India aims at being net-zero by 2050!7 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
Did that headline confuse you? Are you wondering what net-zero even means and why India would want to get there in the first place? These are good questions and we’re about to answer those and more below.
First, let’s tackle the basics. What is net-zero? Net zero emissions is a climate target that countries pledge to achieve. What it means is that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions — like from factories fossil-fuelled (petrol) vehicles must be as close to zero as possible, thus reducing the Earth’s net climate balance. The idea behind this is that it will allow global temperatures to stabilise and end the climate crisis.
Watch this video to understand what net zero means at a micro level.
Are all countries targeting net zero emissions?
Technically, yes. A special report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) states that if countries achieve net zero emissions by 2040 (instead of the initial target of 2050), there’s a higher chance of limiting global warming to about 1.5 degree celsius overall. That sounds achievable, doesn’t it?
But there are other issues to consider. Not all countries are the same and each of them are on their own development journey. So, it’s hard to know if all of them will put climate change on top of their agenda, and achieve net zero by 2050, let alone 2040. However, having a deadline will support an increased action against climate change from around the world, and hopefully contain the crisis. And it may also make sure that the world’s major pollutors — the US, China, European Union and India — achieve these targets on time.
Where does India figure in this picture?
India is the third-largest emitter in the world. And because US and China have already agreed to achieve net zero emissions by 2060, India has come under tremendous pressure to declare its climate goals ahead of the COP26 climate talks to be held in Glasgow in November this year.
With the geographic advantage and the availability of vast potential of renewable energy, India can definitely aspire to become a net-zero emission country and we will drive all administrative actions as well as investments towards that target.Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog
Climate Change was hardly on the agenda for India but it became a topic of interest when China pledged to go net zero by 2060. For now, India has stated that it will go net zero by 2050, putting but it isn’t going to be easy to attain this goal. Let’s figure out why.
Dependence on Fossil Fuels:
Among big polluters in India are the coal power plants that generate electricity. Presently, 65% of electricity in India is generated using fossil-fuels like coal. India was have to work on consistently decreasing its dependence on coal so that it comes down to zero by 2050! It also needs to increase the alternative renewable power sources to 90%, which is a huge jump from its current 11%.
Owliver’s Obscure Observations: Fossil fuels are those that are created from fossilised plants and animals that lived billions of years ago. Crude oil, petroleum and coal are examples of fossil fuels and these are non-renewable sources of fuel. That means that the more we mine, the fast we’ll run out of them. Constant mining of the earth and its water bodies our needs has led to destruction of wild habitats, soil and land erosion, pollution and global warming.
Hesitation to set ambitious climate goals:
So far, India has backtracked from setting ambitious climate goals and has just made sure its emissions are lower than the developed countries; basically, the country under-promises and over-delivers. Previous targets by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for energy security and clean energy have also not met their targets. India had set a target to add renewable energy of 175GW by 2022 but current capacity only totals 93GW, or 25pc of total installed capacity of 379GW!
It’s one thing to want to reach net-zero emissions and another thing altogether to make it the highest priority in India, since there are so many other things that need immediate attention. If India wants steady economic growth, pull millions out of poverty and provide them with basic infrastructure like electricity. It can perhaps reach net-zero in areas like transport, where there is better access to technology. But the rest will be an uphill battle.
In case India and USA achieve their formal targets of 2050, then atleast two-thirds of the world’s carbon emissions will be bound to net-zero goals. Imagine what a difference that can make!
“I don’t see the alternative–to a net-zero pathway–for India, which has so much to lose from climate change,” says Ulka Kelkar, director of the climate programme at the World Resources Institute, India (WRI). She believes India is in a better position to go net-zero than many other developed countries in the world. Another thing she points out is that having ambitious climate goals will ensure that the government keeps a hold on pulling businesses and anti-climate lobbies, that are currently quite strong in India.
Currently, India has ongoing projects to increase coal production but it’s coal-generated power has slowed down over the years and this is has been due to strong policy commitments. But power isn’t the only area that India is making wide strides in. The country has targeted 30% sales in electric vehicles by 2030, although this is down from its original 100%. Recent policy announcements also indicate that the government is trying to transition to a low carbon transport system. In July 2020, India railways announced plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2030! This follows a target to achieve complete electrification of its network by 2023.
Let’s hope that India’s lofty goals work out and that the country ends up changing the world for the better!
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Illustration: Rehna Kareem. Rehna is a freelance illustrator and an integral part of Team Owliver, who doodles at Paper Planes Doodles