What is net-zero emission and why is India opposing it?

Net-zero refers to a state where a nation's emissions are compensated by the absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Created On: Apr 13, 2021 19:46 IST
Modified On: Apr 13, 2021 21:18 IST
Net-zero emissions by 2050
Net-zero emissions by 2050

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited India on a three-day tour between 5 April and 8 April 2021 to discuss climate change. During his visit, he tried to rekindle a climate change partnership that was put on hold for four years during the Trump administration. He also exchanged notes ahead of the virtual Climate Leaders’ Summit which will be convened by U.S. President Joe Biden on 22 April and 23 April 2021. This will be the first international intervention on climate change by Joe Biden Administration. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the invitees to the Summit. 

The United States is expected to commit a net-zero emission target for 2050 at the Summit to reclaim global climate leadership. Other countries such as the United Kingdom and France are already committed to achieving a net-zero emission by 2050 while countries such as Canada, South Korea, Japan and Germany have expressed their intention to commit themselves to a net-zero future. China is committed to going net-zero by the year 2060.

For the last two years, an active campaign is underway to get every country sign to a net-zero by 2050. Recently, 58 countries have announced their net-zero emission targets by 2050. This is because many experts are of the view that the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of keeping the Earth’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C as compared to pre-industrial times is by attaining net-zero emissions by 2050.  Net-zero emission is said to prevent a 3–4°C rise by the end of the century.

The net-zero emission 

Net-zero refers to a state where a nation's emissions are compensated by the absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. It is even possible for the countries to be carbon-negative. Carbon-negative refers to a state where the absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere exceeds the actual emissions. Bhutan is often termed a carbon-negative nation as it absorbs more than it emits. 

Absorption of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere can be done with the help of forests while the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere can be done with the technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Through these technologies, carbon dioxide emissions can be captured from industries and power plants and can be reused. 

Why is India objecting to net-zero by 2050?

It is well known that India is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China. While the US and China are committed to a net-zero goal, India has not yet pledged itself to net-zero by 2050. Despite being one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, India is objecting to net-zero by 2050 as it aims to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

As per the predictions made by the International Energy Agency, much of India's future emissions will come from the things that do not exist now such as industries, buildings, and transport infrastructure. As a result, India's emissions are likely to grow at a rapid rate over the next two to three decades and no amount of afforestation or reforestation could compensate for the increased emissions. Also, the carbon removal technologies that we are familiar with are either too expensive or unreliable.

India also underscored that the developed nations have never delivered on their commitments to climate change. Under the Kyoto Protocol (the climate regime preceding the Paris Agreement), no developed country achieved the emission cut targets assigned to them and most of them openly walked out of it. Also, the developed countries have not provided money and technology to the developing and poor nations as committed to helping them tackle the impacts of climate change. 

After looking at several studies, it can be said that India is the only G-20 nation that is committed to the goal of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C. The European Union which is said to be the most progressive on climate change and the United States are termed as insufficient. 

Thus, India has been insisting that the developed nations must take more ambitious steps now to compensate for the unfulfilled commitments that were earlier made. India does not rule out the possibility of achieving net-zero by 2050 but it is hesitant to make an international commitment in advance. 

India's Paris Agreement Targets

On 22 April 2016, India signed the Paris Agreement. The agreement highlighted that every signatory must take the best climate action but nowhere mentions the net-zero emission goal. While most of the countries have already submitted their targets for the 2025 or 2030 period, India argues that the countries must focus on delivering what they have already promised rather than opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero emission outside the Paris Agreement. 

India has pledged to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels. In addition to this, it also aims to generate 40% of India's power through renewable energy and is committed to creating a carbon sink through forests that can suck 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Paris Agreement

It is an agreement within the  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that deals with the greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. It aims to keep the global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C as compared to pre-industrial times.

What is the Paris Agreement (COP 21) for Climate Change?

Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region

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