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

Orderly path to net zero


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Net zero

Mains level: India's plans of decarbonization and orderly transition towards net zero



  • India’s per capita emissions are relatively low (1.8 tons of CO2e per person), but we are still the world’s third-largest single emitter. India has pledged to get to net zero by 2070. This goal can only be met with urgent actions in this decade, potentially accelerated through India’s recently-assumed G20 presidency.

Current trajectory

  • Emissions are set to grow: On its current trajectory, India’s emissions are set to grow from 2.9 GtCO2e a year to 11.8 GtCO2e in 2070.
  • Decarbonisation comes with the cost: According to a recent McKinsey report, effective decarbonisation, down to 1.9 GtCO2e by 2070, would require India to spend a total of $7.2 trillion on green initiatives by 2050. This line of sight (LoS) scenario is based on announced policies and expected technology adoption.
  • Investment needed: Deeper decarbonisation an accelerated scenario that would reduce emissions to just 0.4 GtCO2e by 2050, or close to net zero would require $12 trillion in total green investments by 2050. Under this scenario, India could create 287 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon space for the world, almost half of the global carbon budget, for an even chance at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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Memory shot: Net Zero

  • Net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with remaining emissions re-absorbed by oceans/ forests.
  • China, US, EU and India contribute 75% of total GHG emissions
  • However, per capita GHG emissions for US, EU and China are7,3 and 3 times of India
  • India has set target to achieve net zero emissions by 2070.


What India needs to speed up the decarbonization?

  • Orderly transition will benefit but the projects are of heavy investments: To take just one example, If India shifted to a predominantly renewable (and hydrogen)-based energy and materials system, it could save as much as $3 trillion in foreign exchange by 2070. While the investment is large, a vast majority of the abatement projects are in the money.
  • Investment, regulation and capacity building is necessary: Three-quarters of the buildings, infrastructure, and industrial capacity of India in 2050 is yet to be built. We have a choice to invest in current technologies or to invest futuristically. Futuristic investment will need India to take urgent actions in this decade on regulation, technology development, and on technology adoption to make the right investments.
  • Employing the experience in renewable power: In renewable power, the right policies, strong institutions and industrial capabilities built in the last decade are providing India with the base to scale up four to five times in this decade.
  • Making electric vehicles competitive in the market: India also has other advantages. For example, its high taxation on automotive fuels translates to an imputed carbon tax of $140 to $240 per tonne of carbon dioxide. This makes electric vehicles competitive against petrol or diesel ones, explaining the recent rapid growth of electric two-wheelers.


Ideas for India’s orderly transition

  • Setting up national and structural decarbonisation plans: Set out five-year, 10-year, and 25-year national decarbonisation plans. Policies that enable carbon prices or blending mandates can make the economics viable. Such policies need to be held steady and require coordination across sectors like power, hydrogen and steel. A national decarbonisation plan would enable timely investment decisions.
  • Defining a national land use plan and consider using barren lands for renewables: India risks being land-short for its dual goals of growth and decarbonisation. For example, McKinsey estimates that renewable power and forest carbon sinks need 18 million additional hectares of land. India would need to maximise the use of barren land for renewable power, urbanise vertically, improve agricultural productivity, and increase forest density.
  • Accelerate compliance with carbon markets: Pricing carbon creates demand signals that accelerate emissions reductions, especially in hard-to-abate sectors. Let’s illustrate this through steel, demand for which could multiply eight times by 2070; right now, much of the new capacity is likely to be added using high-emission coal. With a price on carbon emissions, more expensive green steel becomes competitive against high-emission steel. For example, a carbon price of $50 a ton could make green steel cost competitive by 2030, leading to the possibility of the next 200 million tons of capacity being created through low-emissions technologies.
  • Investing in opportunities: Companies can aim to play on the front foot, investing in opportunities like recycling, hydrogen, biomass, electrolysers, rare earths, battery materials and battery making. Some of these opportunities would take time to mature. Meanwhile, companies could invest in opportunities opened up by decarbonisation of other countries, such as exporting green hydrogen derivatives like ammonia.


  • To embark on an orderly path to net zero, India needs imagination, realism, determination and a sense of urgency. An orderly transition to net zero could help India decarbonize while creating an engine for growth. We must take steps this decade to set things up, to establish momentum, and to build India right for generations to come.

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