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India’s NET-ZERO 2070 Target, Respect or Ridicule?

United Nations Climate Change Conferences are held every year by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a formal meeting between activists, scientists, global leaders, journalists, etc. to check the progress in reducing carbon emissions, promoting sustainable development, and thus, assessing climate change. The 1st Conference of Parties (COP1) was held in Berlin, Germany in 1995. Since then, countries have been discussing and negotiating the extent of climate change every year.

Many important discussions and agreements have been done in these years. COP3 (1997) held in Kyoto, Japan, led to the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce the onset of global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. It expired in 2012. In 2002, India hosted COP8 at New Delhi. The Delhi Ministerial Declaration called for efforts of developed countries like the USA and the UK to transfer technology and minimise the impact of climate change in developing countries. COP21 was held in Paris, France, leading to the Paris Agreement. It aimed to increase the ability of parties to adapt to climate change impacts and mobilise sufficient finance. Even the developing countries submitted plans to cut down emissions.

COP26 was held in Glasgow, Scotland this year in November under the presidency of Alok Sharma, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, UK. Since Paris, it was the first time that parties were expected to commit to enhancing ambition towards mitigating climate change. Climate change mitigation is a set of actions that limit global warming and its related effects. Unlike previous summits where the sponsors had been fossil fuel companies, this time the sponsors included three British energy companies, banking, and an insurance company. They had to have real commitments in place to help reach net-zero in the future.

What is net-zero? It is a state of carbon neutrality, i.e. balancing the carbon emissions and removals from the environment. The term is vastly used to describe a broader commitment to decarbonisation and climate action. This can be achieved by energy circulation, sustainable agriculture, and food supply, building the market and technology to use renewable resources, etc.

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The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, announced the net-zero target of 2070. This was the first time a date was put up as part of India’s climate policy. Being the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gas, it’s being considered ambitious. India promised to expand its renewable, hydro, and nuclear power capacity to 500 gigawatts by 2030, and to base half of the nation’s power generating capacity on renewable energy, by then, also reducing 1 billion tonnes of projected carbon emissions [1].

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Indian Railways, one of the world’s largest railway systems and one of the largest consumers of electricity in the country, is also planned to achieve net-zero by 2030. It has a massive carbon footprint with 4% of the emissions of the country coming from the railways [2]. So, how can it achieve this? One plan includes a significant goal of electrifying the entire network by December 2023, two years from now. It will be the world’s largest 100% electrified railway system. The second plan is to use solar power to meet its electrical needs and have an environment-friendly infrastructure. As of January 2021, 42,354 route kilometres (RKM) have been electrified, a significant reduction in diesel consumptions [3].

During the pandemic, the Ministry of Railways and Madhya Pradesh’s BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited), built the first solar energy plant in the world to directly power railway overhead lines where the trains draw the power. Such projects have also been started in Haryana and Chhattisgarh. Solar panels have been installed in 960 stations where electrical needs have been met by sunlight. This is one of the better ways India aims to achieve the 2070 net-zero target [4].

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Mr. Modi also announced that India and UK would launch the ‘One Sun, One World, One Grid’ project which aims to harness solar energy wherever the sun is shining, ensuring that generated electricity flows to areas that need it the most. ISRO would be making an available solar calculator that would inform countries about the solar potential of any place on the earth using satellite data.

While it is possible to achieve 2070 net-zero under some circumstances, it is overly ambitious because of the finance needed to do this. India is still a developing economy and the difference between the wealthy and poor has become larger due to the pandemic. Hunger is still a major problem in India. Many children and young adults have lost their education. Finance and technology are extremely important in all these situations.

India has demanded 1 trillion dollars from the developed nations (because of whom the climate changed in the first place) [5]. So, is it necessary for India to contribute to climate action? Why should it change the way the country functions?

Many ask questions like, “Why is it relevant to us?” or “We didn’t do anything so why should we change?” It is especially relevant to India because it is one of the most vulnerable countries to be affected by climate change. Even a common man can notice the drastic changes in weather patterns in any part of the country. Farmers on one end are losing crops because of droughts and on the other, floods are destroying all the yields. More than 80% of Indians live in climate-vulnerable districts, and Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Karnataka, and the Eastern & North-Eastern states are the most vulnerable to extreme climate events such as floods, drought, and cyclones [6]. The age-old sustainable agricultural practices where we gave back to nature in return had been destroyed due to industrialisation. Climate change affects more farmers and fishermen than a businessman living in the city. Climate activists in the world have also spoken about this situation.

However, as of now, 2070 is the most distant net-zero target of any G20 nation, especially being the third most carbon emission in the world. One climate activist in Kolkata said, “At least, it’s a start, although I’ll be dead by then” [7]. Between now and then, so many things can go wrong. 2070 target is a highly optimistic approach, ignoring all the prevalent problems. But yes, even though it seems like an ambitious idea for India to join the developed countries to fix a date for net-zero emission, it is necessary. India could have an earlier target but as a developing nation, it is on par with the USA or UK of 20-30 years ago. Nevertheless, this announcement has a significant impact on the flow of finance in India [8].

There is not much of a choice except to switch to renewable resources. India has the human power to do anything and everything, but without the circulation of finance, it is impossible to achieve any of this. India is vulnerable to climate change and that is why every one of us needs to solve this together.

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