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7th & 8th April 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses


  1. 2 Editorials: Reworking net-zero, Declarations of carbon-neutrality



At the latest count by the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) 32 countries had declared, in some documented form, their proposed intention to achieve carbon neutral status by mid-century or thereabouts. Of these, only eight have any firm status, the rest being in the form of proposed legislation or mentions in policy documents.

India will meet its Paris Agreement target for 2030, its per-capita emissions are a third of the global average, and it will in future remain within its share of ecological space.


GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Climate Change, Conservation of the Environment, Pollution control and Management, Important Agreements and Treaties for Environmental Conservation)

Mains Questions:

Along with comparable levels of commitments there need to be equally comparable metrics for well-being. Discuss in the context of net-zero emissions commitment. (15 marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is carbon neutrality?
  2. Understanding the net-zero goal / carbon-neutrality
  1. Concerns with respect to carbon neutrality calls
  2. Arguments against India declaring carbon neutrality goal
  3. Paris Climate Agreement:
  4. Progress since Paris Agreement, 2015
  5. The Paris Treaty’s inequity
  6. India’s Efforts related to Climate Change

What is carbon neutrality?

  • Carbon neutrality means having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks. Removing carbon oxide from the atmosphere and then storing it is known as carbon sequestration. In order to achieve net zero emissions, all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will have to be counterbalanced by carbon sequestration.
  • Carbon sink is any system that absorbs more carbon than it emits. The main natural carbon sinks are soil, forests and oceans. According to estimates, natural sinks remove between 9.5 and 11 Gt of CO2 per year. Annual global CO2 emissions reached 38.0 Gt in 2019.
  • To date, no artificial carbon sinks are able to remove carbon from the atmosphere on the necessary scale to fight global warming.
  • The carbon stored in natural sinks such as forests is released into the atmosphere through forest fires, changes in land use or logging. This is why it is essential to reduce carbon emissions in order to reach climate neutrality.

Understanding the net-zero goal / carbon-neutrality

  • Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero.
  • Rather, net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage. This way, it is even possible for a country to have negative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions.
  • A good example is Bhutan which is often described as carbon-negative because it absorbs more than it emits.
  • The goal of carbon neutrality is only the latest formulation of a discussion going on for decades, on having a long-term goal. Long-term targets ensure predictability, and continuity, in policies and actions of the countries. But there has never been a consensus on what this goal should be.
  • Theoretically, a country can become carbon-neutral at its current level of emissions, or even by increasing its emissions, if it is able to absorb or remove more. From the perspective of the developed world, it is a big relief, because now the burden is shared by everyone, and does not fall only on them.

Concerns with respect to carbon neutrality calls

The authors of the article argue against the increasing demand from developed countries and global civil society organizations urging all countries including developing countries like India to declare carbon neutrality goals.

Against principles of equity:

  • Notably while urging the nations to seek carbon neutrality at the earliest, Article 4.1 of the Paris agreement also recognizes the fact that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties which are also required to work towards the eradication of poverty. It recognizes the principles of equity while emphasizing the importance of sustainable development.
  • Article 2.2 declares that the Paris Agreement “will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances”.

Global and not individual goals:

  • As against the notion being created by the developed country governments and civil society outfits of carbon neutrality being an individual commitment by all countries, a correct understanding of the stated provisions of the Paris climate agreement makes it clear that the balance of emissions and removal of greenhouse gases is not sought on a country-wise basis but for the world as a whole.
  • The text of the Paris Agreement clearly indicates, based on considerations of equity and differentiation, that carbon neutrality is a global goal wherein the developed world will have to take higher responsibility based on considerations of equity and differentiation.

Insufficient climate action:

  • The growing popularity of carbon neutrality seems to ignore the fact that the achievement of carbon neutrality is not compatible with achieving the 1.5°C goal.
  • The mid-century carbon neutrality goals of developed countries will not be sufficient to meet the temperature goals set out by the Paris climate agreement.
  • According to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming, of 1.5° warming what remains of the global carbon budget from 2018 onwards, for a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to less than 1.5°C, is 480 Giga-tonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq). At the current rate of emissions of about 42 GtCO2eq per year, this budget would be consumed in 12 years. To keep within the 480 Gt budget, at a steady linear rate of decline, global carbon neutrality must be reached by 2039.
  • The global carbon budget indicates the limits on global cumulative emissions, from the pre-industrial era to the time when net emissions cease, that correspond to definite levels of global temperature rise.

Emissions in the West:

  • The hollowness of nation-level carbon neutrality declarations by developed countries is brought out by a detailed understanding of the emission data.
  • Emissions in the U.S. (not considering land use and land use change and forest-related emissions) (LULUCF), peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017, with a maximum annual reduction of 6.3% in 2009. Even if it did reach net-zero by 2050 at a steady linear rate of reduction, which is unprecedented, its cumulative emissions between 2018 and 2050 would be 106 GtCO2, which is 22% of the total remaining carbon budget for the whole world. If the U.S. has to stay within its fair share of the remaining carbon budget, it would have to reach net-zero emissions (with linear reduction) by 2025.
  • Similarly, the European Union, to keep to its fair share of the remaining carbon budget would have to reach net-zero by 2033, with a constant annual reduction in emissions. If the EU reaches net-zero only by 2050 it would consume at least 71 GtCO2, well above its fair share.

