India has joined a high-profile group of countries with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a net-zero emissions target for 2070, along with other elements dubbed as ‘Panchamrit’ at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC26th) ‘s Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. Other significant emitters with net-zero goals include the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, which have set a 2050 deadline, and China, which has set a 2060 deadline.
The term ‘Net Zero’ has sparked a fresh wave of interest in climate policy. The nations have emerged with an agenda to bring better ways to curb the intense climate change, with which India has not hesitated to be a part. Currently, the nations have emerged with an objective to bring better solutions to stop the extreme climate change, from executing the Paris Agreement targets to Net-Zero. To learn more about the targets’ recent inception, it is necessary to understand the history of global climate change policies and India’s attitude and leadership on the issue. In addition, this article emphasizes net-zero, India’s approach to it, and the various interventions required to decarbonize the country to reach the goal.
Climate Change: Path towards Extinction or Greener Future
Climate change is a unique climatic phenomenon resulting from a long-term shift from original patterns influenced by natural and man-made factors. Unusual weather and oceanic patterns are becoming more genuine, threatening to bring about a doomsday scenario in the not-too-distant future. It is the human who, via control and mitigation, can effectively restrict the level of change. As a result, world leaders must work together to focus on integrating data and climate projections so that prompt interventions and initiatives can be taken to avert the impending calamity. So that a more robust, greener future can be developed, with better energy security and a more balanced ecosystem.
World View on Climate Change and Initiatives
In 1992, world leaders convened an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to provide a framework for international cooperation to curb the changing climate pattern by limiting the increase in average global temperature and coping with the inevitable consequences.
As a result, governments began negotiations in 1995 to enhance the global response, and two years later, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. The Kyoto Protocol makes developed country parties legally obligated to meet carbon reduction targets.
The Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, and it represents a timely intervention and important steps to be taken under the UN climate change framework. These agreements became a new charter for worldwide efforts to combat climate change. The major goal of these agreements is to create a global response that is robust to the threat of climate change by keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels and by putting in additional effort to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve these lofty goals, a global climate change fund of approximately USD 100 billion, as well as an enhanced capacity-building framework and infrastructure exchange, will be established before 2025. These financial goals will be supported by developed countries to vulnerable and developing countries, so everyone must be on the same page with their own national goals.
The UN’s top climate analysis and monitoring body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has released its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The report’s most concerning finding is that the world is running out of carbon space, and it is past time to address the issue. We currently emit 36.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Our carbon emissions must now be budgeted based on the planet’s processing capabilities to limit global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. According to the AR6 analysis, there is a point at which the world’s total carbon budget reaches 400 gigatons of CO2, and the temperature rises by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. These scientific studies should scare us into taking significant and robust action. Instead, it has devolved into a brutal conflict between several blocs of countries, forcing scientists debating climate change to confront the politics of who emits how much.
Even progress on climate finance has been disappointing. The transfer of USD 100 billion from developed to developing countries has fallen short of the amount required to implement and maintain the Paris Agreement. As a result, it slowed the growth of developing countries per the norms established by the Climate Conference. Inefficiency in technology transfer and a lack of transparency have stymied progress toward limiting climate change. It is also creating a ‘Climate Debt Trap’ for developing countries to initiate projects because most previous funding was in the form of loans rather than grants.
India’s Leadership on Climate Change
Intergovernmental negotiations have been underway for nearly three decades to address climate change globally. In this process, India has been a major player. Hence, to better understand, three sections can be used to provide an overview of India’s engagement and climate foreign policy behaviour from the early 1990s.
India’s Leadership in Building and Shaping UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol
India has played an active role in the climate change debate from the early stage. Following the passage of UNGA Resolution 44/207 in 1989, which called on member states to swiftly establish a “framework convention” to solve this global crisis, India wasted little time in defining its position and forming an effective Southern alliance to address the issue.
