India’s COP26 Commitments

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP26, was the 26th Conference of Parties (COP), held in Glasgow. The conference brought together 120 world leaders and participants from almost 200 countries, and after 13 days of intense negotiations, a new accord known as the Glasgow Climate Pact was reached.

The pact “reaffirms the Paris Agreement temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels” and “recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases.”

More than 140 nations committed to achieving net-zero emissions, and 153 countries unveiled new emission goals for 2030. By 2030, more than 100 nations, including Brazil, promised to stop deforestation. Record sums of money have been committed to adaptation finance, including a promise to double it from 2019 levels by 2025. This marks the first time a global financing goal for adaptation has been established. The Paris Rulebook was finalized, establishing an “enhanced transparency framework,” a new mechanism and set of standards for global carbon markets, as well as common deadlines for achieving emissions reduction targets. In addition, the UNFCCC finalized the first negotiated references to “phasing-down coal power” and ending subsidies for fossil fuels in its 26-year history.

Speaking at the conference, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the mantra of LIFELifestyle for Environment to combat climate change and announced the following five nectar elements (Panchamrit) of India’s climate action:

  1. Reach 500 GW of Non-fossil energy capacity by 2030.
  2. 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.
  3. Reduction of total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now to 2030.
  4. Reduction of the carbon intensity of the economy by 45 per cent by 2030, over 2005 levels.
  5. Achieving the target of net zero emissions by 2070.

At COP26, India, along with the UK, launched the Green Grids Initiative – One Sun, One World and One Grid mission is to connect grids and primarily use solar power. This initiative will increase renewable energy deployment in places suitable for generation and locations where power is required, reducing energy storage costs. It demonstrates India’s dedication to addressing the climate crisis.

These are all brave and ambitious targets and announcements by India. They show that the nation is committed to resolving the climate crisis. Currently, India’s power sector is primarily coal-dependent. It is estimated that 3.6 million people are directly or indirectly employed in the coal sector. To phase-down coal power, just transitions are imperative for India to ensure lost jobs are replenished with renewable energy jobs and re-skilled human capital. India received significant backlash for diluting the original term ‘phase-out’ (though this phrasing originated in the US-China joint announcement) but given its dependence on coal, phase-down is a more realistic and pragmatic approach to its coal sector.

India has set a net-zero year 50 years away and still has not peaked its emissions. India will have a small window between its peaking year and net-zero year which will determine the disruptive pace and scale of transition. A recent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water estimated that if India were to peak emissions by 2040 and meet its net-zero target in 2070, with commercially available hydrogen but expensive carbon capture and storage, it would need to install 5,630 GW solar-based electricity, 1,792 GW wind power and 225 GW nuclear power by 2070. This mammoth transition is only possible through a just transition out of coal. Additionally, aggressive investments will be required to achieve India’s net-zero target. It is estimated that India would need about US$10.1 trillion between 2020 and 2070 for the power, hydrogen and mobility sectors.

Currently, India’s current installed capacity stands at 405 GW, out of which the renewable energy capacity is 162 GW and it is expected to have 500 GW of non-fossil power installed by 2030. This means that it will need to exponentially add renewable energy capacity, almost replacing its entire present power fleet. What is remarkable for India is that it has already achieved 40 per cent of its electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel by 2022. This was one of its Nationally Determined Contributions targets and was supposed to be achieved by 2030.

India is estimated to have suffered about US$80 billion in losses due to extreme climate events in the last two decades. Being one of the most vulnerable countries, 17 out of 20 people in India are vulnerable to extreme hydro metrological disasters such as cyclones, floods and droughts. Southern Indian states are most vulnerable to all three climate extremes.

India will need new technologies, innovation, and adequate human resources to overcome these challenges. Although the need for technology transfer and capacity building have been highlighted in the cover decision of COP26, it is noted as a one-way donor-receiver transaction. This approach will only partly benefit India. Instead, India and the developed countries must co-develop and co-own new technologies and solutions. This will benefit India by bringing in investments, research and infrastructure facilities and human resource development.

Atul Kumar 
The author is currently a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Delhi.

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