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Road to Net-Zero Status

Context:

A year after announcing its intention to achieve a net-zero emission status by 2070, India told the world how it was going to reach there.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Some of the measures listed by India
  2. India’s strategy
  3. Scepticism on carbon removal tech
  4. Research and Development

Some of the measures listed by India:

  • Decarbonising of electricity and transport sectors
  • Redesigning of urban spaces
  • Increase in energy and material efficiency
  • Revitalisation of forests
  • A push for climate-oriented research and development
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries have to prepare and submit two kinds of climate action plans
  • Short term
  • Long-term
Short term (Nationally Determined Contributions):
  • The short-term climate action plans, also called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), have to be submitted every five years, with specific actions being taken over 5- or 10-year periods.
  • The NDCs of all countries currently contain the actions they are taking till 2030.
  • For developed countries, NDCs must include specific emission reduction targets for the year 2030.
  • Every subsequent NDC — next one is due in 2025 — must be a progression from the existing NDC.
  • In its NDC, India has promised three main targets for 2030 —
    • 45 per cent reduction in emission intensity (emission per unit of GDP) from 2005 levels,
    • 50 per cent share of renewables in electricity generation,
    • Creation of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of additional carbon sink through forests.
  • Apart from NDCs, the Paris Agreement also asks countries to submit their long-term strategies to reduce emissions.
Long term:
  • There is no particular time frame for which these long-term strategies have to be prepared, but it is generally understood that countries will draw out plans till the middle of the century.
  • In the run-up to last year’s climate change conference in Glasgow, countries also announced target years for achieving net-zero status.
  • In the case of most developed countries, this is 2050.
  • China has set 2060 as its target year, while India said it would reach there in 2070.
  • Long-term strategies, inevitably, got linked to net-zero targets after that.

India’s strategy

  • To reach the net-zero destination, India is planning largescale interventions in five sectors —
    • Energy and electricity
    • Transport
    • Urban design
    • Industries
    • Forestry
  • The plan also involves focused research and development efforts aimed at developing climate-specific technologies, and mobilisation of financial resources, both public and private, domestic and international.
  • The long-term strategy document lists key focus areas and specific interventions that India is already taking, or has planned to initiate, in each of these priority sectors.
  • In the energy sector, for example, decarbonisation would come mainly through expanding the share of renewable energy, rationalising the utilisation of fossil fuels, and focusing on demand-side management.
  • Low carbon development in transport sector would be driven mainly by electrification of both public and private vehicles, phased transition to cleaner fuels, and introduction of intelligent traffic systems. Similar focus areas have been identified for other sectors as well.
Mid-term goals:
  • There are no mid-term goals or indicative pathways. In fact, the document is entirely devoid of any numbers or projections, and understandably so.
  • Mid-term goals or projection pathways could be considered by the international community as interim targets, and India could be held accountable to them in the future.
  • Most of the 60-odd countries that have submitted their long-term strategies have not offered mid-term targets or pathways, but some, including the UK and the US, have provided a few sectoral projections with expected milestones they hope to reach.
No mention of Agriculture:
  • One of the sectors India has not mentioned in its long-term strategy is agriculture, which is mainly responsible for methane emissions.
  • Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas in the atmosphere after carbon dioxide, and has attracted great attention in the past few years.
  • That is because methane is far more dangerous than carbon dioxide in its potential to cause global warming.
  • That also means that, molecule to molecule, the reduction of methane offers far greater benefits than carbon dioxide.
  • The good thing is that unlike carbon dioxide, methane is largely a sectoral gas, so its reduction does not have economy-wide repercussion the way carbon dioxide has.
  • However, methane emissions is a sensitive issue for India, mainly because major contributors happen to be agriculture — paddy crops in standing water, for example — and belching of cattle, which India has the world’s largest population of.
  • That is why India did not even join a global coalition on methane reduction that was launched at the previous climate conference in Glasgow.

Scepticism on carbon removal tech

  • The net-zero status can be achieved only when the emissions are offset either by absorption of greenhouse gases by forests or physical removal of these gases through futuristic technologies.
  • Emissions can be reduced significantly but not brought down to zero.
  • The balance would have to be offset through various kinds of carbon capture and storage technologies, which, at the moment, seem unviable.
  • This is what all the countries are relying on in their promises to turn net-zero.
  • India’s long-term strategy talked about the use of such technologies, but did not rely on them in any big way.

Research and Development

  • Accordingly, India has identified several climate-specific technologies — in CCS, biofuels, smart grids, solar photovoltaics, energy storage, and others — which it said are key to achieving the net-zero goal.
  • It has said it would support research and development in these, and related, areas in public and private sector institutions.
  • It has also provided a “non-exhaustive” list of technologies for which it would require international support.
  • Under the international climate change framework, developed countries are mandated to provide technology transfer to the developing countries.

-Source: Indian Express


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