With the IPCC report stressing a global net-zero as the minimum requirement to be achieved by 2050 in the fight for climate change and with several other major carbon emitters including the US announcing that they will become carbon neutral by 2050, the pressure is on India to find a balance and commit to a carbon neutral deadline.
Climate action around the world seems to be heating up – quite literally. According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released earlier this week, the impact of climate change in the coming decades will increase in all regions. With every 1.5 degrees celsius of global warming leading “increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons” while at 2 degrees celsius of global warming, heat extremes could more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.
"The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of the many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years," the report says. Climate scientists warn that this can mean extreme weather events influenced by disturbed climate systems like the oceans and atmosphere getting worse.
The problem lies in the fact that unless immediate, rapid and large-scale action is taken to reduce emissions, the average global temperature is likely to exceed the 1.5-degree celsius mark within 20 years. Even if emissions are slashed in the next decade, average temperatures could still be up 1.5 degrees celsius by 2040 and possibly 1.6 degrees celsius by 2060 before stabilising. The IPCC has called for urgent and immediate carbon cuts, urging countries to collaborate in the net zero emissions coalition and reinforce their promises on slowing down and reversing global heating with credible, concrete, and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that lay out detailed steps.
Two weeks ago, COP26 president-designate, Alok Sharma called for a closed-door ministerial conference to take stock of global efforts to fight the climate crisis and the efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C (as part of the Paris climate accord) ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow this November. A formal statement after the two-day meetings that say more that 50 countries participate stated that the participating countries had reached a common understanding that COP26 needs to keep 1.5°C within reach. Ministers participating at the meeting also called for all countries to deliver long-term strategies towards net zero before COP26. Sharma called for a plan from developed countries on how they are going to deliver the $100 billion a year in international climate finance, which has been promised since 2009 but has so far not delivered.
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In a boost for the COP Presidency’s goal of getting finance flowing for climate action, Germany and Canada agreed to take forward a delivery plan for mobilising the $100bn a year from developed countries that is so critically needed to help others in their fight against climate change.
India has so far been leading on outperforming its Paris climate agreement pledge to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. However, the Paris climate goal is to keep global average temperature rise to well below 2C and strive for 1.5C to prevent runaway climate change. The IPCC report has warned that the latter target is fast slipping out of reach because countries are not cutting down carbon emissions fast enough, causing global temperature to rise. And herein lies India’s problem.
According to data provided by Climate Watch by World Resources Institute, India emits 7.1 per cent of global emissions and has per capita emissions of about 2.47 Tco2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), as compared to the global average of 6.45 tco2/per capita. But its emissions per head are low owing to its large population of 1.3 billion.
It is also geographically placed in a region that has is expected to experience some of the worse side effects of climate change. In fact, India itself has experienced two cyclones, a deadly glacier collapse in the Himalayas, a sweltering heatwave and killer floods, all just in the past seven months. Changing weather patterns and erratic monsoons caused by climate change are also having a huge impact on India’s large agriculture sector, which employs approximately 60 per cent of the Indian population and contributes about 18 per cent to India's GDP.
While India has been at the forefront of several climate cation initiatives, spearheading its own drive towards renewable energy and setting up the International Solar Alliance (ISA) it needs to find a balance between cutting carbon emissions and driving its own economic resurgence, and development aimed at alleviating its population out of and the crushing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, with the IPCC stressing a global net-zero as the minimum requirement to be achieved by 2050 to keep the global warming to 1.5 degree C; and with several other major carbon emitters including the US and even China announcing that they would become carbon neutral by 2050 (2060 in China’s case) the pressure is on India to find a balance and commit to a carbon neutral deadline.