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Editorials/Opinions Analyses For UPSC 2 September 2021


  1. India must commit to net zero emissions

India must commit to net zero emissions


India may not commit to the ‘net zero’ mid-century emission timeline as is being pushed by the US, UK and EU but the country appears to be amenable to an idea of putting out an enhanced target of climate action by aggregating all the new steps it has already been taking beyond its existing pledge under the Paris Agreement.


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

Mains Questions:

”There is no longer a trade-off between reducing emissions and economic growth”. Discuss in the context of India’s commitment to net zero emissions or carbon neutrality. (10 marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is carbon neutrality?
  2. Understanding the net-zero goal / carbon-neutrality
  3. Recent Gain in impetus for India’s commitment to Net-Zero Goal
  4. Arguments in favour of India’s commitment to Net-Zero goal
  5. Arguments against India declaring carbon neutrality goal
  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.

Recent Gain in impetus for India’s commitment to Net-Zero Goal

  • India’s new ambitious renewable energy target of 450 GW, land degradation neutrality and making Indian Railways a ‘net-zero’ carbon emitter by 2030, which the country has already been working on, will be part of the country’s enhanced ambition (mitigation goals). 
  • Over 50% of the global economy has already committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Besides, China has also committed to be so before 2060.
  • As the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stressed the need for urgent and stronger responses, the pace and scale of climate action are only set to increase.
  • With these developments, India is at the risk of being cast globally as an outlier on climate action, with a negative fallout if it fails to take a stand on climate change action.
  • India is purposely not committing to net zero by 2050, including on the basis that as a developing country, it needs to see significant support from developed countries for climate action as part of making any such commitment.

Arguments in favour of India’s commitment to Net-Zero goal

  • India is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change. It faces harmful impacts related to sea-level rise, heat stress, drought, water stress and flooding, biodiversity and natural disasters.
  • Given the negative impacts, addressing climate change in India’s economic development is now central to success.
  • Over 100 countries have already committed to net zero emissions by 2050, with more expected at COP26.
  • India is already the third-largest emitter in the world, and is set to be the largest as the United States, China, and the European Union are all now signed up to net zero.
  • This will become a significant drag on India’s international diplomacy. This applies not just to key relationships like with the U.S., but also with much of the Group of 77 (G77) states, who are increasingly concerned to see climate action, and in multilateral groupings such as the United Nations and ASEAN-APEC.

Opportunities that will open up with emission reduction steps

  • The transition of the global economy to net zero emissions is the biggest commercial opportunity in history.
  • Solar energy costs have fallen 90% in recent years, providing the cheapest electricity in India ever seen.
  • In just the energy sector alone, an estimated $1.6 to $3.8 trillion of investment is required every year until 2050.
  • China is investing heavily in gaining an advantage in the technologies of the new economy, be it renewable energy and storage, electric and hydrogen transport, low emissions industry, green cities or sustainable agriculture.
  • Governments, as well as businesses, are increasing climate action, in order to take advantage of the massive opportunities arising as the global economy shifts to net zero emissions. In 2020, investors injected over $500 billion into climate transition.

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.

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