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India revitalises climate negotiations through net-zero announcement

With India showing the path, can the COP26 lead to a cleaner and greener world (Photo: Rahul Kumar)

India electrified the COP26 gathering of State heads, international organisations and climate activists by making the Net-zero announcement just days after rejecting it as an idea.

Net-zero has become a divisive term as nations have tried to push climate change accountability on to other nations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement that India will achieve net-zero by 2070 has reinvigorated the COP26 summit.

Manjeev Puri, former Indian diplomat to the UN, told India Narrative: "We have made huge commitments for ourselves which will have a global impact. We have shown good global citizenry and also upped the challenges for the world in climate action".

Puri also feels that as the announcements have been made by none other than the Prime Minister, it shows seriousness and responsibility of the top Indian leadership.

In the contentious climate debate, India has stood firm that it has not polluted the environment historically while the developed world outdid itself in carbon emissions. However, by agreeing to carbon neutrality by 2070, India has taken on a commitment that is daunting and responsible though two decades late as compared to the commitments made by rich nations like the US and the UK.

Lauding the Indian announcement, Dr Ajay Mathur, DG, International Solar Alliance (ISA) said: “PM Modi cut through the rhetoric and delivered a big promise of climate action from India. Reducing one billion tonnes of emissions by 2030 and expanding non-fossils capacity to 500 GW are enormous and transformative steps. 50% of electricity generation from renewable energy sources speaks to India's leadership and commitment to climate action".

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India has been under pressure to commit to net-zero as it is currently the third largest polluter after the US and China. This is despite the fact that over decades, it has poured negligible emissions. With Chinese President Xi Jinping excusing himself from the summit and making no serious offers to cut down emissions, Modi has won the diplomatic bout.

This is a sentiment Dr Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research, agrees with. He also highlights the nitty-gritties that will make the difference. Dubash says: “The overseas media will focus on India's net-zero by 2070 statement. But while it may mean something diplomatically – the last major economy in the bag – it will not be what drives change in India. Much more Intriguing are the announcements on railways, on non-fossil capacity and the benchmark for renewable energy. These are what give scope for India to drive a low carbon development transition in the next decade.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the world has to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century and then go down to net-zero emissions for all greenhouse gases by 2070. This is where climate experts feel that India could have shown more leadership.

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Dr Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, ISB, and lead author in the 6th Assessment report of IPCC, feels that India could have taken a more progressive path. He says: "The trajectory of development of the global North has been this—pollute the environment, contribute to global warming and then turn to green technologies to reach net-zero. By this time the damage is done. I think India is trying to take up the same trajectory which is personally disappointing for me".

On the other hand, Prakash supports the questions which Modi raised about climate finance.

"It is good that Modi reminded the countries of the North about their promises of $100 billion climate finance. Most of this is in the form of loans and corporate engagements which has not been fair and transparent. Modi has been forthcoming in raising these issues which has been really appreciated by climate scientists. We have been saying that the industrialised North has not been keeping its promises, so it was good to see it being emphasised".

Climate finance is important because many countries do not have the money to set right their worsening climate. "For example, Bangladesh is spending seven per cent of its GDP in just fixing the climate catastrophe with minimal contribution from climate finance. It is a similar story with India", says Prakash.

Even though India has given itself hard targets, the country has enough inhouse technologies which can boost green growth. “We can start with technologies that provide judicious use of resources, water and energy. I would have settled for 2060 as India has the leadership and the capabilities to galvanise the global South", says Prakash.