Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a five-point agenda to deal with the challenge of climate change during the 26th Conference of Parties (or COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on November 1 has put the pressure on the developed countries to deliver on their reneged promise of climate finance.
Modi dedicated almost half of his roughly 12-minute speech in Glasgow, Scotland, to recounting the initiatives taken by India to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. He followed by targeting developed countries for falling short on their promise to provide developing countries with the finance necessary to switch to new, efficient technologies that could help rein in climate change.
The rationale behind developed countries offering climate finance to developing countries is the historical emissions of carbon: it only seems fair that countries that have contributed most the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere should also shoulder most of the responsibility. This, in the jargon of international climate negotiation, is referred to as Common But Differentiated Responsibilities.
For the next two week in Glasgow, the leaders of 197 countries will try to agree on mechanisms to undo the damage caused by these accumulated particles of carbon in the atmosphere in an equitable manner.
What are the announcements?
Under the Untied Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries have to decide which actions they will take to mitigate for climate change. These actions are called Nationally Determined Contributions and are officially submitted to the Untied Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. These Nationally Determined Contributions were first decided by countries in 2015, as part of the Paris Agreement. In 2020, countries were supposed to update their Nationally Determined Contributions. India is yet to do this.
Modi’s declaration of the “Panchamrit”. or five-point agenda, can be seen as a verbal declaration of India’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions. The officials submissions is yet to be made, which will bring more clarity on the actions announced.
Here’s what he has promised the world.
1. 500 GW of non-fossil fuel electricity capacity by 2030
During the Climate Action Summit in 2019, Modi had announced that India would build 450 gigawatt non-fossil energy capacity by 2030. Non- fossil energy includes energy generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind, as well as from hydropower projects.
Installed capacity is not the same as energy generated. So, in 2019, although India’s installed capacity of renewable energy was 22.7% of its total installed capacity, the generation from these was just 9.2%.
Going by the projected figures for 2030 in a 2020 Central Electricity Authority’s report on India installed capacity projections, achieving this target will not be difficult. India’s non-fossil installed capacity in 2019 was 134 GW and is projected to reach 817 GW by 2030.
2. Fifty per cent of India’s energy requirements will be met from renewables by 2030
There is a lack of clarity on whether energy here means only electricity or would it also include the energy requirement of the transport, domestic and industrial sectors. This confusion will be clarified once India officially submits its Nationally Determined Contributions.
If it only means electricity, then this target is achievable, according to the analysis by the Delhi based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment
“India’s power requirement in 2030 is projected to be 2518 BU [billion units] and if we target to meet 50 per cent of our requirements from renewables, then the installed capacity will have to increase from the planned 450 GW to 700 GW,” a CSE’s analysis said. “If we consider hydroelectricity as part of renewables – as it is considered globally – then we will need to increase new renewable capacity to 630 GW. This is definitely achievable.”
3. One billion tonne cut in cumulative emissions by 2030
India’s current emissions are 2.88 gigatonne (Gt, or one billion tonnes) and are estimated to be 4.48 Gt in 2030. With these reductions, they will be 3.48 Gt. In terms of per capita emissions, this means that in 2030, India will be emitting 2.31 tonnes per capita, much lower than the US (9.42 tonnes) and China (8.88 tonnes).
However, how these reductions are made is important. An analysis of the offset mechanism for emission reduction based on India’s previous Nationally Determined Contributions done by independent researchers, Shruti Agarwal and Tushar Dash, shows an increasingly reliance on land and forest-based climate change mitigation measures.
The share of these measures in offsetting India’s emissions has risen from 12% in 2010 to 15% in 2016. This means is that the reduction in emissions is happening through large-scale plantation drives and building large-scale renewable energy plants. With the precarious forest and common land rights in India, these approaches have the potential to fuel conflicts.
4. Forty five per cent lower emissions intensity of GDP by 2030
The emission intensity of an economy is the amount of carbon emitted per unit of economic activity in various sectors of an economy. Under the first Nationally Determined Contributions, India had decided to reduce the carbon intensity of the GDP by 33%-35% by 2030 compared to 2005.
According to India’s third Biennial Update Report submitted to the Nationally Determined Contributions in 2021, by 2016, the emissions intensity of GDP had fallen by 24% compared to 2005. According to an analysis of the announcement by the World Resources Institute, the target is in line with the declining trend in India’s carbon intensity. “Going from the earlier emissions intensity target of 33-35% to the new target of 45% translates to around 1 billion tonnes of emissions reduction,” the analysis says.
5. Net Zero emissions by 2070
Net zero emissions is a situation where all the carbon emitted by an economy is removed from the atmosphere.
With Narendra Modi’s announcement, India, which was the last remaining G20 countries yet to declare a Net Zero target, has done so. This means that come 2070, India will not add a single particle of carbon into the atmosphere (or rather, it will capture and store all the particles it releases). With most countries fixing their net zero targets by 2050 (US, EU) or 2060 (China), some are seeing India’s 2070 target as being too far away.
The August 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one of the two scientific bodies to emerge out of the Rio Earth Summit, says that for the world to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, global emissions have to reach net zero levels by 2050.
“India’s target matches the commitment of the already industrialised,” said Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment. “The fact is that the world must reach net-zero by 2050, which means that the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries should get there by 2030 and China by 2040. The net zero target is not equitable or ambitious.”
Why is this CoP important?
The COP26 is crucial for the developing counties because of two reasons – framing the rules for carbon markets and climate finance.
A carbon market mechanism was put in place in by the Kyoto Protocol, arising out of the 19th COP held in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. This mechanism, called the Clean Development Mechanism, allowed developing countries to generate “carbon credits” by installing green infrastructure such as solar and wind plants. These credits could be converted to dollar value and sold to the developed counties with higher emissions.
However, in 2001, the US decided to walk out of the protocol, killing the Clean Development Mechanism in the process. Through this mechanism, China, India and Brazil have accumulated the highest number of carbon credits.
Now as countries discuss the rules for a new carbon market, what happens to these accumulated carbon credits becomes important. “From what India has submitted to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] so far, and this is reading between the lines, it seems the broad approach towards these accumulated credits is that there should be some compensation for them,” said Tarun Gopalakrishana, a predoctoral fellow at Tufts University’s Centre for International Environment Policy.
Climate finance is a contentious issue. The developed countries, with their historical emissions, were supposed to provide this money, which was supposed to have reached $100 billion annually by 2020 (this was decided in the the COP15 in Copenhagen). However, this has not happened.
According to a 2021 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the group of wealthy countries contributed $80 billion in climate finance to developing countries in 2019, up from $78 billion in 2018.
However, there is much ambiguity over what is considered climate finance. For instance, much of the money is given to developing counties in the form of interest-bearing loans. Also, some counties like Japan count some of its development aid as climate finance, even if the money is not used for projects targeting climate action directly. These issues of climate finance will be up for discussion at Glasgow.
Despite what the outcomes of the meeting at Glasgow are, India’s domestic actions matter in fighting the climate crisis on the ground. Since 2014, the Narendra Modi government has consistently watered down or simply ignored various environmental regulations.
In just the last two years, the government has tried to amend the Indian Forest Act, the Forest (Conservation) Act and the Environment Impact Assessment notification, creating an uproar among environmentalists.
These laws form the basis of environmental governance in the country. Mining projects in forested areas are being cleared by circumventing regulations and ignoring the views of government expert bodies. With such dilutions in environmental laws at home, ambitious announcements abroad will not go a long way in fighting the climate crisis.