- GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
The long road to net zero
Context: With the announcement of a net zero emissions target for 2070 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UNFCCC in Glasgow, India has joined a high-profile group of countries.
- Others with net zero goals include major emitters such as the United States, the UK and EU with a 2050 target, and China aiming for 2060.
- A dozen countries besides the EU have a legal enactment towards the goal.
How can net zero be achieved?
- Net zero, which means balancing out man-made national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing an equal amount from the atmosphere, can be achieved only through a structured programme that relies on sharp emissions reduction, wide support for clean energy innovation and adoption of green technologies.
India and Net Zero
- India’s well-founded argument against committing itself to strict emissions goals is that it has historically been one of the lowest emitters of GHGs, and the impetus has to come from the developed economies.
- The country represents about 7% of today’s global emissions, and has committed itself to a net zero deadline 49 years away.
- According to the World Bank, in 2018, India had per capita emissions of 1.8 tonnes, which is markedly lower than 15.2 for the U.S., 5.4 for the U.K. and even the middle-income countries’ average of 3.7 tonnes.
- A projected per capita emissions figure in 2030 for India is 2.4 tonnes under the Paris Agreement.
- India’s absolute emissions volume stands third, after China and the U.S.
What is the outlook for India’s emissions?
- Analysis of India’s growth path points to rising GDP per capita, with a rise in carbon emissions in the short term, primarily from energy.
- There is pressure from absolute increase in population and consumption, but population growth is slowing.
- A greater share for services in GDP is positive for emissions cuts, but there is no indication of when India’s emissions, heavily influenced by coal and other fossil fuel use, will peak.
- In terms of sectoral GHG emissions, data from 2016 show that
- electricity and heat account for the highest share (1.11 billion tonnes), followed by
- agriculture (704.16 million tonnes),
- manufacturing and construction (533.8 million tonnes),
- transport (265.3 million tonnes)
- industry (130.61 million tonnes)
- Land use change and forestry (126.43 million tonnes)
- other fuel use (119.04 million tonnes)
- buildings (109.2 million tonnes)
- waste (80.98 million tonnes),
- Fugitive emissions (54.95 million tonnes)
- Aviation and shipping (20.4 million tonnes).
What are the immediate interventions that can be made?
- India needs to create a legal mandate for climate impact assessment of all activities. This can facilitate investment by dedicated green funds.
- The 500 GW renewables target needs a major boost, such as channelling more national and international climate funding into decentralised solar power.
- Rooftop solar, estimated at 7,701 megawatt (MW) installed capacity as of June 2021, could be scaled up by modernising unattractive State-level regulation.
- The problem with expansion of rooftop solar, which registered 53% year-on-year growth in 12 months, is resistance from State electricity utilities, although costs are reducing.
- Another emerging sector is green hydrogen production because of its potential as a clean fuel. India has a National Hydrogen Mission now in place.
- The fuel can cover major sectors such as power and steel production (shifting from coal) and automotive (fuel cell vehicles), while green ammonia, with potential uses in energy storage, shipping, and as a base for hydrogen production, are promising areas. This can steadily decarbonise big sources of emissions as industry leaders explained at COP 26.
- India’s urban solid waste management will need to modernise to curb methane emissions from unscientific landfills.
- These plans need a political consensus and support from State governments.
- Net zero will involve industrial renewal using green innovation, green economy support and supply chains yielding new jobs.
- It also needs low carbon technologies, zero emission vehicles, and renewed cities promoting walking and cycling.
- Industry will need to make highly energy-efficient goods that last longer, and consumers should be given a legal right to repair goods they buy.
- Preventing the release of stored carbon in the environment, such as trees and soil, has to be a net zero priority.
Connecting the dots: