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India will reach net-zero emissions by 2070, PM Modi says at COP26 as he promises ‘panchamrit’

India had been under pressure from developed states like the US to raise its climate ambitions and commit to a net-zero target by 2050. However, it dug its heels.

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New Delhi: India will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Glasgow Monday, while announcing India’s new climate commitments. He was speaking at the ‘High Level Segment for Heads of State and Government’ during the UNFCCC’s 26th Conference of Parties (COP).

The net-zero commitment is among five new climate change targets Modi announced at the climate summit after much anticipation.

The Indian government had been tight-lipped about its commitments at the COP26, and had maintained that a net-zero target by 2050 was off the table despite pressure from developed countries.

Net-zero means removing as many emissions of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as produced. The commitment is significant since India is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, after China and the US.

Calling them the “gift of five elixirs” (panchamrit), PM Modi announced India’s four other commitments — all by 2030. These are: increasing non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW), fulfilling 50 per cent of energy requirements from renewable sources, reducing carbon intensity of economy by 45 per cent, and reducing total projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes.

“These five elixirs will be an unprecedented contribution by India towards climate action,” Modi said at the summit.

To achieve its climate goals, Modi said India expected developed countries “to make $1 trillion available as climate finance as soon as possible”. “Today, as we track the progress on climate mitigation, the same way we must track climate finance,” he said.

The PM also outlined the other activities that will help India achieve these goals, namely the Indian Railways’ commitment of net-zero by 2030, and its ambition of installing 450 GW of renewable energy capacity. 

“In the last 7 years India increased its non-fossil fuel energy by 25 per cent and this now represents 40 per cent of our energy mix,” Modi said. The railways’ commitment will “reduce carbon emissions by 60 million tonnes annually… the same way our LED bulbs campaign is reducing emissions by 40 million tonnes annually”, he added.

The PM described the International Solar Alliance, launched with the French government in 2015, as a “a revolutionary step to develop solar power”, and said the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure — an organisation launched by the Indian government in 2019 —  was “an important and sensitive initiative which will help to save millions of lives”.

Also read: Developed nations presenting $100 bn annual support till 2025 ‘unacceptable’: India at COP26

‘Put pressure on countries that haven’t lived up to commitments’

Before the summit, India had been under pressure from developed states like the US to raise its climate ambitions and commit to a net-zero target by mid-century. 

However, India dug its heels and said it was the responsibility of developed nations to make deep cuts in emissions, since they were to blame for historical emissions causing climate change today.

During his speech, Modi also called out developed countries for failing to deliver on climate finance. “As we are all increasing our ambition with respect to climate action, the world’s ambitions with respect to climate finance cannot be at the same level as they were at the Paris Agreement,” he said.

“Justice will truly be served if we put pressure on those countries that have not lived up to their climate finance commitments. Today, India is moving forward with much courage and ambition,” he said.

Also read: G20 falls short on key climate target, leaving it to COP26 to achieve breakthrough

On climate adaptation

PM Modi also spoke at the ‘Action and Solidarity’ presidency event, where he said climate adaptation hadn’t generated enough global debate, resulting in an “injustice to those developing nations that are more impacted by climate change, like India”. 

Citing schemes on tap water and clean cooking gas, he said climate adaptation should be at the centre of all developmental schemes and policies, and “traditional” knowledge on how to adapt to climate change should be respected and passed on from generation to generation.

“Even if the methods of adaptation are local, the support provided to vulnerable countries must be global. It is keeping in mind the need for global support for local adaptation that India took the initiative of Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure,” he said. 

Still not new NDCs

It is unclear if the new commitments India announced will make it to its nationally determined contribution (NDC) as part of the Paris Agreement. 

The NDC is a legally binding, self-determined target that countries make to help slow climate change. As part of the Paris Agreement, signed at the 21st COP in 2015, countries must review and update their NDCs every five years.

In 2015, India made three pledges: an economy-wide emissions intensity target of 33–35 per cent below 2005 levels; an electric power capacity target of 40 per cent installed capacity from non-fossil-based energy resources by 2030; and a carbon sink expansion target of creating an additional (cumulative) carbon sink capable of absorbing 2.5-3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Of the 194 parties that signed the Paris Agreement, over 143 have updated their NDCs. India, however, hasn’t yet done so.

Also read: Even if all 2030 climate targets are met, the planet will heat by 2.7℃ this century. That’s not OK


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