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

What is net-zero, and what are India’s objections?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Net-zero emission, Paris Agreement

Mains level : India's emission targets

In its bid to reclaim the global climate leadership (stalled since Trump) the US is widely expected to commit itself to a net-zero emission target for 2050 at the virtual Climate Leaders’ Summit convened by Prez Joe Biden.

Net-Zero Goal

  • Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero.
  • Rather, net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while the removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
  • This way, it is even possible for a country to have negative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions.
  • A good example is Bhutan which is often described as carbon-negative because it absorbs more than it emits.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2016:

Q.With reference to the Agreement at the UNFCCC Meeting in Paris in 2015, which of the following statements is/are correct?

  1. The Agreement was signed by all the member countries of the UN and it will go into effect in 2017.
  2. The Agreement aims to limit the greenhouse gas emissions so that the rise in average global temperature by the end of this century does not exceed 20C or even 1.50C above pre-industrial levels.
  3. Developed countries acknowledged their historical responsibility in global warming and committed to donate S 1000 billion a year from 2020 to help developing countries to cope with climate change.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a)    1 and 3 only

(b)    2 only

(c)    2 and 3 only

(d)    1, 2 and 3

The global target

  • The goal of carbon neutrality is only the latest formulation of a discussion going on for decades, on having a long-term goal.
  • A very active campaign has been going on for the last two years to get every country to sign on to a net-zero goal for 2050.
  • It is being argued that global carbon neutrality by 2050 is the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of keeping the planet’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times.
  • Current policies and actions being taken to reduce emissions would not even be able to prevent a 3–4°C rise by the turn of the century.
  • Long-term targets ensure predictability, and continuity, in the policies and actions of the countries. But there has never been a consensus on what this goal should be.

Going beyond emission reduction

  • Earlier, the discussions used to be on emission-reduction targets, for 2050 or 2070, for rich and developed countries.
  • These unregulated emissions over several decades are mainly responsible for global warming and consequent climate change.
  • The net-zero formulation does not assign any emission reduction targets to any country.
  • Theoretically, a country can become carbon-neutral at its current level of emissions, or even by increasing its emissions, if it is able to absorb or remove more.

Global actions for net-zero

  • 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.
  • India, the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the US and China, is the only major player holding out.

India’s position is unique

  • 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 is already doing more

  • 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.

Fuss over developed countries contribution

  • New Delhi also repeatedly points to the fact that the developed nations have never delivered on their past promises and commitments.
  • No major country achieved the emission-cut targets assigned to them under the Kyoto Protocol, the climate regime preceding the Paris Agreement.
  • Some openly walked out of the Kyoto Protocol, without any consequences.
  • None of the countries has delivered on the promises they made for 2020.
  • Even worse is their track record on their commitment to providing money, and technology, to developing and poor countries to help them deal with the impacts of climate change.

India’s way forward

  • India has been arguing that the 2050 carbon-neutrality promise might meet a similar fate, although some countries are now finding themselves in law.
  • It has been insisting that the developed countries should, instead, take more ambitious climate actions now, to compensate for the unfulfilled earlier promises.
  • At the same time, it has been saying that it does not rule out the possibility of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 or 2060.
  • Just that, it does not want to make an international commitment so much in advance.

Back2Basics: Paris Agreement

  • 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.
  • To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
  • It is a landmark process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

The action plan

  • Implementation of the Paris Agreement requires economic and social transformation, based on the best available science.
  • The Agreement works on a 5- year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries.
  • By 2020, countries submit their plans for climate action known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

[Burning Issue] Five Years of Paris Agreement

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