Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | India at CoP26

World Leaders including PM Modi commit to new goals at COP26- but can they actually save the planet from overheating, and its smallest islands from drowning?

November 05, 2021 08:06 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 01:40 pm IST

Scientists and Climate activists have long been seen as alarmist for suggesting that global warming and climate change will destroy Planet Earth, but by this week, and the 26th meeting of the Conference of Parties or CoP 26, it was world leaders that were making dire predictions and some new commitments. 

India was most closely watched, as it has yet to update its NDCs or Nationally Determined Contributions to countering climate change. And there was some suspense, given that: 

- Climate negotiators from the UK, US, EU had all visited India in the last few months but had not been given any promises (Kerry and Sharma visited twice) 

- India had not updated NDCs by October 12, the UNFCCC deadline

- And just a day before he went to Glasgow, at the G-20 in Rome, PM Modi had made no commitments, and in fact G20 Sherpa Piyush Goyal said India was not in a position to identify a year by which it would reach Net Zero. Net zero is when a country’s carbon emissions are offset by taking out equivalent carbon from the atmosphere, so that emissions in balance are zero. 

But in his national statement in Glasgow PM Modi spelt out five targets for India: 

1. India’s non-fossil energy capacity will reach 500 GW by 2030- In June this year, the government had said India thus far has 150 GW including hydropower, and believes it is on its way to achieving this 

2. India will meet 50% of its energy requirements with renewable energy by 2030- if you don’t consider large hydropower, at present this figure is 12%. Remember energy installed is not the same as actual power available   

3. India will reduce its total projected carbon emissions by a billion tonnes by 2030 – this will mean reducing current emissions by 22%, which could have a direct impact on development. At present the top 5 emitters China, United States, European Union, India and Russia in that order.

4. India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy to less than 45% 

5. And Finally, India will achieve net zero by 2070 -this is 2 decades later than the global goal of mid-century- and will mean that the developed world would have to reach its Net Zero date by 2030- and developing economies like China that have promised NetZero by 2060, must reach peak emissions by 2030. 

Much will depend on how the government words its NDCs, and also on achieving promised targets for 2030, because unless these targets are achieved in the immediate future, the race for 2050 or 2070 may be lost completely

What were the outcomes at CoP26? 

1. NetZero targets: India was the last of the major carbon emitters to declare a net zero date: China, Russia and Saudi Arabia have committed to be net zero by 2060. The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union have committed to a 2050 target. But only 12 countries have enshrined this commitment in law. The European Union has a collective target of 2050 and Germany and Sweden have a 2045 target. 

2. Ending coal use - The United States, Canada and 18 other countries committed at the CoP26 to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year, and steer their spending into clean energy instead. But no Asian country joined 

3. About 130 countries joined a coalition to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. India wasn’t part of either the coalition on ending coal or ending deforestation.

 4. Solar energy- India and the UK co launched an initiative called Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid, backed by 80 countries to “dramatically accelerate” the global transition to clean energy 

5. Climate financing commitment : 500 global financial services firms that represent potential funding of $130 trillion – some 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets – committed to prioritizing climate goals for financing projects.

6. Climate Vulnerable Forum- about 48 countries led by Bangladesh that have demanded the announcement of a climate emergency- these include South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives. India led a programme for Infrastructure for Resilient Island States or IRIS- to help small island states on the risk of being flooded. 

The focus on South Asia is particularly important- according to 2021's Global Climate Risk Index, it is the single most vulnerable regional bloc. The Asian Development Bank now predicts a decrease of 11% in South Asian GDPs by 2100 if “Business-As-Usual (BAU) Emissions” are maintained. And with global warming and sea levels rising, estimates predict there will be nearly 63 million climate migrants in South Asia by 2050. 

Book Recommendations: 

The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis , and  The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable  by Amitav Ghosh 

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need  by Bill Gates 

The Next Stop: Natural Gas and India's Journey to a Clean Energy Future  Edited by Vikram Singh Mehta 

The Climate Solution: India's Climate-Change Crisis and What We Can Do About It  by Mridula Ramesh 

Air: Pollution, Climate Change and India's Choice Between Policy and Pretence  by Dean Spears 

The Vanishing: Chronicling India’s Wildlife Crisis  by Prerna Singh Bindra 

Rewilding  and  Green Wars  by Bahar Dutt

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for an Endangered Planet  by Jane Goodall 

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