Why India shouldn’t sign on to net zero

Synopsis: India should not declare a net zero target. Instead it should stake a claim to a fair share of global carbon budget.


The developed world is building up pressure on India to declare a net zero target at the upcoming COP26 meeting at Glasgow.

But, reaching net zero by a specific time period is irrelevant.

Instead, as per the latest IPCC report, if we are to limit the increase in the world’s avg temp from pre-industrial levels to those agreed in the Paris Agreement, then we need to cap global cumulative emissions of CO2 at the global carbon budget.

Why the timeline to reach net zero emission reduction target is flawed?

Neither the Paris Agreement nor climate science requires that net zero be reached individually by countries by 2050.

Claims that the world must reach specific goals by 2030 or 2050 are the product of specific economic models for climate action. These are designed to achieve the Paris goals by the lowest cost methods, without equity and climate justice.

They put uneven burden of emission reduction requirements on developing countries, despite their already low emissions, to buy time for the developed world for its own transition.

Less than a fifth of the world has been responsible for three-fifths of all past cumulative emissions, the U.S. and the EU alone having contributed a whopping 45%.

Promises of net zero in their current form further this hugely disproportionate appropriation of a global commons, while continuing to place humanity in harm’s way.


Why India must not declare a net zero target?

India’s contribution to global emissions is so disproportionately low that any sacrifice on its part can do nothing to save the world.

India is responsible for no more than 4.37% cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial era, even though it is home to more than a sixth of humanity.

India’s per capita emissions are less than half the world average, less than one-eighth of the U.S.’s, and have shown no dramatic increase like China’s post 2000.

Cannot trust promises of the developed nations: India cannot proceed with the expectation that the developed world and China would limit their emissions further in the future. The failure of the developed world to meet its pre-2020 obligations along with its refusal to acknowledge this provides little confidence for the future.

Why India must claim its fair share of the global carbon budget?

It enables the responsible use of coal, and oil and gas. This will help India to come out of the lower middle-income economy status and eradicate poverty, hunger and malnutrition for good.

Small Industry sector needs expansion: India’s resource-strapped small industries sector, which provides employment and livelihoods to the majority of the population outside agriculture, needs expansion and modernisation.

Agri sector is in need: The agriculture sector, the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for India after energy, needs to double its productivity and farmers’ incomes and build resilience.

All of these will require at least the limited fossil fuel resources made available through a fair share of the carbon budget.

What is the way forward?

Even if India were to enhance its short-term Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement in some fashion, unnecessary as of now, it should do so while staking a claim to its share of the global commons.

This will ensure that its efforts will not further enable the free-riding of the developed world and protect its access to this strategic resource, vital to India’s industrial and developmental future.

Source: This post is based on the article “Why India shouldn’t sign on to net zero” published in The Hindu on 27th Oct 2021.

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