Narendra Modi committed to net zero by 2070: What does this mean and why it is a historic step in fighting climate change

"India will achieve net zero emissions by 2070."

This statement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, Scotland on Monday became headlines all over the world and India.

The net-zero commitment was part of the prime minister’s new climate change targets and quickly became one of the most applauded and appreciated sentiments from the meet, which saw several other world leaders and activists pledging to improve the situation.

As experts laud Modi for his brave and historic speech, let’s understand what is net zero emissions and why it is critical in the fight against climate change.

Net Zero emissions

Net zero emissions has been a part of the climate change lexicon for a really long time. However, many still remain confused over zero emissions and net zero emissions.

For clarification: Achieving zero emissions means releasing no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere—that is, no carbon dioxide (CO2), no methane, no nitrous oxide or other greenhouse gases whereas achieving net zero emissions means greenhouse gases are still released, but these are offset by removing an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing it permanently in soil, plants, or materials.

India and net zero emissions

Presently, India is the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, after China and the United State and the European Union, according to EC, Emissions Database for Global Atomspheric Research.

China has announced plans for carbon neutrality by 2060, while the US and EU aim to hit net zero by 2050.

In his National Statement, Narendra Modi listed out five promises (he termed them as panchamrit). They are:
• To raise the non-fossil fuel based energy capacity of the country to 500 GW by 2030
• By 2030, 50 percent of the country’s energy requirements would be met using renewable energy sources
• The country will reduce the total projected carbon emission by one billion tonnes between now and 2030
• The carbon intensity of the economy would be reduced to less than 45 percent by 2030
• The country would become carbon neutral and achieve net zero emissions by the year 2070

Reactions to achieving net zero by 2070

A PTI report quoted Aarti Khosla, Director, Climate Trends, as saying, "By announcing a commitment for achieving net zero targets by 2070, India has responded positively to the global call and it was the best climate action in Glasgow today."

"Ensuring that the new energy regime doesn't bring the pitfalls of the current regime will be fundamental. Solar and wind are poised to emerge as the future in the net zero world," she said.

"PM Modi cut through the rhetoric and delivered a big promise of climate action from India. Reducing one billion tonnes of emissions by 2030 and expanding non-fossils capacity to 500 GW are enormous and transformative steps," said Ajay Mathur, Director General, International Solar Alliance (ISA).

Chandra Bhushan, CEO, iForest, said these steps will go a long way in solving the climate crisis. "India's announcement of an ambitious 2030 target and a Net zero target is a big step for climate collaboration. I congratulate the PM for announcing this bold step which will go a long way in greening the Indian economy and solving the climate crisis," he said.

Why is Net Zero critical?

The Climate Council explains: “Climate change isn’t a tap we can turn off once we stop using fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide, the main contributor to climate change, will stay in the atmosphere and keep heating the planet for years and years. So reducing greenhouse gas emissions is hugely important, but we can’t stop there. The end goal is to balance the scales again, and restore the global climate to pre-climate change levels. To get there, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero AND then get cracking on repairing past harm by drawing down past emissions.”

How India can achieve this?

A study co-authored by the former vice-chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, titled ‘Getting Net Zero Approach for India at CoP26 said that the best short term target for the nation would be a planned phasing out of coal-based power industries.

Another way would be to increase green cover in the country. In fact, over 100 world leaders promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.

The more complex way to remove carbon dioxide from the air would be carbon capture and storage in which new technology would be used to keep the CO2 from reaching the atmosphere.

While it is left to be seen if India can achieve these aims, it is historic for the nation as it was the first time ever that she committed to the target.

With inputs from agencies

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