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

What to consider before India takes ‘net-zero’ pledge


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Whether or not India should consider net zero emission target by 2050?

There are several issues with the adoption of net zero-emission targets. One of the most important being the lack of equity. This article deals with this issue.

About net-zero emission targets

  • The “net zero” idea is inspired by an IPCC report that calls for global net emissions – GHG emissions minus removal of GHGs through various means to reach zero by mid-century.
  • This builds on a clause in the Paris Climate Agreement, calling for a balance between sources and sinks of emissions by the second half of the century.
  • It is worth underscoring that none of this implies that each country has to reach net-zero by 2050.
  • Net-zero announcements signals a progressive direction of travel and has the apparent merit of presenting a simple and singular benchmark for assessing the performance of a country.

3 Issues with net zero targets

  • First, it potentially allows countries to keep emitting today while relying on yet-to-be-developed and costly technologies to absorb emissions tomorrow.
  • Second, its focus on long-term targets displaces attention from meaningful short-term actions that are credible and accountable.
  • Third., it calls into question concerns of equity and fairness.

Balancing the concerns of developing and developed countries

  • The Paris Agreement, while urging global peaking as soon as possible, explicitly recognises that peaking will take longer for developing countries.
  • The Paris Agreement calls for achieving balance in developing and developed nation “on the basis of equity” and in the context of “sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”.
  • Therefore, the Paris Agreement does not advocate uptake of net-zero targets across developed and developing countries, as currently being advocated by many countries.
  • Rather, the emphasis in the agreement on equity, sustainable development and poverty eradication suggests a thoughtful balancing of responsibilities between developed and developing countries.

Factors India should consider before taking zero-emission target

  • Our first nationally determined contribution (NDC) submitted under the Paris Agreement has been rated by observers as compatible with a 2 degrees Celsius trajectory.
  • We are ahead of schedule in meeting our contribution.
  • Now, India will need to decide whether to join a growing number of countries (over 120 at last count) that have pledged to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050.
  • But it is not clear that enhancing mitigation action can definitively deliver net-zero emissions by 2050, given that our emissions are still rising, and our development needs are considerable.
  • There is a possibility that a not fully thought-through mid-century net-zero target would compromise sustainable development.
  • Moreover, such a major shift in our negotiating position will have implications for the future, including our ability to leverage additional finance and technology to help shift to low-carbon development pathways.
  • Our 2 degrees Celsius compatible NDC, bolstered by the Prime Minister’s announcement in 2019 that we would achieve 450 GW of renewables by 2030, could be strengthened.
  • Building on this track record suggests an alternate and equally, if not more, compelling, way to indicate climate ambition in the future than uncritically taking on a net-zero target.

Way forward

  • We would benefit from taking stock of our actions and focusing on near-term transitions.
  • This will allow us to meet and even over-comply with our 2030 target while also ensuring concomitant developmental benefits, such as developing a vibrant renewable industry.
  • We can start putting in place the policies and institutions necessary to move us in the right direction for the longer-term and also better understand the implications of net-zero scenarios before making a net-zero pledge.
  • It would also be in India’s interest to link any future pledge to the achievement of near-term action by industrialised countries.
  • That would be fair and consistent with the principles of the UNFCCC.

Consider the question “Growing number of countries have been setting net-zero emission target. In light of this, examine the issues India should consider before setting itself the net zero emission targets.”


India, like others, have a responsibility to the international community, we also have a responsibility to our citizens to be deliberate and thoughtful about a decision as consequential as India’s climate pledge.

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