Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Deconstructing declarations of carbon-neutrality


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues with declaring carbon neutral target

Against the global clamour for the declaration of carbon neutrality, India must consider several factors and their implications. The article highlights these factors.

Countries declaring carbon-neutral

  • At the latest count by the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), at the beginning of April, 32 countries had declared, in some documented form.
  • The impetus for such declarations arises from Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement.
  • It is evident that the balance of emissions and removal of greenhouse gases is not sought on a country-wise basis but for the world as a whole.
  • Both developed country governments and civil society outfits commonly state this as an individual commitment by all countries.
  • The text of the Paris Agreement clearly indicates, based on considerations of equity and differentiation, that this is a global goal.

2 critical and related issues

  • The first is the compatibility of the intent of Article 4.1 and Article 2.
  • 1) Is the achievement of carbon neutrality compatible with achieving the 1.5°C or 2°C goals?
  • And whether the mid-century carbon neutrality goals of developed countries are compatible with Article 2.2 of the Paris Agreement which focuses on equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

The current pledges fall short of achieving the targets

  • Three-way compatibility between temperature goals, carbon neutrality, and equity is not only not guaranteed, but cannot be achieved for the 1.5°C temperature goal at all.
  • Even for the 2°C goal, the current pledges are highly inadequate.
  • This conclusion is based on the global carbon budget.
  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report to restrict temperature rise less than 1.5° with 50% world can emit total 480 Giga-tonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq) from 2018 onwards.
  • At the current rate of emissions of about 42 GtCO2eq per year, this budget would be consumed in 12 years.
  • To keep within the 480 Gt budget, at a steady linear rate of decline, global carbon neutrality must be reached by 2039.
  • For a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to below 2°C, the world can emit 1,400 GtCO2eq, that provides considerably greater room for manoeuvre.

Emission of the U.S. and Europe

  • Emissions in the U.S. peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017.
  • 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. [480 GtCO2 total]
  • This is so high that unless others reduced emissions at even faster rates, the world would most certainly cross 1.5°C warming.
  • Similarly, the European Union, to keep to its fair share of the remaining carbon budget would have to reach net-zero by 2033, with a constant annual reduction in emissions.
  • If the EU reaches net-zero only by 2050 it would consume at least 71 GtCO2, well above its fair share.
  • Regrettably, a section of the climate policy modelling literature has promoted the illusion that this three-way compatibility is feasible through speculative “negative emissions”
  • 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.

Why India should avoid net neutrality target

  • For one, India has to stay focused on development — both as its immediate need as well as its aspirational goal.
  • While sustainability is desirable, the question of how low India’s future low-carbon development can be is highly uncertain.
  • India’s current low carbon footprint is a consequence of the utter poverty and deprivation of a majority of its population, and not by virtue of sustainability.
  • Second, India does not owe a carbon debt to the world for excessive use in the past.
  • India’s emissions (not considering land use and land use change and forest-related emissions) are no more than 3.5% of global cumulative emissions prior to 1990 and about 5% since till 2018.
  • Any self-sacrificial declaration of carbon neutrality today in the current international scenario would be a wasted gesture reducing the burden of the developed world and transferring it to the backs of the Indian people.

Consider the question “What are the factor India needs to consider about joining the global chorus on carbon neutrality targets.”


India’s approach to eventual net-zero emissions is contingent on deep first world emissions reductions and an adequate and unambiguous global carbon budget. Meanwhile, India must reject any attempt to restrict its options and be led into a low-development trap, based on pseudo-scientific narratives.

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