The ‘Conference of Select Developing Countries on Global Environmental Issues’ was held in Delhi in 1990. India was effective in obtaining broad support from the developing world for its basic international positions on climate change, with an emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and their repercussions, future development goals and poverty alleviation, and technology and funds transfer agreements. In the initial draft of the IPCC’s First Assessment Report, both developed and developing countries had “shared obligations” on climate change, and India had an active role throughout convention deliberations. With the help of other developing countries, India ensured that this would become the “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) of developed and developing countries. India played a crucial role in forming the ‘Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee,’ as it is governed by the UNGA – to allow for ‘openness, transparency, universality and legitimacy’ and ‘the full participation of all states’ (World Meteorological Organisation [WMO]/ United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP] 1990:10). India successfully achieved a fundamental position in the convention discussions thanks to a strong Southern alliance and a stark difference between the developed and developing worlds. Despite not being able to obtain everything they want. At India’s request, the UNFCCC further limited its review function to individual evaluations of solely developed country pledges while examining developing country commitments and communications in aggregate terms. The fundamental purpose of India’s mission in the negotiations, according to Ambassador Chandrashekar Dasgupta, is to guarantee that the duties put on developing countries like India are “minimal” and that “differentiation” between developed and developing countries be maintained “in all areas.” (Cited in Rajan 1997: 151-2).
India’s coalition-building skills were put to good use at COP 1 to fend off this Northern demand. At this point, both the European Union (EU), led by Germany, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) were fully in favour of developing a new UNFCCC protocol that would give the Convention more teeth by requiring countries to set specific legally enforceable mitigation ‘targets and timetables.’ However, a US-led alliance that included Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (JUSCANZ), as well as members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), were opposed to this (OPEC). Taking advantage of these differences, India assembled the ‘Green Group,’ a group of 72 like-minded developing countries, including AOSIS. Finally, the India-led coalition was able to persuade the EU to support it and persuade the JUSCANZ group to abandon its demand for extra commitments from developing countries. As a result, the ‘Berlin Mandate,’ approved after COP 1, called for the establishment of a protocol with quantitative emission reduction targets solely for rich countries, with the clear caveat that the process should ‘not introduce any new commitments for developing countries (UNFCCC 1995).
Between 1997 and 2001, the focus was primarily on developing the various methodologies and rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, including the flexible market-based mechanisms negotiated within the treaty to assist developed countries in meeting their mitigation targets. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was one of the adaptable mechanisms which allow developed countries to finance, in particular, carbon reduction programmes in developing countries. Furthermore, India not only played a key role in developing the CDM’s principles, norms, and institutions during this time, but it also emerged as a global leader in hosting CDM projects in the years afterward, with its private sector gaining a major portion of the global market.
All of the regulations for implementing the Kyoto Protocol were formally agreed in the form of the “Marrakesh Accords” at COP 7 in 2001, bringing the phase of regime building to a close.
Montreal (2005) To Cancun (2010): A Phase of Parley and Transformation
The US decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, as well as the continuously expanding emissions of OECD nations between 1990 and 2004—with most of them being well ‘off track’ their planned mitigation targets—had already cast doubt on the Kyoto Protocol’s potential to produce real change on the ground.
Developing countries’ participation was forcefully raised once more by developed countries. For example, India is expected to overtake China as the world’s third-largest GHG emitter by 2015 (International Energy Agency [IEA] 2007:11). They claimed that there could be no long-term settlement without the active participation of these rapidly developing countries.
To break the impasse, COP 11 convened a dual-track process to examine not only the post-2012’second commitment period’ but also a separate ‘conversation’ on ‘long-term cooperative action.’ In June 2007, Germany, for example, invited the leaders of the five largest emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico) to attend the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm—in an expanded G8+5 setting—and made climate change a priority on the agenda. India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, reiterated and supported the country’s key positions on the issue during the G8+5 Summit. Despite India’s low per capita (and even aggregate) emissions, he highlighted that the time was not ripe for emerging countries to set quantitative targets since this would be counter-productive to their development processes (Singh 2007); he went on to promise unilaterally that “India’s per-capita GHG emissions will not exceed those of developed countries even while pursuing development and economic growth strategies.” (Singh 2007). India made a voluntary pledge to limit its future potential emissions in any way for the first time in the history of the climate talks. As a result, India was insistent about not allowing any compromise of the UNFCCC’s essential architecture during the Bali Action Plan negotiations at COP 13 in December 2007. India collaborated closely with other developing countries to ensure that the text was as consistent as possible with the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol frameworks and principles (UNFCCC 2008). It worked hard to preserve a distinct ‘differentiation,’ or ‘firewall,’ between what developed and developing countries were doing.
