Context: The ‘Leaders’ Climate Summit’ is to be organised by the United States this week (April 22-23).


  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C report called for global carbon emissions to reach net-zero by 2050.
  • Climate diplomacy has transformed it into a call for all countries to announce 2050 as the net-zero target year. 

The net-zero goal

  • Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero. 
  • Net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. 
  • Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests.
  • Removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
  • This way, it is even possible for a country to have negative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions. 
  • A good example is Bhutan which is often described as carbon-negative because it absorbs more than it emits.

India’s position

  • India is a climate-vulnerable country. So limiting global temperature rise, ideally below 1.5°C will be beneficial for it also.
  • Though India is a large economy, we are still a very poor country with a significant development deficit.
  • Our per-capita carbon emissions are less than half the world average.
  • Announcing an Indian 2050 net-zero commitment risks taking on a much heavier burden of decarbonisation than many wealthier countries. 
  • It could seriously compromise India’s development needs.

India’s objections

  • Impact on India: India’s emissions are likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it presses for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. 
    • No amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions. 
  • Emphasis on Paris Agreement: India has been arguing that instead of opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero targets outside of the Paris Agreement framework, countries must focus on delivering on what they have already promised. 
    • The net-zero goal does not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the new global architecture to fight climate change. 
    • India is the only G-20 country whose climate actions are compliant to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C. 
  • Developed nations’ non deliverances: New Delhi also repeatedly points to the fact that the developed nations have never delivered on their past promises and commitments. 

Way forward: India should take into account the history of global climate negotiations and its own developmental needs. 

  • Near-term sectoral transformations through aggressive adoption of technologies that are within our reach. It can avoid high carbon lock-ins. 
    • Focusing on sectoral low-carbon development pathways that combine competitiveness, job-creation, distributional justice and low pollution in key areas where India is already changing rapidly. 
  • De-carbonise power sector
    • The electricity sector is the single largest source (about 40%) of India’s greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Decarbonised electricity would allow India to undertake transformational changes in urbanisation and industrial development. 
    • It can expand the use of electricity for transport, and by integrating electric systems into urban planning.
  • Ceiling for coal power
    • Coal provides firm, dispatchable power and accounts for roughly 75% of electricity today.
    • It supports the economy of key regions; and is tied to sectors such as banking and railways. 
    • India should pledge that it will not grow its coal-fired power capacity beyond what is already announced, and reach peak coal electricity capacity by 2030.
    • It should strive to make coal-based generation cleaner and more efficient. 
    • Coal is increasingly uneconomic and phasing it out over time will bring local gains, such as reduced air pollution, aside from climate mitigation. 
  • Create a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission representing all levels of government and the affected communities to ensure decent livelihood opportunities beyond coal in India’s coal belt. 
    • This is necessary because the transition costs of a brighter low-carbon future should not fall on the backs of India’s poor.
    • Addressing the poor finances and management of distribution companies, requires deep changes and overcoming entrenched interests.
    • There is a need for electricity storage, smart grids, and technologies that enable the electrification of other sectors such as transportation. 
    • Through careful partnership with the private sector, including tools such as production-linked incentives, India should use the electricity transition to aim for job creation and global competitiveness in these key areas.
  • Improve energy services

    • Enhancing the efficiency of electricity use is an important complement to decarbonising electricity supply. 
    • Growing urbanisation and uptake of electricity services offer a good opportunity to shape energy consumption within buildings through proactive measures. 
    • Cooling needs: Air conditioners, fans and refrigerators together consume about 60% of the electricity in households. 
    • India could set aggressive targets of, say, 80% of air conditioner sales, and 50% of fan and refrigerator sales in 2030, being in the most efficient bracket. 
    • In addition to reducing green house gas emissions, this would have the benefit of lowering consumer electricity bills. 
  • Forming timelines: This would allow India adequate time to undertake detailed assessments of 
  • its development needs and low-carbon opportunities, 
  • the possible pace of technological developments, 
  • the seriousness of the net-zero actions by developed countries, and 
  • potential geo-political and geo-economic risks of over-dependence on certain countries for technologies or materials. 

Such a sector-by-sector approach allows India to nimbly adapt its sectoral transition plans as technologies mature and enable it to ratchet up its pledges periodically as required by the Paris Agreement.