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The Path to Net-Zero Energy

Context

The article discusses India’s plan to achieve net-zero emission status by 2070, as well as the sectors it will prioritise. It also investigates critically why a critical area, such as agriculture, is not mentioned in the plan.

Relevance

GS Paper 3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Mains Question

In order to achieve global agreement on this target, India must first “green” its fossil fuel energy basket. This can be accomplished by increasing the proportion of natural gas. Discuss. (150 Words)


Background

  • CoP26 declaration: Countries announced target years for achieving net-zero status in the run-up to last year’s climate change conference in Glasgow.
    • For the majority of developed countries, this is 2050. China has set 2060 as its target year, while India has stated that it will arrive in 2070.
  • Submission: A year after announcing its intention to achieve net-zero emission status by 2070, India recently submitted its long-term plan to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), emphasising climate justice, sustainable lifestyles, and equity.
  • Updated goals: India’s updated NDCs (as part of the Paris Agreement) include the following broad quantifiable goals:
    • By 2030, India will have reduced its GDP’s emissions intensity by 45% from 2005 levels.
    • By 2030, non-fossil fuel-based energy resources should account for approximately half of total installed electric power capacity.
    • Forests will provide an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes (not updated).
  • Funding Needs: According to India’s submitted document, the overall climate finance requirement by 2050 to achieve net zero emissions by 2070 will be approximately $85.6 trillion by 2030 for India’s adaptation needs.

The strategy

  • According to the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries must prepare and submit two types of climate action plans: one for the short term and one for the long term.
  • Short-term climate action plans, also known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), must be submitted every five years, with specific actions taking place over five or ten years.
    • All countries’ NDCs currently include the actions they plan to take until 2030.
  • Emphasis on parity: NDCs for developed countries must include specific emission reduction targets for 2030.
    • Each subsequent NDC, the next of which is due in 2025, must be a step forward from the previous one.
  • Long-term strategies: In addition to NDCs, the Paris Agreement requires countries to submit long-term strategies for reducing emissions.
    • However, there is no specific time frame for which these long-term strategies must be prepared; countries may develop plans until the middle of the century.
  • There are no mid-term goals or indicative pathways, and the document is completely devoid of any numbers or projections. The majority of the 60 or so countries that have submitted long-term strategies have not provided mid-term targets or pathways.

India’s policy

  • Sector-specific goals: To achieve net-zero energy, India plans large-scale interventions in five sectors: energy and electricity, transportation, urban design, industries, and forestry.
  • Promoting climate-oriented R&D: The plan calls for concentrated R&D efforts aimed at developing climate-specific technologies, as well as the mobilisation of financial resources, both public and private, domestic and international.
    • India has identified a number of climate-specific technologies, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), biofuels, smart grids, solar photovoltaics, energy storage, and others, as critical to achieving the net-zero goal.
  • The long-term strategic plan: It outlines the following key focus areas and specific interventions that India is already implementing or plans to implement in each of these priority sectors:
    • Energy sector: In this sector, for example, decarbonisation would be achieved primarily by increasing the share of renewable energy, rationalising the use of fossil fuels, and emphasising demand-side management.
    • Transportation sector: Low-carbon development in the transportation sector would be primarily driven by electrification of both public and private vehicles, a phased transition to cleaner fuels, and the implementation of intelligent traffic systems.
    • Other sectors: Similar priority areas have been identified for other industries. For example, urban space redesign, increased energy and material efficiency, forest revitalization, and so on.

Agriculture is absent.

  • No mention of agriculture: India has made no mention of agriculture in its long-term strategy. This is concerning because this industry is primarily responsible for methane emissions, which are the second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere after carbon dioxide.
    • Furthermore, methane is far more dangerous than carbon dioxide in terms of its ability to cause global warming.
  • Importance of methane reduction: Methane reduction offers far greater benefits than carbon dioxide reduction molecule for molecule.
    • Furthermore, unlike carbon dioxide, methane is primarily a sectoral gas, so its reduction has no economy-wide ramifications.
  • Impediment: However, methane emissions are a sensitive issue in India, primarily because major contributors are agriculture, specifically paddy crops in standing water and cattle belching, of which India has the world’s largest population.
    • This is why, despite being one of the top five methane emitters in the world, India did not even join a global coalition on methane reduction launched at the previous climate conference in Glasgow.

About the Global Methane Reduction Coalition

  • Description: The Global Methane Pledge was launched in 2021 at COP 26 to catalyse action to reduce methane emissions.
    • The United States and the European Union were at the helm.
  • Commitment: By signing the Pledge, countries agree to collaborate to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

Skepticism about carbon removal technology

  • According to India’s strategy document, in order to achieve a net-zero emission target by 2070, India will rely heavily on CCS and negative emissions technologies, particularly to offset emissions from challenging and difficult-to-abate sectors.
    • However, India’s long-term strategy did not rely heavily on them.
  • As stated in the strategy document, this is a new sector that will require significant international support through innovation, technology transfer, climate-specific finance, and capacity building.
    • It did, however, acknowledge that achieving net-zero would be impossible without CCS.

Conclusion

  • Achieving net-zero emissions requires either absorption of greenhouse gases by forests or physical removal of these gases using futuristic technologies.
  • The balance would have to be offset by various carbon capture and storage technologies, which appear to be unviable at the moment. This is what all countries are counting on in order to achieve net-zero emissions.

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