory work. India does not have any official projection of its emissions in 2030. The emissions pathway from now to 2030 is also not clear. In the absence of a baseline, the target would have been meaningless.

According to some estimates, India’s annual projections are expected to rise from about 3.3 billion tonnes in 2018 to about 4 billion tonnes by 2030. Thus, India could be emitting anywhere between 35 to 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in total by the year 2030. A reduction of one billion tonnes from this would represent 2.5 to 3 per cent. Some officials argue that if India achieves its official targets, the gains in terms of avoided emissions could be far in excess of one billion tonnes.

The updated NDC also removes some of the confusion that had arisen due to a lack of clarity in the Prime Minister’s speech in Glasgow. The written speech had mistakenly used ‘energy’ for ‘electricity’ and ‘renewables’ for ‘non-fossil energy sources’.

Financial and technological support

Environment Secretary R P Gupta had told The Indian Express in Glasgow last year that India’s enhanced climate commitments were likely to be contingent on the availability of international finance and technology from the developed countries. He had suggested that it would be difficult for India to achieve its higher targets in the absence of such international support.

The updated NDC does talk about the need for low-cost international finance and transfer of technology, but does not make achievement of targets contingent on their availability. This was the case in the previous NDC as well.

First published on: 04-08-2022 at 08:52:34 am
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