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China may be in trouble, Xi’s no-show in G20 hints. Time for India to be Asia’s new leader

Transit to net-zero emissions by 2070 calls for strong measures. Yet, all these commitments are not easy to fulfil.

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The 16th in-person G20 with ‘People, Planet, Prosperity’ as its theme, held in October after the pandemic-infused global health and economic crisis, was focussed on the economic and health recovery of the world. It went off well with pious promises and pledges. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s confident strides and rubbing shoulders with world leaders with warm camaraderie appeared to have been made easy with India’s promising economic recovery and billion-plus vaccinations.

China’s absence from international eye

The two notable absentees were China and Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping has not left the country for nearly two years. While the pandemic is an important reason, the fast deteriorating relations with most of the G20 members is believed to be another reason behind Jinping avoiding a handshake with world leaders.

China, incidentally, is considered to be the biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Its role in and commitments towards reducing GHG emissions in a phased manner is expected to be a major contribution to the climate change issue. However, Xi’s no-show in the conference has set the rumour mills working overtime. He said that China’s goals to achieve carbon peak and carbon neutrality would mean a “broad and profound economic and societal change,” and that will be done “step by step and (through) hard work,” adding that Beijing will “do what it says” when it comes to its green and low-carbon development.

Also read: On climate change, China’s words and actions don’t match up

Domestic conflict may add to Xi’s troubles

China’s stand in the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop26) was more or less a repeat of what Xi conveyed through a pre-recorded video message at the G20 summit in Rome, Italy. China’s appeal for balancing environmental protection and economic development, and addressing climate change-related issues with an eye on safeguarding people’s livelihood raises questions about its economic condition. The country’s energy situation has reportedly breached a serious level, and its manufacturing has slowed down drastically.

This might have resulted in massive job losses and even triggered widespread dissatisfaction with the central leadership. In such an unpredictable domestic situation, Xi’s complications could mount in the run-up to the sixth plenum of the Chinese Communist Party to be held from 8 to 11 November. On the other hand, China’s assurance to the UN is that its emission levels would peak by 2030 and then it would cut it to net-zero by 2060 by increasing wind and solar power generation.

Also read: India will always strengthen any effort for sustainable development, PM Modi says

India’s goals look good, but not enough

In India, PM Modi has set achieving net-zero emissions by 2070 as one of the five pledges. Increasing non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030, sourcing energy from renewable resources, reducing projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030, and bringing down the carbon intensity of the economy by 45 per cent are other pledges. Although India, with 18 per cent of the world’s population, is among the top ten coal-dependent emerging economies of the world, it accounts for just five per cent of the world’s carbon footprint.

India’s energy requirements cannot be met by such mechanisms alone. For a vibrant manufacturing economy and setting up an alternate global value chain and supply chain mechanism, India as the leader of the emerging economies will have to look for out-of-the-box solutions. It has been more than five decades since New Delhi embarked on its commercial nuclear power production.

The three-stage programme’s ultimate objective is to use the vast, domestically available thorium reserves (t-232) as fuel for the ‘next-generation nuclear reactor’. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) had presented the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) in 2014. Further research should be conducted with much greater speed in a time-bound manner so as to make energy availability seamless and international trade more competitive. This will also take us closer to a carbon-free manufacturing economy with far lesser hassles, near-zero dependence on fossil fuel, relatively much greater safety, and lowest emission levels.

The general consensus on the transition to net-zero emissions by mid-century in order to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius target by G20 leaders calls for strong measures. Yet, all these commitments are not easy to fulfil. They require huge fund infusion and carefully planned strategies including low-cost technology transfer. There is an urgent need to invest in technology to decarbonise the manufacturing process. This will require greater investments in research in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other sources of energy. Going by the economic downturn of even developed economies, it is doubtful if the financial commitments — $100 billion — made to developing economies will be met on time.

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

Faith in India should make it lead Asia

Asia will be hosting the next two G20 summits, in Indonesia in 2022 and in India in 2023. Incidentally, the countries are at the 20th and the 19th position, respectively, as far as per capita income is concerned.

Yet, India promises to be the best investment destination, and according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) annual World Investment Report, it ranks as the fifth-largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) recipient in the world. Its handling of the pandemic situation, vaccination drive, and economic recovery has encouraged the investors to repose their faith in the growth prospects of the country. This imposes an additional burden and greater responsibility on India to play a larger role to lead the emerging economies.

Seshadri Chari is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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