Four months after India announced its “net-zero” target at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, the country has yet to submit its targets for cutting greenhouse emissions, underscoring the difficulty of overhauling energy policy amid a growing population.
When asked about the delay during an unrelated event in the capital New Delhi on Tuesday, Indian environment minister Bhupender Yadav downplayed it, saying that several ministries were still discussing the matter to chart out a roadmap.
India’s Ministry of Environment, which drafts the targets and submits them to the UN Climate Agency, and the country’s top federal official in the Ministry of Power, did not respond to requests for comment this week.
“We don’t have time anymore” to wait for all countries to start reducing emissions, said New Climate Institute scientist Niklas Höhne, who tracks emission pledges for Climate Action Tracker.
Höhne added that it would be useful if India specified targets achievable with its own resources and formulated a clear plan for what could achieved with financial help from other nations.
During November’s conference in Glasgow, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his nation would stop adding greenhouses gases to the atmosphere by 2070 — two decades after the U.S., and 10 years after China. He said that India would increase its current capacity for non-fossil fuel electricity to 500 gigawatts and use energy from clean sources to meet half of its needs. Modi also said that India would cut carbon emissions by a billion tons compared with the previous target and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45%.
Since these 2030 targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions haven’t yet been submitted to the U.N. climate agency, they can’t yet be counted towards the global effort.
India is not the only country to be slow to turn in targets. The 2015 Paris agreement on climate, which India signed, required countries to submit their climate targets, called Nationally Determined Contributions, by the end of 2020. Many nations missed that deadline. The more urgent deadline was to get submission in before the November negotiations in Glasgow and most nations did. Of the five top emitting nations, only India has not submitted its plans.
The delays underscore the challenges that India faces in achieving these goals. A parliamentary committee calculated that India would require over $20 billion in investment to meet its clean energy targets while only half of that was available — prompting the opposition to ask the government whether it formulated a clear roadmap before committing internationally.
India’s role is key for the world’s climate targets. It has the third-highest emissions in the world, after China and the United States, and its energy needs are expected to grow faster than any other country in the coming decades. At the same time, historically it has contributed least to the world’s cumulative emissions among the group of 20 industrial nations known as the G20.
The typical American, for instance, uses 16 times more electricity than the average Indian, according to data from the World Bank.
Many in the South Asian country of 1.4 billion residents still live in poverty and its leaders have consistently argued that it needs the “carbon space” to grow. Even in the most optimistic scenario, some of India’s future energy needs will have to be met through coal — the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
This was partly why the country had demanded a last-minute change to crucial language during the U.N. climate conference to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal power. India said that developing countries were “entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels” for their growth and blamed “unsustainable lifestyles and wasteful consumption patterns” of rich countries for the current climate catastrophe.
In any case, India faces the same reality that other nations do: Unless emissions are drastically reduced, large parts of the world will become uninhabitable due to climate shocks like deadly fires, floods, and unlivable heat, a new U.N. report said Monday. The country lost $87 billion in 2020 because of natural disasters like cyclones, floods and droughts, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
At Glasgow, Modi had stressed that India’s goals couldn’t be achieved without adequate climate finance, a stand that India has long reiterated, and called for rich countries to provide $1 trillion in help.
The lack of finance is a vital stumbling block, said Harjeet Singh, an advisor with the Climate Action Network International. He said that if he were to put himself in the shoes of a finance minister of a developing country like India, “How do I do it if I don’t see a stream of funding? Rich countries are failing in their commitment.”
Singh said that there was some hope in the plan announced by the U.S., Britain, France and Germany to provide $8.5 billion in loans and grants over five years to help South Africa phase out coal, a source of 90% of its electricity. But he added that it remained to be seen if that money would make it to those most impacted.
India’s opposition parliamentarians criticized the government for not consulting with chief ministers or state leaders before announcing India’s net-zero targets in December in the parliament. Parliamentarian Kanimozhi Karunanidhi said that India had only a fraction of the solar energy needed to meet what had been promised at Glasgow.
“I want to know how can we achieve so much? What we’ve done is nothing compared to what we’ve promised to the world,” said Karunanidhi, from Thoothukkudi in southern India.
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