[Burning Issue] Achieving Carbon Neutrality


For the country to transition to carbon neutrality is easier said than done, say, climate experts, as it needs to balance growth with eco-goals. A TERI and Shell report, ‘India: Transforming to a net-zero emissions energy system’, says it is “technically possible” to achieve the goal, but cautions that it would be a highly challenging pathway. TERI, warns that a complete phase-out of coal plants by 2050 is likely to be difficult because of the economics of harnessing incremental RE potential and subsequent integration to the grid system.


Insights into Editorial: Deconstructing declarations of carbon-neutrality -  INSIGHTSIAS
  • Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference. 
  • This can be done by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal (often through carbon offsetting) or by eliminating emissions from society.
  •  It is used in the context of carbon dioxide-releasing processes associated with transportation, energy production, agriculture, and industry.
  •  The term carbon neutral also includes other greenhouse gases, usually carbon-based, measured in terms of their carbon dioxide equivalence. 
  • The term “net-zero” is increasingly used to describe a broader and more comprehensive commitment to decarbonization and climate action. Net-zero emissions are achieved when your organization’s emissions of all greenhouse gases (CO2-e) are balanced by greenhouse gas removals


Carbon-neutral status can be achieved in two ways:

  • Carbon offsetting: Balancing carbon dioxide emissions with carbon offsets — the process of reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make up for emissions elsewhere. If the total greenhouse gasses emitted is equal to the total amount avoided or removed, then the two effects cancel each other out and the net emissions are ‘neutral’.
  • Reducing emissions: Reducing carbon emissions can be done by moving towards energy sources and industrial processes that produce fewer greenhouse gases, thereby transitioning to a low-carbon economy. Shifting towards the use of renewable energy such as hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar power, as well as nuclear power, reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Agreement and Target

  • The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
  • Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
  • Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement asks countries to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.
  • It also requires countries to undertake rapid reductions in carbon emissions to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases.
China Beat the U.S. to a Carbon Neutrality Pledge

Global Actions regarding the agreement

  • Several other countries, including the UK and France, have already enacted laws promising to achieve a net-zero emission scenario by the middle of the century.
  • The EU is working a similar Europe-wide law, while many other countries including Canada, South Korea, Japan and Germany have expressed their intention to commit themselves to a net-zero future.
  • Even China has promised to go net-zero by 2060.
  • The hollowness of nation-level carbon neutrality declarations by developed countries is brought out starkly when we consider the details, as in the case of the United States.
  • Emissions in the U.S. peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017, with a maximum annual reduction of 6.3% in 2009, at the height of a recession.
  • Even if it did reach net-zero by 2050 at a steady linear rate of reduction, which is unprecedented, its cumulative emissions between 2018 and 2050 would be 106 GtCO2, which is 22% of the total remaining carbon budget for the whole world so high, that unless others reduced emissions at even faster rates, the world would most certainly cross 1.5°C warmings.
  • Regrettably, a section of the climate policy modeling literature has promoted the illusion that this three-way compatibility is feasible through speculative “negative emissions”, ostensibly through a dramatic expansion of carbon capture, primarily by the biosphere.
  • They have also been promoting the other illusion that not resorting to any serious emissions increase at all is the means to guarantee the successful development of the Third World.

India @Net Zero emission

  • India is the only one opposing this target because it is likely to be the most impacted by it.
  • Over the next two to three decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it presses for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
  • No amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions.
  • Most of the carbon removal technologies right now are either unreliable or very expensive.

Why does India object to net-zero emissions?

  • The net-zero goals do not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the new global architecture to fight climate change.
  • The Paris Agreement only requires every signatory to take the best climate action it can.
  • Countries need to set five- or ten-year climate targets for themselves, and demonstrably show they have achieved them.
  • Implementation of the Paris Agreement has begun only this year.
  • Most of the countries have submitted targets for the 2025 or 2030 period.
  • India has been arguing that instead of opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero targets outside of the Paris Agreement framework, countries must focus on delivering on what they have already promised.

India’s step towards Net Zero emissions

  • India is hoping to lead by example. It is well on its way to achieving its three targets under the Paris Agreement and looks likely to overachieve them.
  • Several studies have shown that India is the only G-20 country whose climate actions are compliant with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C.
  • Even the actions of the EU, which is seen as the most progressive on climate change, and the US are assessed as “insufficient”.
  • In other words, India is already doing more, relatively speaking, on climate than many other countries.

How to achieve Net Zero emissions

  • Fossil fuels: The use of fossil fuels must go down steeply for the production of energy and electricity. Alternate sources must be bought into majority practices so as to achieve the target of carbon neutrality by 2050. Within renewables, the focus ought to be more on solar and wind energy—hydroelectricity, given its impact on aquatic ecology, at best maybe a filler. 
  • More electrification: Electricity is zero-emission when consumed, and the world needs to rely on it a lot more to hit its decarbonization goals. Much progress has been made in emerging economies, especially in Asia. But in many developed markets, the share of electricity in the total energy mix has stood still, or even slipped. For power companies, there needs to be a move away from fossil fuels such as coal and gas.
      (Wind & solar growth as part of global electricity generation)
  • Bioenergy to the fore once more: Focus must be shifted away from the “food versus fuel” dilemma, under which crop-based biofuels were linked with rising food prices, deforestation and conflict over land. Now there is a new generation of biofuels that can be made from inedible crops and oils, and from agricultural and municipal waste. 
                  (The production of biofuels from forestry waste)


  • Greater use of hydrogen: Hydrogen is light and storable and produces no direct CO2 emissions when converted into energy. That is why society needs to use more of it – and why governments should keep providing incentives to do so.
  • Carbon sequestration: Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change.


                     (Global carbon capture and storage capacity)


Way forward

  • Ours is the last generation that can prevent global disaster. The need for action is immediate. It therefore falls upon this generation of business, government and society leader to accelerate action individually and through collaboration.
  • All stakeholders – corporations, governments, investors and, ultimately, individuals – can take unilateral initiative to lower emissions, often with positive economic implications. Collective actions can support and amplify individual ones.
  • Where the costs and risks of taking action for individual companies are higher (for example, in emission-intensive sectors), ecosystems of industry peers, value chain players or public-private partnerships can work together, sharing the burden.
  • The world needs decisive action at every level to change the trajectory of ever-increasing emissions. In light of the facts, it should be viewed as an opportunity for businesses, countries and individuals to create an advantage in building a better, more sustainable world.
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