India announces new climate targets at COP26 – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

India recently announced new climate targets at COP26 under its ‘Panchamrit strategy’. It has taken a bold leap towards cementing its commitment to clean energy and letting the world know its future approach towards fighting climate change.

The five-fold strategy to fight climate change, termed as Panchamrit, was announced by Indian PM at the ongoing COP26 meeting at Glasgow. The strategy also includes a target year for reaching Net Zero.

Now the ball is in the developed world’s court w.r.t climate finance wherein India has asked to enhance the climate finance to $1 trillion.

Moreover, an already low-emitter (on a per capita basis), India’s new commitments to fight climate change force the historically high emitters and China to commit to bolder emission-reduction pathways.

What new climate targets have been pledged by India at COP26?

India made five big-ticket announcements at the climate change meeting in Glasgow:

First– India will increase its non-fossil energy capacity to 500GW (India had earlier extended its target to 450GW out of which 100GW is already installed) by 2030.

Second– India will meet 50% of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.

Please note that renewable energy sources are different from non-fossil sources. Non-fossil sources also includes, scalable nuclear power and hydroelectricity.
Third– India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now onwards till 2030.

Fourth– By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45%.

India has achieved 25% of emission intensity reduction of GDP b/w 2005 -2016, and is on the path to achieve more than 40% by 2030.

Fifth By the year 2070, India will achieve the target of Net Zero.

‘Panchamrit’ is a traditional method of mixing five natural foods — milk, ghee, curd, honey and jaggery. These are used in Hindu and Jain worship rituals. It is also used as a technique in Ayurveda.

India has also given the slogan of One LIFE, One World, at Glasgow.

LIFE is shorthand for Lifestyle For Environment Today which entails the need for all of us to come together with collective participation, to take Lifestyle For Environment (LIFE) forward as a campaign.

With the new Nationally Determined Contribution announcement, India will occupy 9% of the remaining IPCC 400 Gt carbon budget for 1.5°C by 2030

Note: All new targets, except the 2070 net-zero commitment, would be put in India’s updated NDC that is expected to be submitted to the UN Climate secretariat soon. Net-zero is not a part of the Paris Agreement and as such that commitment would be conveyed separately as part of India’s long-term strategy

Must Read: India’s near-term climate targets – Current performance and future expectations
What is the rationale behind India’s announcement of new climate targets?

The run up to COP26 was characterized by reluctance on India’s part to declare any new climate targets. Yet, it committed to new targets at Glasgow. This can be due to the following reasons:

Vulnerability to climate change: India’s 7,000 km-long coastline, the Himalayan glaciers in the north, and its rich forest areas which house natural resources like coal and iron ore — make the country uniquely vulnerable to climate change. Large parts of the population also remain unprotected. An IMF study suggests that if emissions continue to rise this century, India’s real GDP per capita could fall by 10% by 2100.

Boosting economic growth– There is no longer a trade-off between reducing emissions and economic growth. The U.K. has reduced emissions by over 40% and grown its economy by over 70% since 1990.

Gaining advantage in new technologies– The transition of the global economy to net zero emissions is the biggest commercial opportunity in history. Investing heavily helps to gain an advantage in the technologies of the new economy, like renewable energy & storage, electric and hydrogen transport, low emissions industry, green cities or sustainable agriculture.

Lastly, India might have been unwilling to be seen globally as a hurdle to a broader agreement on action against climate change.

India’s climate targets: Paris vs Glasgow
SectorParis (COP21)Glasgow (COP26)
Emission intensity of GDPReduction by 33%–35% by 2030 below 2005 levelsReduction by 45% by 2030 below 2005 levels
Share of renewable energy in India’s total energy generationIncreasing the share of renewable energy to 40% by 2030.Increasing the share of renewable energy to 50% by 2030.
Carbon sinkTo create an additional (cumulative) carbon sink of 2.5–3 GtCO2e through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.No new announcement.
Why India’s announcement of new climate targets holds significance?

The latest announcements assume significance because of the following reasons:

– This is the first time India has taken any climate target in terms of absolute emissions. Before this, the closest reference to altering its emissions trajectory used to be in the form of emissions intensity. This is because under the international climate change architecture, only developed countries are mandated, and expected, to make reductions in their absolute emissions.

