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How India can achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070

A new report analyses the ways that India can transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the next 50 years

India will need to go big on solar power to be able to transition away from coal and oil.
India will need to go big on solar power to be able to transition away from coal and oil. (Istockphoto)

India is one of many countries that haven’t announced a net-zero target year. Of the major carbon emitters, the US plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 52% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The UK plans to become net zero by about 2050 and China plans to do the same by 2060. 

There has been some debate about whether India should announce a net zero target before the beginning of crunch climate talks in Glasgow next year. It is a fact that most of the countries that have announced such targets haven’t laid out a firm policy framework on how they intend to reach it. Many climate policy makers would like India to raise the country’s emissions-cutting ambition instead. 

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However, clear pathways by which India could actually start working towards a carbon-free future do exist. On 12 October, the Delhi-based climate policy organisation Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) published a report that looks at the policy parameters that could help India realise this target in the near future. Titled Implications Of A Net-Zero Target For India’s Sectoral Energy Transitions And Climate Policy, the report analyses a few net-zero scenarios for India, with different target years of 2050, 2060, 2070 and 2080.

Of these scenarios, the report takes 2070 as the most likely net zero target year. To achieve this goal, the report states, India’s dependence on fossil fuels like coal has to peak by 2040, and then decline to nearly zero by 2070. In this scenario, to meet its energy demands, India should look to have an installed solar power capacity of 5,630GW by 2070. For context, India’s current renewable energy (RE) capacity is 100GW, and it aims to increase this to 450GW by 2030. 

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To meet the 2070 goal, India will probably need to set aside 4.6% of its land for new solar power generation infrastructure. India’s coal dependence for power generation would need to peak by 2040 and then drop by 99% by 2060. The use of crude oil would need to peak by 2050 and then fall by 90% by 2070. The use of green hydrogen would also need to constitute nearly 19% of industrial energy needs by then. For this pathway, the report assumes that there won’t be any viable forms of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. 

Now any real breakthroughs in CCS tech, and the availability of low-cost finance would certainly reduce India’s costs for this energy transition. According to the report, without these, the economic cost of India’s transition will cost the country about 4.1% of the GDP in the net-zero year of 2070.  

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