Between 2007 and 2009, the North-South divide remained mostly unbroken. Although the Indian government took several domestic initiatives at the time, signalling the increased significance of addressing this issue—including the publication of a National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008 that defined tangible measures—the situation remained dire. The first notable shift in India’s climate foreign policy occurred in July 2009, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the ‘Major Economies Forum (MEF) Leaders Declaration on Energy and Climate’ in L’Aquila, Italy part of the G8 Summit. For the first time, the MEF countries agreed that global temperature rises should not exceed 2 degrees Celsius and that they would work together to set a “global objective” to reduce “world emissions by 2050.” These novel ideas sparked heated debate in the country, including the administration.
At COP 15 in Copenhagen, India worked closely with a core group of similarly situated large developing countries (China, Brazil, and South Africa) under the newly created BASIC alliance to jointly fight the rising pressure from a mostly united US-led North. The BASIC group and most other developing countries were outspoken in their opposition to the Northern attempt to bypass the Kyoto Protocol and undermine the UNFCCC’s foundational norm of ‘differentiation.’ The ‘Copenhagen Accord’ was born in this irreconcilable scenario on the final night of COP 15, as a last-minute agreement between the BASIC countries and the US at their heads of state and government (HoSG). The ‘dual-track’ of discussions was legally extended, and the political agreements established under the Copenhagen Accord were effectively anchored within the Cancun Agreements at COP 16 the following year.
Durban (2011) To Paris (2015): A Phase Of Transition And Acquiescence
COP 17 in Durban in 2011 assorted clear-cut evidence on which way the agreements are shifting. Despite India’s vociferous and repeated objection, it became clear that, unlike the Bali mandate, which maintained a clear ‘firewall’ between developed and developing countries, the new ‘Durban Platform for Enhanced Action’ made no such distinction.
Between 2012 and 2015, the focus was mostly on developing a new global climate accord based on the revised Durban conditions. All UNFCCC parties were urged to voluntarily draught and communicate their ‘bottom-up’ national-level climate action pledges—or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—in support of the 2015 accord at COP 19 in Warsaw in 2013. The 20th Conference of the Parties, convened in Lima in 2014, continued to shape the parameters of this new accord.
As a result, the Paris Agreement, finally enacted at COP 21 in December 2015. Still, the notion of difference into its language in a significantly different way than the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol had initially envisaged it. Throughout the months leading up to COP 21, intense negotiations, particularly by the BASIC and LMDC groups, ensured that ideas of ‘equity’ and ‘differentiation’ were reflected in many operational components of the new treaty—and India played a crucial role in this process. Just before COP 21, in October 2015, India sent the UNFCCC its updated national pledge or INDC. In this, India greatly improved on its 2009 pre-Copenhagen goal, committing to lowering its GDP’s ’emissions intensity by 33–5% by 2030 from 2005 levels (Government of India [GoI] 2015: 29).
Prime Minister Modi made a concerted effort at COP 21 to portray India as a country fully cognizant of its global responsibilities on this problem. In fact, as part of its worldwide commitment to addressing climate change, the Modi government announced a new effort with France called the ‘International Solar Alliance,’ which aims to greatly increase the global adoption of solar energy, particularly in the tropics. Following COP 21, India reiterated its political commitment to the Paris Agreement. This can be seen, for example, in the Indian government’s relatively quick decision in October 2016 to formally ratify the Paris Agreement, which went into effect in November 2016.
Nonetheless, Indian negotiators, working with the BASIC and LMDC groups, have continued to seek ways to incorporate more traditional understandings of differentiation and conditionality of action within these emerging rules in the technical negotiations that have followed on the development of the Paris Agreement’ rulebook’ that will make the treaty operational in 2020. They have also continued to emphasize the significance of increased developed country ambition and assistance, including their climate financing commitments, to guarantee the Paris Agreement’s long-term success in both the pre-and post-2020 years.
