India’s economy will become carbon neutral by the year 2070, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Monday at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. “By 2070, India will achieve the target of net-zero emissions,” he told more than 120 leaders.
He said India would increase its 2030 target for “non-fossil energy capacity” from 450 to 500 gigawatts. Most of this is likely to be solar, and in addition, 50% of the country’s energy requirements will come from renewable sources by the same date.
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India has the lowest per capita emissions of the world’s major economies—emitting 5% of the total, despite accounting for 17% of the world’s population.
Modi also said the carbon intensity of India's economy—the amount of emissions produced per unit of GDP—would be reduced by 45% by 2030. He made it clear that emissions-cutting pledges from India and other developing nations would require finance from rich, historic emitters.
At the summit, China said it would reach net-zero emissions in 2060, and the US and the EU by 2050.
Modi said that Indian Railways has set itself a target of being ‘net-zero’ by 2030, which “alone will reduce emissions by 60 million tonnes per annum.” He also criticised the failure of rich nations to cough up a promised $100 billion a year by 2020 to help vulnerable nations decarbonise their economies and cope with climate impacts. He called for climate finance flows to be tracked in the same way as progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which is subject to strict monitoring.
The road to net zero
Reaching the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2070 for India would mean an overhaul of a coal-reliant energy sector, transport, heavy industry and even the nation’s sluggish bureaucracy, reports Bloomberg. These changes will have to take place alongside quick economic development, which is usually heavily dependent on accelerated industrialization and energy demand. However, committing to a legally binding net-zero target would help India attract some of the trillions of dollars in investment that will be required for a green transformation.
Reforming India’s electricity sector is key to delivering lower emissions. Renewables are making inroads in a system where coal is used for almost 70% of power generation. India will also need to fix its money-losing distribution utilities, make more land available for wind and solar farms, and support development of additional transmission networks. Taxes on imports of foreign solar panels are intended to spur domestic manufacturing, but could make the rollout of cleaner energy more expensive in the short term.
Just three fuels meet about 80% of India’s energy demand: coal, oil and solid biomass such as fuelwood, animal waste and charcoal. Changing that mix will require more than simply adding more renewables.
Coal use is expected to rise, even if India stops building new power plants because existing coal power plants are running below capacity. Oil and petroleum are used to power not only cars, trucks and railways, but also industrial machinery and water pumps.
India’s energy use doubled since 2000 as hundreds of millions of citizens added an electrical connection, and electricity consumption is forecast to accelerate sharply. The country will have the fastest growing rate of energy consumption globally through 2050, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts.
All that means India needs to add energy capacity equivalent to the entire European Union over the next two decades, the International Energy Agency said in February. Meeting that with cleaner electricity sources will require more hydro-power and nuclear energy, as well as wind and solar.
As a still-industrializing economy, India’s emissions from making steel, cement, chemicals and other carbon-intensive materials is set to rise regardless of a climate push. But the country could make a dent in those emissions by deploying more energy-efficient measures, switching to cleaner fuels and embracing carbon-capture technology.
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