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  • Oliver Ind

India Bows Down to Climate Pressure


Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, seen here at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow.

Climate is definitely this week’s zeitgeist. With Glasgow’s COP26 conference ending, many are now looking to its outcomes – some with disappointment and some with hope.

India’s climate commitments have been seen as particularly uninspiring. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to meet net zero emissions by 2070, where anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are balanced to anthropogenic removals of such. To put this into perspective – the UK has pledged carbon neutrality by 2050 – even China has pledged net zero emissions by 2060 (without even attending the conference might I add).

India’s 2070 pledge is not its only one. India has set a five-point strategy, called the Panchamrita, in order to achieve this. These are: 1) to get its non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030, 2) meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2030, 3) reduce its projected carbon emission by one billion tones by 2030, 4) reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 percent by 2030, and finally 5) to achieve net zero by 2070.

Despite popular culture and media criticism, there is an argument that India’s climate targets are worthy of applause. Sunita Narain argued in an op-ed that the targets are in fact “bold and ambitious.” India has mountains to climb with climate action and it is important to understand the country’s unique climate context.

India is the fourth largest greenhouse gas polluter in the world (if you count the EU as a single entity). India’s infrastructure is reliant on black carbon emissions, in fact coal accounts for two-thirds of its energy generation. This may be a potential defence of India’s late commitment to net zero. India has a large reliance on fossil fuels and will have to invest billions to reach net zero. Furthermore, India is a developing country, and as development continues more people will move out of poverty – naturally increasing their energy usage.

India is also plagued with many extreme weather phenomena which will only get worse in the coming years with climate change. Just last month, more than 150 people died after extreme flooding and landslides in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has given stark warnings – specifically that the world’s emissions must reach net zero by 2050 in order to curb some of these disasters. To that end, it may be in the Indian government’s best interest to do so.

India’s track record on the environment is not entirely bad. As Modi said, India has “17% of the world’s population but contributes only five per cent of the world’s emissions”. India also has an impressive solar power sector. Josh Gabbatiss of the Carbon Brief argues that despite making up only 4% of the nation’s power supply, India is on the brink of a ‘solar-powered revolution’ and that a sustainable pathway exists where solar power actually overtakes coal in the 2020s. In June, Prime Minister Modi stated that renewable energy capacity in India has actually increased by 250% from 2014.

But the question remains, can India meet its climate aims?

Even though India’s targets give the impression of a half-hearted attempt – the reality could be far from this. It is clear that India badly needs to take action; both for the sake of humanity in general and the Indian people. Yet, analyses from the BBC show that India is way off – specifically on meeting its renewable energy targets. It is important to remember that India is still far away from its peak in energy usage – India will need to couple climate action with an epic economic transition – not an easy feat.

​​India has a “federal structure with a strong bias towards the centre” as stated by the Indian Supreme Court – this could make it easier for Modi to enact his climate promises, as there may be less barriers than in hyper quasi-federal systems such as the USA. Yet India has significant regional differences, and some places in India may be much better placed to enact change than others. Some less affluent communities may find it hard to move away from polluting industries as they rely on them for their livelihoods.

Modi has a real struggle ahead of him in this – it will certainly be interesting to see the domestic policies he introduces for the climate.

It is easy to see why some people have little faith in Modi’s government to a) meet these aims or b) go beyond them if necessary. For the past seven years, India has had poor economic growth, a falling GDP, a too high inflation rate, a rising unemployment rate, and pathetic health spending (even whilst spending more money than it previously had). India not only has these important problems to deal with, but less money to deal with them, coupled with the short-term economic disadvantages of climate action.

Pledges are meaningless without action, but sadly, thus far little action has been taken, and India’s ability to take said action is low.

Image: Flickr (COP26/Doug Peters)



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