HomeSpotlightNet Zero – Clock has started ticking

Net Zero – Clock has started ticking

The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, on 1st November made a bold statement at COP26 Summit in Glasgow according to which by the year 2070, India would achieve the target of Net Zero. Though there was pressure to prepone the date to 2050, the Prime Minister bought more time – 20 years –  to fulfil the promise. In other words, the success of this commitment largely depends upon current younger and future generation. Also, it should be noted that by giving more time to achieve the target, task may become even more tougher as the economic progress (which we are likely to achieve in the coming years) will normally come at the cost of environment.

Till date only a few countries like Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK who together account for only around 8 percent of global emissions have made binding Net Zero commitments under their national laws that place legal obligations on their governments to deliver. Another 10 countries or so, accounting for 43 percent of global emissions, have set Net Zero targets in policy documents or political pledges, but have not implemented any legal mechanisms that require their governments to achieve them. This shows that Net Zero delivery capability is largely lacking in many countries, including some high-income countries and we have a lot of distance to cover in our march towards Net Zero world.

The ratio of renewable energy development to fossil fuels remains low in many countries while in transport, many countries are lagging on investment in public transport and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Markets for energy efficient building retrofitting remain small across the world.

In most countries, the level of Net Zero preparedness on the national level is mirrored by the level of readiness in the five key sectors of electricity and heat, industry, transport, buildings, and agriculture, land use and forestry. Countries that score well on a national level also score well on a sectoral level, while countries that score less well for national preparedness also score less well for sector readiness.

First hurdle crossed, what next?

India has now set target to become Net Zero which is only the first step. Now the government needs to clearly set out strategies and actions through which it intends to deliver its Net Zero ambitions, including milestones and interim reduction targets, as well as economy-wide mechanisms such as carbon taxes and emissions trading. Remember, businesses require clear plans, policies and support mechanisms from government in order to stimulate delivery capability at sector level.

India who is soon going to get the tag of a country with largest population, is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally.  While emissions per person are relatively low, the country has also seen the second largest growth in the overall volume between 2010 and 2018. However, it is difficult, at this juncture, to predict when greenhouse gases from the country are expected to peak. Improvements to the standards of living and continuing rise of India’s middle class could create tensions with decarbonization.

Many projects are already under implementation

India has already undertaken a number of significant decarbonization projects which add up to one of the fastest programs among its peers. India has already set targets that were made under the country’s UN climate change nationally determined contributions that includes expanding renewable energy capacity to 175GW by 2022 and 450GW by 2030. The latter would be nearly five times the capacity of the 97GW available in June 2021, a level which has more than tripled since 2014. Solar and on-shore wind generation are the leading renewable sources, with many projects commissioned by the government-owned Solar Energy Corporation of India. No new coal-fired power stations have been announced in recent years and financing no longer looks possible.

Comprehensive planning needed

India is also working to improve energy efficiency in areas including lighting, electrical appliances and in industry. A strong policy framework has laid the foundations for its emission reduction program, but at the same time there is no comprehensive plan. There is no single energy ministry and in some cases policies conflict. We have an energy conservation building code, but its implementation is sloppy due to existence of many small-scale builders. Similarly, large industrial power users in the steel and cement sectors, as well as big data center operators are taking significant steps to decarbonize, but there is less progress among smaller businesses.

Policy changes are required not only at the national level but also at the sub national level. It should be noted that some states and cities are more agile than central government and can foster innovation and skills that can then support national decarbonization strategies. While there may be geographical or political hurdles to be overcome in converting sub-national projects into national ones and vice versa, we should derive inspiration from the way we implemented the GST regime and how we handled the Covid-19 pandemic.

Awareness needs to be created

More importantly, people need to be taken into confidence and awareness should be created about the ill effects of climate change and how it can be overcome. Net Zero measures, therefore, should clearly communicate benefits to the public, such as highlighting the lower pollution levels of electric vehicles and the benefits of retrofitting the old buildings. Some Net Zero efforts require a particularly strong push to change consumer behaviour. Agriculture, for example, remains a politically sensitive sector with some governments globally holding back on targeted policies such as the reduction of methane emissions from livestock.

Pairing disincentives with incentives can be effective, such as combining a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles with subsidies that make electric alternatives cheaper. Government must also tackle employment uncertainty for workers in high-carbon sectors, such as fossil fuels and conventional vehicles, through initiatives that protect jobs and create green employment opportunities.

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