Hence, India’s foreign behaviour on this subject has been primarily driven by this interest-based view of the international climate regime—and the aim to secure adequate ‘policy space’ and ‘carbon space’ inside it to assure its future development. Additionally, there was a strong normative sentiment, based on conceptions of equality and justice, that addressing climate change was not the responsibility of developing countries like India because it was largely an issue caused by the industrialized world.
Net Zero: A New Possibility
About Net Zero
In less than a decade, the concept of net-zero has progressed from research to policy and into the mainstream. However, whether the new window through which decarbonization is now regarded globally delivers what it promises will be determined in the upcoming decades, particularly the first.
In the IPCC’s 2018 special report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” (SR1.5), net-zero was introduced as a concept. The study stated that global emissions must be 45 percent lower in 2030 than they were in 2010, to keep temperature, rise to 1.5°Cover pre-industrial levels. According to the core concepts central to the special report 1.5 states, ‘ Net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are achieved when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced globally by anthropogenic CO2 removals over a specified period’.
Hence for a possibility, planting trees, conserving and restoring the ecosystem can sequester CO2 in their regions. Even acknowledge global programs to offset CO2 in underdeveloped nations so it can balance the global output coverage as well. There are few processes for artificially trapping CO2 from the atmosphere and burying it permanently on the ground.
Sixty-five countries have announced national net-zero targets among the 192 countries that have joined the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The concept of net-zero is optimistic. It provides a driving force for transformation. National legislation in several nations has bolstered this intention.
India’s Approach in Cop 26
COP26 has seen an optimistic commitment and credibility among many political heads of nations to find a clear-cut approach to curb the intense climate change. On November 1, 2021, at COP26, India has shown such wide commitments and is being appreciated by many for its intention to change the climate policy and bring a new phase of a greener and sustainable future. Prime Minister Modi proposed fivefold path for India, which he termed ‘Panchamrit.’ The five-pronged strategy includes increasing non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigatonnes by 2030, meeting half of the required energy capacity with renewable energy until 2030, reducing projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030, lowering the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 percent by 2030, and finally reaching net zero by 2070.
With these, India made a firm commitment to its pledge, and to capitalize on the effort, a clear road map is required to reduce emissions rates through proper monitoring mechanisms.
India’s Stand-In Global Scenario
Experts and many institutional heads have appreciated India’s move towards achieving net-zero emissions. Experts applauded India’s commitments but noted that the move was motivated more by geopolitical considerations than environmental concerns. They perceived the country’s effort to turn the tables on developed countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, which have recently put intense strain on India to unveil its ‘net-zero’ target. Along with fulfilling net-zero goals, India was also an enthusiast in fulfilling the renewable energy projects, raising bolder emission reduction, and revising Nationally Determined Contributions ( NDCs ).
According to Ajay Mathur, director-general of the International Solar Alliance, India’s commitment to reducing one billion tonnes of emissions by 2030 and expanding renewable energy capacity is a game-changer. Even Ulka Kelkar, director of WRI India’s climate programme, has stated that India’s new climate change targets go well beyond its NDC and that the new targets of massive renewable energy capacity growth and net-zero will provide regulatory certainty to industry to engage in deep decarbonization, and that expanding cities and states will plan net-zero development strategies.
Net Zero Dream: Between Diplomacy and Reality
However, before COP26, the developed countries put diplomatic pressure on India to declare a deadline for achieving net-zero emissions. Even the United Nations Environment Programme has reported a significant disconnects between countries’ emission-reduction goals and their commitments under the Paris Agreement to keep global average temperature rise “far below” two degrees Celsius. As a result, governments are under more pressure to raise their aspirations and proclaim a net-zero target years. India was looking into the possibilities of meeting the aim, given its current circumstances.
As a result, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 November 1, 2021. But it retaliated by expressing its dissatisfaction with the status of the financial talks at the Glasgow summit. It even intimated that achieving its recently stated Net Zero aim is still dependent on finance from developed countries. According to an Indian representative, India demands increased predictability and openness in financial flows and believes that Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement should be implemented properly. The BASIC countries also expressed their concern that the developed countries’ annual $100 billion pledge has yet to be mobilized and delivered.
