COP26: India in rumble over global climate target
India, the country with the highest energy needs in the world, is in a fix over the global climate target aimed to limit global warming to preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Even under the most optimistic projections, a part of India’s demand must be met by dirty coal power, a key source of heat-trapping carbon emissions.
According to Rameshwar Prasad Gupta, India’s top environmental official in New Delhi, the country can either compromise on development needed to lift millions from poverty, or it can continue burning coal from the country’s vast domestic reserves.
Gupta said this a week before the United Nations climate summit at Glasgow, known as COP26.
With just days remaining for the crucial talks, a fundamental question remains: Will there be enough “carbon space” in the atmosphere for India’s developmental needs to coexist with the global ambition of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.
Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister announced recently that the country would aim to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2070 – two decades after the U.S., and at least 10 years later than China. But this will only shave off a tenth of a degree of the world’s warming, said climate scientist Niklas Hohne, of the New Climate Institute and the Climate Action Tracker.
Though India accounts for the most annual emissions after China and the U.S., its negotiators in Glasgow have, time and again, pointed out that they have historically contributed a fraction of the world’s emissions. Moreover, they say, the typical American uses 12 times more electricity than the average Indian.
Bhupender Yadav, the Indian environment and climate change minister told the Associated Press in an interview that “ it is a matter of “conscience” and that those countries historically responsible for emissions need to keep their unfulfilled promise of providing climate finance.
Modi said earlier at the summit that India expected the world’s developed nations to make $1 trillion available as climate finance. As things stand right now, the climate finance from rich nations to align with the 1.5 degrees Celsius target is “nowhere to be seen,” said Chirag Gajjar, a climate expert at the World Resources Institute.
Niklas Hohne,a climate expert maintained that it is possible for the goal of 1.5 degrees and India’s development needs to coexist. What is key, he said, is not building any new coal-fired power plants anywhere in the world, including India, and shutting “some coal-fired power plants” before their time.
“India’s short-term targets for 2030 – increasing its current capacity of non-fossil fuel electricity to 500 gigawatts and using green energy to meet half of its needs, cutting carbon emissions by a billion tons compared with previous targets, and reducing the carbon intensity of its economy by 45% – would not have any impact,” Hohne said.
But experts said these goals are ambitious for India, considering its developmental status, and will be far from easy.
For instance, India will have to triple its non-fossil fuel capacity in less than a decade. And for that, its power sector will have to completely reimagine itself. States, whose entire economies have centred on coal for centuries, will have to diversify.