Arguments against India declaring carbon neutrality goal

  • The authors argue against India committing to carbon neutrality declarations, based on the following reasons.
  • Given the high number of poor in the country, India has to stay focused on economic growth.
  • India continues to have a low per capita carbon footprint.
  • India does not owe a carbon debt to the world. India’s emissions (non-LULUCF) are no more than 3.5% of global cumulative emissions prior to 1990 and about 5% since till 2018.
  • India’s mitigation efforts are quite compatible with a 2°C target.
  • India’s current annual emissions are low enough to not seriously dent the emissions gap between what the world needs and the current level of mitigation effort.
  • Any self-sacrificial declaration of carbon neutrality today in the current international scenario would be a wasted gesture reducing the burden of the developed world and transferring it to the backs of the Indian people.

Paris Climate Agreement:

  • The Paris Agreement was adopted under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015. The central aim of the agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise, in this century, well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Progress since Paris Agreement, 2015

  • COP22@Marrakech: The main thrust of COP 22 was to develop rules for operationalizing the Paris agreement and advance work on Pre-2020 actions. The “Marrakech Action Proclamation for our climate and sustainable development” initiated work on Adaptation Fund to serve the Paris Agreement. The Pre-2020 action, including mobilization of $ 100 billion per year and other support to developing countries was a key element of the Proclamation.
  • COP23@Bonn (chaired by Fiji): Talanoa Dialogue: Talanoa dialogue a facilitative dialogue in 2018, to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to Paris Agreement and to inform the preparation of nationally determine contributions (NDCs) was launched. Pre-2020 implementation and ambition: Parties agreed that there will be two stock-takes to discuss pre-2020 commitments – in 2018 and 2019 – before the Paris Agreement becomes operative in 2020. Gender Action Plan: The first ever Gender Action Plan to the UNFCCC was adopted at COP23
  • COP24@Katowice (chaired by Poland): It started a new international climate regime under which all countries will have to report their emissions – and progress in cutting them – every two years from 2024.
  • COP25@Madrid (chaired by Spain): COP25 had an important role to play in bringing the 2015 Paris Agreement into force and paving the way for more ambitious carbon reduction commitments from governments at the next conference. Other focus areas were adaptation to climate impacts, loss and damage suffered by developing nations due to climate change, finance for decarbonization and more.

The Paris Treaty’s inequity

  • Annual emissions make India the fourth largest emitter, even though climate is impacted by cumulative emissions, with India contributing a mere 3% compared with 26% for the United States and 13% for China.
  • According to the United Nations, while the richest 1% of the global population emits more than two times the emissions of the bottom 50%, India has just half its population in the middle class and per capita emissions are an eighth of those in the U.S. and less than a third of those of China.
  • The diplomatic history of climate negotiations shows that longer-term goals without the strategy to achieve them solve a political problem and not the problem itself. E.g., As in the case of finance and technology transfer.
  • The current framework considers symptoms, emissions of carbon dioxide, and was forced onto developing countries to keep the discussion away from the causes of the problem – the earlier excessive use of energy for high levels of well-being.
  • Models on which global policy recommendations for developing countries are based consider achieving ‘reasonable’, not ‘comparable’ levels of well-being to show that early capping of energy use will not affect their growth ignoring costs on the poor.
  • The rising prosperity of the world’s poor does not endanger the planet. The challenge is to change wasteful behaviour in the West.

India’s Efforts related to Climate Change

  • India has continuously demonstrated its responsibility towards acknowledging the emerging threats from climate change and implementing the climate actions on the basis of the principles of Equity and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities for improving efficiency of the economy and its engines of growth. The major policies and plans include:
  • National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), launched in 2008, formulated in the backdrop of India’s voluntary commitment to reduce emission intensity of its GDP by 20 to 25 per cent by 2020 over 2005 levels. It was also meant to focus on key adaptation requirements and creation of scientific knowledge and preparedness for dealing with climate change.
  • State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC) in line with the NAPCC taking into account State’s specific issues relating to climate change. So far, 33 States/ UTs have prepared their SAPCCs.
  • Climate Change Action Programme (CCAP) has been launched in 2014 with the objective to build and support capacity at central and state levels, strengthening scientific and analytical capacity for climate change assessment, establishing appropriate institutional framework and implementing climate related actions in the context of sustainable development.
  • Measures on Ozone reduction: Ozone has been classified and monitored as one of the eight pollutants under National Air Quality index. System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting (SAFAR): ozone is monitored as one of the pollutants.
  • Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority enforce Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for Delhi and the NCR region, which comprises the graded measures for each source framed according to the Air Quality Index categories.
  • National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) has launched a training programme- a certificate course for Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaptation to Climate Change (SLACC). SLACC is funded by the Special Climate Change Fund, which was set up under the UNFCC for adaptation and capacity building projects.

-Source: The Hindu

July 2024