As a result, it was evident that, despite diplomatic constraints from developed countries to adopt the net-zero goals, developing countries would be dissatisfied with the former’s commitment. As a result, not only is climate funding required, but also infrastructure exchange to meet the respective targets.
Initial Challenges to Brighter Opportunities
India’s journey to net-zero carbon emissions would be long and arduous – while not impossible, it will necessitate a great deal of planning in the coming decades. The well-founded argument that India should not commit to severe emissions objectives is that it has historically been one of the lowest emitters of GHGs. The push must come from Developed nations that have benefited from carbon-intensive expansion since the Industrial Revolution. The country accounts for around 7% of today’s global emissions and has committed to a net-zero goal in 49 years.
India’s economic path suggests an increase in GDP per capita and a rise in carbon emissions, particularly from energy in the near future. The absolute increase in population and consumption is putting pressure on the economy, but population growth is moderating. A higher share of services in GDP is good for reducing emissions, but there’s no way of knowing when India’s emissions, which are highly driven by coal and other fossil fuel consumption, will peak. The new net-zero strategy will necessitate significant adjustments in the power mix as well as industrial operations. According to some calculations, peaking emissions in 2040 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2070 will necessitate a reduction in fossil fuel consumption from 85% presently to 20% by 2070, assuming a significant utilization of hydrogen technology and carbon capture technologies. At the same time, a net-zero approach may provide more long-term benefits. It may send a strong message about India’s aspirations while also improving access to international technology, capital, and markets. And this is where the potential lies.
A large portion of India’s wealth is yet to be created. Researchers predict that 60% of India’s capital assets — factories and buildings that will be operational in 2040 — have yet to be constructed. The country might potentially advance into new green technology rather than being encumbered with “re-fitting” duties. India might establish a more responsible and sustainable economy if it immediately switches to green growth. Furthermore, if India’s exports receive a “green stamp,” they may gain improved market access, particularly if the globe puts a carbon price on exports from countries with high carbon emissions. Exports are a key driver of overall GDP development in India, notwithstanding the country’s vast domestic market. They not only open new opportunities, but they also bring international competition into the country, encouraging domestic industries to become more efficient while also increasing FDI inflows and advanced technologies.
However, several issues must be addressed. To fund the grid changes required to scale up renewables, electricity distribution firms’ finances must be improved. This would necessitate a slew of changes, including the creation of a truly independent regulator to assure market pricing of electricity tariffs, incentives to accelerate smart metering and eliminate T&D losses, and policies that lead to discom privatization.
Also, the 500 GW renewables aim requires a significant boost, such as directing more national and international climate funds to decentralized solar power. Rooftop solar, which has an estimated installed capacity of 7,701 megawatts (MW) as of June 2021, could be increased significantly by modernizing outdated State-level regulations. Despite falling costs, the issue with rooftop solar expansion, which has seen a 53 percent year-over-year increase in the last 12 months, is pushback from state electrical utilities. Wide potential as a clean fuel, another rising sector is green hydrogen production. The Indian government has established a National Hydrogen Mission. Green ammonia, with potential uses in energy storage, transporting, and as a foundation for hydrogen synthesis, is a promising field for the fuel. As industry leaders emphasized at COP 26, this can slowly decarbonize major sources of emissions. India’s solar power potential will aid in exporting green hydrogen to global steelmakers, for instance, because renewables will be at the centre of green hydrogen manufacturing.
Hence it will be a rocky ride during the transition years. Until renewable energy reaches its full potential, inflation may be turbulent. To anchor inflation expectations, the reserve bank will have to work hard. Oil and coal revenues should gradually decline, but revenue-side reforms can help counterbalance this. The trade deficit could widen if the switch to electric vehicles outpaces domestic battery production. Sequencing with care will be beneficial.
Net-zero, a framework that requires a broad political view and public participation, is within reach in the coming days. Despite all of the challenges, India has the potential to be a global leader in attaining climate change targets with the correct initiatives and smart implementation.
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