India Is Poised to Become a Global Climate Leader. Here's How It Can Succeed.
The country has an opportunity to accelerate its plan for net zero emissions.
“We have opened a new chapter of hope in the lives of 7 billion people on the planet,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environmental minister, said upon signing the Paris climate agreement in 2015. “We have today reassured these future generations that we will all together give them a better earth.”
Five years after that historic declaration, India has a unique opportunity to open yet another chapter for human history, one that puts the world decisively on the path to achieving the Paris climate agreement’s goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
India can lead this effort by taking concrete steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the weeks ahead.
Right now, many governments are in the process of updating their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which outline a country’s plans to reduce emissions. These plans are supposed to be updated in five-year intervals.
India is one of the only countries on track to achieve its NDCs from 2015, but it’s also one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has a rapidly growing climate footprint, meaning its previous commitments have to be adapted to a shifting reality. The country’s emissions have grown by 183.5% since 1990; China is the only country whose emissions have increased by a larger rate.
Carbon Brief reports that India is one of six major emitting countries — alongside Indonesia, Iran, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa — that have yet to put forward new NDCs.
On Earth Day on April 22, world leaders are joining US President Joe Biden to discuss how they take work together to accelerate climate action. India can show its leadership by unveiling NDCs that describe a net zero future by 2050.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already indicated that he plans to escalate his country’s climate commitments, and that he also expects countries like the US to support international financing for the transition to a post-carbon society.
Global Citizen is calling on India to embark on a green economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by investing in green infrastructure, renewable energy, and climate adaptation measures that will put the country on track to achieving net zero emissions.
Right now, the country is on track to achieve net zero emissions by the 2060s, according to the International Energy Agency.
Accelerating this target will require transformative change across India’s economy, from how it produces electricity and food to how people travel and how buildings are constructed.
Most importantly, the country will have to invest in renewable sources of energy, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. India currently generates 23% of its electricity from renewable sources, and plans to raise this proportion to 40% by 2030. By 2050, analysts say that the country has to get at least 90% of its energy from renewables.
The vast majority of the country’s energy comes from burning coal, which is the dirtiest fossil fuel both in terms of the air pollution it causes and its greenhouse gas footprint.
The private sector has already shown a willingness to support this transition with many leading companies adopting net zero pledges.
India also has to invest in conservation and restoration projects because ecosystems help to draw down greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. India’s forests, for instance, are increasingly threatened by fires. By investing in forest protection, the country can safeguard forests and communities.
As part of its initial NDCs, India vowed to pull 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a mix of natural carbon sinks like forests and technological interventions.
Nature-based solutions — protecting and expanding natural ecosystems — will play an important role in India’s transformation. The country’s forests, wetlands, and mangroves can absorb carbon dioxide, support livelihoods, and protect communities from storms, according to the World Resources Institute.
India is highly vulnerable to climate impacts such as droughts, flooding, and heatwaves. The country has faced extreme water shortages and its primary sources of water are in jeopardy. By investing in climate action, the country can become a global environmental leader, while also ensuring the future prosperity of its people.