INDIA PLEDGES NETZERO BY 2070.
BUT DOES THE EARTH HAVE 50 YEARS TO GIVE?
We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.
- Terri Swearingen
The Climate Crisis is engulfing the globe faster than we imagined, and India is no exception. As the world faces instances of unseasonal rain, dramatic wildfires, adverse temperature rise and several other variations of extreme climatic disruption — India too sees its constituents suffer the consequences of global neglect towards Mother Nature.
After two weeks of negotiations, commitments, and an omnipresent lack of accountability, the Climate Summit in Glasgow (The Conference of the Parties better known as the COP26) reached its culmination on the 12th of November 2021. One would expect that when 25000 delegates from over 200 countries and 120 heads of state come together to resolve a problem- the solution would be more pronounced than it has ever been.
But surprisingly, where we stand now is perhaps on the shaky ground of compromise and failure. COP26 started with staunch targets and optimistic pledges, but as the days passed the targets were pushed back and the pledges diluted.
In the first week of the talks, India made global headlines with its net-zero pledge, two decades behind the set target. PM Modi proudly announced the ‘Panchamrit’ plan to the world proclaiming this to be India’s gift to Planet Earth.” His notable and well-publicised 5 commitments were:
1. India will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070
2. India will bring its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030
3. India will bring its economy’s carbon intensity down to 45 per cent by 2030
4. India will fulfil 50 per cent of its energy requirement through renewable energy by 2030
5. India will reduce 1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions from the total projected emissions by 2030
The reactions were diverse, with some praising the Prime Minister for the bold pledge, while others showed a sense of deja-vu disappointment. Praise or disapproval, the pledge was big enough to hold global attention, especially because India had earlier declined to set a carbon neutrality target.
Let's define the problem first — What is the meaning of NetZero?
Net-zero is an ideal state of functioning whereby a nation achieves a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas it produces and the amount it removes from the atmosphere.
India’s tends to be the fourth largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world — a list where the top three positions are held by the who’s who of World politics namely China, the US and the European Union. More than two-thirds of India’s power production and lives of the poorest of the poor still depend on coal, the filthiest of fuels. Millions of Indians still don’t have access to power- No gas, no electricity. Cutting down on coal production would mean turning a blind eye towards 70% of the country.
But, if the math is done right, India is not the villain in this story. India still emits much lower emissions per capita than other developed economies. Being home to over 1/5th of the world’s total population, India’s greenhouse gas emissions still account for only 5% of the world’s total. It is little surprise then that in his speech, Prime Minister Modi called out developed countries on their hitherto ‘hollow’ commitments and demanded the need to increase international climate finance.
And THAT is where the big question arises- As the world leaders keep tossing the ball over to each other, does the Earth really have fifty years to give?
A recent report by a climate research group, the Climate Action Tracker, said the promises made by the delegates of the COP26 conference of cutting carbon emission by 2030 would still allow the Earth to heat up beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
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We are seeing the onset of its effects already:
1. Several countries such as the United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Croatia, Canada, Sri Lanka and Italy have been affected by floods.
2. Wildfires in Greece and California have displaced thousands of people. The United States alone has seen over 48,366 wildfires in 2021. (Source: https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-wildfires)
3. On average every year there are 1 maybe 2 earthquakes above the magnitude of 8.0 on the Richter. In 2021, till October alone, there have been 3 such earthquakes — the biggest being in Haiti that killed over 2200 people.
4. The Earth’s lower atmosphere, also known as the troposphere, seems to be expanding at a rapid rate of 164 feet per decade- this could force planes to fly higher in order to avoid turbulence. (Source: https://www.livescience.com/earth-troposphere-expanding)
5. Low-lying countries like Tuvalu already face an existential crisis — living under the fear of sea rise and coastal erosion.
Melting glaciers, heavy floods, frequent cyclones, lightning strikes — The fury of Nature is engulfing every human effort to overcome his powerlessness against Mother Earth.
Can the poor countries pick up the slack of their wealthier cousins to meet Net Zero?
A question that seems too farfetched now — looking at the current condition of the countries that run on the backs of fossil fuel industries. India is still far away from being economically developed and in the course of getting there, its energy demands are expected to go higher, faster.
It would be an unfair game for those who need this form of energy for simply sustaining. All developing nations need energy for growth, the energy that was monopolized by their developed counterparts since their earlier days of industrialization. The net-zero ambition affects the poor more, unfortunately, as they have fewer resources to be able to curb it. But now, they have no choice. Because without their extra effort — the survival of our species and the planet is under question.
So, what do we do?
India’s coal mining and power stations must modernise. The efficiency of the utilization of coal reserves has to go up drastically. For some regions, solar energy could be a viable option. India also needs to build more nuclear power plants. Coal alone cannot support the rapid developmental demands that India faces over the next coming years.
Massive investments, tech transfer from the developed to the developing world, innovation in decarbonisation tech will be required to ensure we are at least getting on to the path of the Net-Zero.
The blame games could stay on — The onus being pushed on to the West to pay our bills, the stories of exploitation of the developing nations by the developed ones, the need for them to innovate so we could support collective sustainable growth would always be matters of contention and global press. Net-zero in thirty years might not even be realistic. But that does not mean we can slow down.
Drastic policy changes, dynamic tax incentives, driven intent on political manifestoes, biased encouragement to climate-favouring industry — Tectonic shifts need to be made to get us closer to even seeing a tip of the solution iceberg.
Climate change is the result of generations of people trying to make human life more comfortable. Where we stand today is the result of years and years of human negligence and greed, but where we stand tomorrow will be decided by us, by our policymakers, by the global community. The onus is not on the West or the East — the onus is on us. We cannot be the ancestors who did not do enough for the generations to come. We have to move fast, and we have to start now.
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