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

Why India shouldn’t sign on to net zero


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Global carbon budget

Mains level: Paper 3- Why India should not commit to net-zero emission target


The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear that limiting the increase in the world’s average temperature from pre-industrial levels to those agreed in the Paris Agreement requires global cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide to be capped at the global carbon budget.

Understanding why reaching net zero by itself is irrelevant to forestalling dangerous warming

  • The promise of when you will turn off the tap does not guarantee that you will draw only a specified quantity of water.
  • The top three emitters of the world — China, the U.S. and the European Union — even after taking account of their net zero commitments and their enhanced emission reduction commitments for 2030, will emit more than 500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide before net zero.
  • These three alone will exceed the limit of about 500 billion tonnes from 2020 onwards, for even odds of keeping global temperature increase below 1.5°C.

Issues with ‘net zero’ target

  • Neither the Paris Agreement nor climate science requires that net zero be reached individually by countries by 2050, the former requiring only global achievement of this goal “in the second half of the century”.
  • Claims that the world “must” reach specific goals by 2030 or 2050 are the product of specific economic models for climate action.
  • They front-load emission reduction requirements on developing countries, despite their already low emissions, to allow the developed world to backload its own, buying time for its own transition.
  • These stringent limits on future cumulative emissions post 2020, amounting to less than a fifth of the total global carbon budget, is the result of its considerable over-appropriation in the past by the global North.
  • Promises of net zero in their current form perpetuate this hugely disproportionate appropriation of a global commons, while continuing to place humanity in harm’s way.

Suggestions for India

  • India is responsible for no more than 4.37% cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial era, even though it is home to more than a sixth of humanity.
  • India’s per capita emissions are less than half the world average, less than one-eighth of the U.S.’s.
  • For India to declare net zero now is to accede to the further over-appropriation of the global carbon budget by a few.
  • India’s contribution to global emissions, in both stock and flow, is so disproportionately low that any sacrifice on its part can do nothing to save the world.
  • India, in enlightened self-interest, must now stake its claim to a fair share of the global carbon budget.
  • Technology transfer and financial support, together with “negative emissions”, if the latter succeeds, can compensate for the loss of the past.
  • Such a claim by India provides it greater, and much-needed long-term options.
  • It enables the responsible use of coal, its major fossil fuel resource, and oil and gas, to bootstrap itself out of lower-middle-income economy status and eradicate poverty, hunger and malnutrition for good.
  • India’s resource-strapped small industries sector needs expansion and modernisation.
  • The agriculture sector, the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for India after energy, needs to double its productivity and farmers’ incomes and build resilience.
  •  Infrastructure for climate resilience in general is critical to future adaptation to climate change.
  • All of these will require at least the limited fossil fuel resources made available through a fair share of the carbon budget.


Without restriction of their future cumulative emissions by the big emitters, to their fair share of the global carbon budget, and the corresponding temperature target that they correspond to made clear, India cannot sign on to net zero.

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