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What the net-zero target for India means

Does it make sense for India, still decades away from peaking, to chart out net-zero future right now?

While many countries have joined the race to accomplish net-zero targets, India is still in the planning phase. With support as well opposition building up in India for net-zero targets, there are some valid questions- if this will affect the growth prospects or will it help to make a radical change?

To answer these questions Climate Trends organized a webinar with climate experts titled, ‘Towards India’s Net-Zero Future’. The webinar focused on what net-zero implies, the implications of both near term and long-term targets and the challenges in achieving the net-zero goal.

Short-term targets are not an alternative to long-term targets

According to the UNEP report, long term targets play a significant role in providing critical information to shape and potentially enhance short-term action needed to implement and achieve Nationally Determined Contributors(NDC). 

This will help to close the current gap between expected GHG emissions resulting from countries’ NDC and the GHG emission levels that are needed globally to be consistent with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement, the report stated.

It also emphasized that long-term targets can help governments to pave the path for short- and mid-term priorities, policy packages, investment pipelines and mitigation options. 

While short-term targets are not an alternative to long-term targets, they are complementary to each other, said  Vaibhav Chaturvedi, fellow at Delhi-based think tank Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). “Long term targets are more credible and they bring certainty to the table. On the other hand, short term targets should guide towards the long-term objective,” he added.

Net Zero imperative for India

Analyses that look at decarbonisation pathways for India encourage a ‘double transition’ by adopting faster electrification of sectors and increasing the use of renewable energy in power generation.

They also suggest that green hydrogen and biofuels will be key for non-power sectors such as industry, heavy transport and aviation to reach the net-zero goal.

”India’s pursuit for a net-zero emissions future depends on India’s long term decarbonisation pathways. Despite an upcoming increase in India’s electrification, we will use energy more efficiently. From 2030 onwards we are aiming to bring hydrogen fuel in the system which will be less carbon-intensive in terms of GDP,” said Ulka Kelkar, Director at the World Resource Institute’s climate programme in India.. 

A sectoral approach to reach net-zero target

Reportedly, top government officials are working to set a goal to zero out its greenhouse gas emissions by the mid-century. However, an earlier target of 2047 is also considered to mark the centenary of India’s Independence from British rule.

“Whether it is 2050 or 2047 for the net-zero deadline, what India needs is a trajectory to achieve it. It requires credibility and realism. India needs a sectoral approach rather than focusing and targeting all the sectors together,” said Vibhuti Garg, Energy Economist who leads India at Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Companies like the Indian Railways are already voluntarily moving towards carbon neutrality and there is no doubt that technologically India can aim towards net zero, she said. But what the country needs is strong political will, she added.

Garg emphasized that India needs to exploit growing capital pools of sovereign wealth funds and pension funds for more technological deployment as it will require $5.5 -6.6 trillion dollars to achieve carbon neutrality in the power sector by 2050.

India’s pathway to net-zero

In February, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that it is possible for India to zero out its emissions by the mid-2060s. The conclusion was based on the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which sees the entire planet reaching net zero by 2070.

Analysis by Chaturvedi shows that India will need to generate at least 83% of its electricity from (non-hydropower) renewable energy sources by 2050 if it were to commit to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

It also suggested that India should invest in technologies that can reduce energy and emission intensity, and it would need international support to pursue a more aggressive route to decarbonisation.

“Technologies come in exponential fashion and not linearly. So there is potential for a lot of change in the coming decades. The past 30 years will give an idea of what can be achieved in the next 30 years. Even with ‘resource constraints’ India has managed exponential growth in several sectors in the past. We are better placed than we were, richer than we were 30 years ago. I believe resource constraints did not hinder past growth and are unlikely to hinder future

prospects,” expounded Chandra Bhushan, the CEO of environmental think tank iForest.

But while how well models are able to capture real rates of technology adoption and their impacts is up for debate, there is broad consensus on the need to strategise decarbonisation in a way that includes low-carbon growth across the board and not just in ‘easy-to-achieve’ sectors. “Our analysis at TERI has suggested that India’s energy demand is set to grow 4 times which implies almost 50-60 fold increase in RE capacity. While this might still be possible in the renewable energy sector over time, given the present trends, is it doable in the industrial sector,

steel, cement, chemicals or long distance transport?” asked R R Rashmi, director of the Earth Science and Climate Change programme at TERI. “Everyone agrees that a transition is required but that needs a facilitating environment. It is the business models that enabled past implementation of technologies and transitions. If there is demand at scale supported by regulation or otherwise and resources for investment available, transition is possible,” he added.

“The net-zero discussion is open and India has an opportunity to reframe the global consensus on net-zero,” explained Bhushan. The global net-zero efforts have to be built on self-differentiation, which means that the developed countries deadline will be 2040, China’s before 2050 and countries like India around 2060, he elaborated. 

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