– Low historical contribution to emissions: India has not been a historical contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions. From 1870 to 2019, its emissions have been merely 4% of the global total. And, there is a huge need to grow the economy and to meet the energy needs of millions of Indians. Despite this, India has still gone ahead and committed to challenging climate targets, which is laudable.

What are some concerns/challenges associated with India’s new climate targets?

One big issue that must concern Indian policymakers going ahead will be to ensure that growth is equitable and that the poor in the country are not denied their right to development in this new energy future. Other challenges include:

Issues with renewable sector: The renewable energy sector in India had many years of excellent growth since the Paris Agreement in 2015, but there are growing problems of scale. For instance: Increasing storage capacity to ensure that State discoms honor their agreements, to managing grid integration on favorable terms.

Problems with the discom sector: India’s power distribution system is broken. The core issue is that state governments run a complex cross-subsidy regime in the backdrop of fiscal constraints that results in overdues. Discoms today have overdues of about Rs 66,000 crore.

Better infrastructure: A RE-driven regime will require better efficiencies from the distribution infrastructure — it cannot do with the current system in which about a fifth of the electricity goes waste.

Phasing out of coal: Phasing out coal will be another challenge for India. Usage of coal, especially for power generation, would need to drop by 99% by 2060, for India to achieve net-zero by 2070.

What are some implications of India’s announcement of new targets?

Inflation could be volatile till renewables reached their full potential. The central bank will have to work hard to manage it.

Fiscal revenues from oil and coal will fall gradually

The trade deficit could rise if the transition to electric vehicles is faster than the increase in domestic battery production.

What is the way forward?

– Reducing emissions from transport sector & industry: India will have to take up enhanced measures to reduce emissions from the transport sector, the energy-intensive industrial sector, especially cement, iron and steel, non-metallic minerals and chemicals.

– A robust public transport: It would also need to strengthen its public transport in the cities and improve thermal efficiency of the housing.

– Private sector investment: Excluding hydro projects, India’s installed renewable capacity is about 100 GW. The private sector today owns about 48% of the capacity. For India to meet its 2030 targets, private investors will need an incentive to keep adding to this capacity.

– Reforming the power sector: Higher expectations for future capacity in the renewable energy sector will need greater efforts at reforming the broader power sector in co-operation with State governments. Further, an all-party consensus is needed to ensure a competitive tariff level. India’s political class needs to find common ground.

– Investment in RE sector: A five-fold addition in renewable capacity needs to be accompanied by greater R&D investments by all stakeholders. IP needs to be held by Indian entities as the dominant player China can’t be relied upon.

– No dependence on West: India should not depend on the West for clean tech. It needs to set up a fund for incubating ideas in this field. Vaccine inequity has shown global help is uncertain at best.

– Nuclear energy: India must not ignore nuclear energy, where India has done much work. Just focusing on renewables may push up costs of electricity. Nuclear energy deserves as much of a push as wind and solar.

– Better coordination between the state electricity boards would be needed so that utilities with surplus power can make up for the deficits of others. They would also need to keep a cushion of traditional power to cope with the fluctuations in RE supply. All this would require technological and administrative changes in the way the grid and the traditional power plants are managed.

China which will occupy 33% of the remaining carbon budget, it must be asked to reduce its emissions drastically in this decade.

A look at some of the radical solutions like solar geoengineering also merits attention. India might well be able to play a major role in the aerosol-spraying missions or reflector installations needed for such a collective project. Rich nations, though, might have to put in most of the money.

Governments and multilateral organisations must ensure that private investment flows from the global north to the south, and into the relevant sectors. This must be the focus of India’s climate diplomacy, now that the pledges have been made.

India would do well to have legislative backing for long-term targets. Performance and progress towards net-zero by each successive government should be monitored by the Parliament. Developing near-term and mid-term sectoral roadmaps would give businesses policy and regulatory clarity.

– A National Commission on Climate Change, as a constitutional body, should be formed to deal with climate change as a strategic risk and an overarching development priority, and improve inter-ministerial and Centre-state coordination.

Conclusion

With its new climate targets, India has silenced critics who suggested it had no bold vision for the planet.

India is on the right track but needs to redouble its efforts to remove the obstacles.

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