Modi at Cop26 in Glasgow

India commits to net zero by 2070; calls for $1tn climate aid

Image credit: Alastair Grant/Pool via REUTERS

On the first full day of the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that India will aim to increase its share of renewables in its energy mix to 50 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2070.

In order to retain global average temperature rises to within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and thus avert the most catastrophic climate change impacts, the world’s net greenhouse gas emissions must reach zero no later than 2050.

Speaking at COP26, Modi has set the considerably later date of 2070 as the target for India. Modi defended the late target date as India holding to its climate pledges “in spirit and letter”.

The net zero target date was one of five pledges he made at the summit. Other pledges attracted a warmer reception, such as a promise to increase the share of renewables in India’s energy mix to half (minimum 500GW) by 2030 and to reduce the CO2 intensity of its economy by 45 per cent. He also called for a worldwide push to adopt sustainable lifestyles “instead of mindless and destructive consumption”.

Ahead of COP26, the US, UK, EU and many other major emitters announced pledges to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Most pledges are limited to discussions, proposed legislation or policy documents, although Denmark, France, Hungary, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK have already passed laws that (unless revoked) legally bind their governments to these targets.

China, which accounts for around a quarter of all CO2 emissions at present largely due to its continued use of coal, has pledged to reach this goal by 2060. It will also aim to reach peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and will stop funding foreign coal projects. The other countries that have not set net zero goals for 2050 are Singapore (no firm target), Ukraine (2060) and Kazakhstan (2060).

The Global South has offered some resistance to the uniform target of net-zero by 2050. Many developing economies, including India – with minimal cumulative greenhouse gas emissions compared with countries such as the UK and US – remain dependent on fossil fuels and are unable to carry out a stable, fair, rapid energy transition without considerable financial and technological aid. A just decarbonisation depends on wealthier countries pledging financial support.

In 2009, wealthy nations agreed to provide $100bn every year to aid decarbonisation in the Global South and, in 2015, agreed to extend this goal through to 2025. The run-up to COP26 has been marred by disagreement over the failure to meet the $100bn target, among other differences. The UK government laid out an alternative climate finance plan last week, which aims to instead reach the target by 2023.

The UN estimates that vulnerable countries will need up to $300bn per year by 2030 for climate adaptation alone.

Modi has used his platform at COP26 to demand that developed countries pledge $1tn in climate finance “as soon as possible today”. The rapid mobilisation of enormous funds in response to the coronavirus pandemic ($14.6tn by major economies in 2020 alone, according to the World Economic Forum) has raised the question of why the comparatively modest target of $100bn has failed to be met, despite having years to prepare.

Addressing other world leaders, Modi said: “I am sure that the decisions taken at Glasgow will safeguard the future of generations to come and give them a safe and prosperous life.”

According to Ulka Kelkar, World Resources Institute India director, Modi’s 2070 pledge is significantly more ambitious than India’s existing climate plans: “These will take the country on a low-carbon development pathway and give strong signals to every sector of industry and society. Meeting these targets will not be a simple matter and will require additional investments and supporting policies.”

Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, welcomed Modi’s announcement, particularly the 2030 targets.

“Together, this might mean that India’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases could peak by 2030,” he said. “This demonstrates real leadership, based on a track record of action and ambitious targets, that can deliver on both economic development and climate change, from a country whose emissions per capita are about one-third of the global average.

“The rich world must respond to prime minister Modi’s challenge to deliver a strong increase in international climate finance.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles