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Insights into Editorial: Sense on net zero: India will do well to keep the focus on historical responsibility




The COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference, hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, will take place from 31 October to 12 November 2021 in the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, UK.

Against the backdrop of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounding a “code red” on climate change, India will come under intense pressure from the West at the climate summit in Glasgow in November and, very likely, before it to announce some form of a ‘net zero’ commitment.

But, if the government is indeed set to rebuff any such demand and instead offer more climate action than committed, then that would be the right approach.


What is the Net-zero emissions target?

  1. Net-zero emission is the method of balancing the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere by the greenhouse gas absorption from the atmosphere.
  2. In zero-carbon emission, the country will focus on limiting carbon emission. But in Net-zero carbon the country will focus on bringing the net carbon emission to zero.
  3. In the initial phase, the country will focus on reducing human-caused emissions like burning fossil fuels, balancing factory emissions, etc.
  4. But, gradually the Net-zero emissions can be extended to the remaining areas as well.
  5. Globally the idea of net-zero emissions by 2050 gaining momentum. It is advised by many countries as a solution to tackle Climate Change.
  6. So far 58 countries have announced net zero emissions targets. Together these countries account for more than half the world’s current GHG emissions.
  7. In the next 30 years, they all aim to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other GHGs. There are requests from the global forums that India also needs to adopt a net-zero emissions target.
  8. But there are other sections of environmentalists not in favour of adopting Net-zero emissions targets. They say that it is unjust for developing countries.


Global actions for net-zero:

Several other countries, including the UK and France, have already enacted laws promising to achieve a net-zero emission scenario by the middle of the century.

The EU is working a similar Europe-wide law, while many other countries including Canada, South Korea, Japan and Germany have expressed their intention to commit themselves to a net-zero future.

Even China has promised to go net-zero by 2060. India, the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the US and China, is the only major player holding out.


Developed countries argument: Forget Historical Responsibility:

  1. Net zero’ talk by developed countries projects them as climate-action frontliners.
  2. But the fact is that foisting this as a common goal for all nations—with a ‘consensus’ deadline (2050, though China is targeting 2060)—obscures historical responsibility and forces poor nations to choose costlier paths to lift their many millions out of poverty.
  3. The West, at present, is the primary producer of technology that could aid green development.
  4. Thus, an India or a Bangladesh committing to the net-zero goal will further enrich developed nations.
  5. Given the pipedream that green financing under the Green Climate Fund turned out to be—at least until the deadline for meeting the target set at Paris was moved to 2025, from 2020—‘net zero’ by 2050, fundamentally, is the West telling the rest to “forget historical responsibility”.
  6. India will do well to organise the developing world in rallying behind the “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle.
  7. It must push rich nations to get more ambitious with their net zero targets instead of badgering the developing world to shoulder some of their burden.


India is already doing more:

  1. India is hoping to lead by example. It is well on its way to achieving its three targets under the Paris Agreement and looks likely to overachieve them.
  2. Several studies have shown that India is the only G-20 country whose climate actions are compliant with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C.
  3. Even the actions of the EU, which is seen as the most progressive on climate change, and the US are assessed as “insufficient”.
  4. In other words, India is already doing more, relatively speaking, on climate than many other countries.


Way Ahead:

  1. The failure of the Kyoto Protocol is an example of rich nations being unwilling to play by the rules.
  2. Sure, some countries/blocs are enacting laws to enforce their commitments to carbon-neutrality.
  3. But some action also is, by design or default, geared to protect their own politico-economic interests.
    1. For instance, the carbon-border adjustment that the EU has proposed and the US, Canada and others are mulling over.
    2. For India, there are also clear challenges emerging from its federal structure;
    3. If the Centre were to commit to a net-zero target, how is the burden of action to be distributed among the states?
  4. To be sure, this is not to argue that India should not do more, nor is it to diminish the import of the pathways the US and the EU have outlined for their net zero commitments—indeed, the International Energy Agency’s roadmap to meaningful climate action indicates how drastic the action that is needed is.
  5. However, over the next 2-3 decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow the fastest globally, and no amount of absorption efforts will be enough.
    1. Removal technologies, again, will be either inadequate or prohibitively expensive.
  6. While meaningful action on the Paris Agreement commitments—India is set to not only redeem its commitments, but also overachieve these—is yet to begin globally, changing the goalposts weakens global climate negotiations.



India is a responsible nation and one of the very few countries performing towards the fulfilment of the Paris climate deal and Nationally Determined Contribution.

So, the adoption of Net-zero targets will also the fast pace India’s mission towards Climate Justice.

India, as some experts have pointed out, should resist getting hyphenated with China and the US, both of which have a larger historical and per capita emission record.

There is no denying the need for urgent climate action, but there should be no yielding on ‘net zero’ if that comes with the same deadline applying to the US etc and India.

Therefore, the government can also be to encourage all states and UTs to make their respective carbon-neutral plan.

The UT of Ladakh and Sikkim state are already planning such a carbon-neutral plan.

Further, at the local level cities like Bengaluru and Chennai, the Panchayat of Meenangadi in Wayanad, Kerala also planning such a carbon-neutral plan.