India rejects net zero emissions target as Modi heads to COP26 climate talks

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. headquarters on September 25, 2021 in New York City.

Eduardo Munoz | Getty Images

India rejected calls to announce a net zero carbon emissions target this week, ahead of the U.N.’s global climate talks, where world leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be gathered.

Despite mounting international pressure, India’s environment secretary R.P. Gupta announced that net zero was not the solution to the climate crisis, Reuters reported Wednesday.

“It is how much carbon you are going to put in the atmosphere before reaching net zero that is more important,” Gupta reportedly said.

Net zero emissions refer to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions removed from the atmosphere, through natural means or by using the still nascent carbon capture technology.

After China and the United States, India is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is still largely dependent on fossil fuels like coal and oil. India’s energy demand is expected to rise sharply over the next decade as the economy continues on its growth trajectory.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that to avoid the devastating effects of climate change, the world needs to limit global warming to 1.5?C. And for that to happen, global carbon dioxide emissions would need to reach net zero around 2050.

Earlier this year, the IPCC delivered its starkest warning on climate change. To keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5?C or even 2?C above pre-industrial levels, the world needs immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in emissions over the next two decades, the panel said in a stern warning.

More than 130 countries, including China, have set — or are considering setting — a target of reducing emissions to net zero over the coming decades.

Modi in Glasgow

Modi will be in Glasgow, Scotland for COP26 — the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties.

He is set to participate in a two-day high-level meeting with world leaders on Monday.

In a pre-departure statement Thursday, Modi said he would share India’s track record on climate action at the meeting.

“I will also highlight the need to comprehensively address climate change issues including equitable distribution of carbon space, support for mitigation and adaptation and resilience building measures, mobilization of finance, technology transfer and importance of sustainable lifestyles for green and inclusive growth,” he said.

At COP26, India will emphasize climate justice and ask wealthier nations to transfer technology and finance needed to help developing countries deal with the fallout from global warming, India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav told The Hindu news outlet this week.

India’s emission targets

Six years ago, world leaders reached a legally-binding international treaty on climate change called the Paris Agreement.

These were India’s commitments at that time:

To reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 33% to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level. This measures the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted per Indian rupee of GDP. Reduction in emissions intensity do not necessarily imply a fall in the total amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.By 2030, around 40% of all electric power would come from renewable sources like wind and solar. Last month, when Modi addressed the U.N. General Assembly, he said India was on track to achieve 450 gigawatts of renewable energy target by 2030. That would essentially triple the country’s present renewable capacity in less than a decade.India aims to plant enough trees and cover a third of its land area with forests by 2030. The goal is to absorb about 2.5 billion tonnes to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Indian officials say the country is on track to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

But the Climate Action Tracker consortium, which tracks government climate actions, policies and targets, rated India’s commitments as “highly insufficient.”

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