• India
  • Nov 02

What does net zero emissions mean?

At UN COP26 in Glasgow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070. Addressing the world leaders at the ‘High-Level Segment for Heads of States and Governments’  at the UN COP26, PM Modi said India is working hard in fighting climate change and it will show results.

India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), after China and the US.

What does net zero emissions mean?

• In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C – a threshold the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) suggests is safe – carbon neutrality by mid-21st century is essential. This target is also laid down in the Paris agreement signed by 196 Parties, including the EU.

• A host of countries have recently announced major commitments to significantly cut their carbon emissions, promising to reach “net zero” in the coming years. The term is becoming a global rallying cry, frequently cited as a necessary step to successfully beat back climate change, and the devastation it is causing.

• Put simply, net zero or carbon neutrality means we are not adding new emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue, but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

• Net zero emissions are achieved when anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. Where multiple greenhouse gases are involved, the quantification of net zero emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon). 

• In other words, carbon neutrality means having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks. Carbon sink is any system that absorbs more carbon than it emits.

• The energy sector is the source of around three‐quarters of greenhouse gas emissions today and holds the key to averting the worst effects of climate change, perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has faced.

• Reducing global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to net zero by 2050 is consistent with efforts to limit the long‐term increase in average global temperatures to 1.5°C. This calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, transport and consume energy.

How can the world move toward net zero?

• Practically every country has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels. If we continue to pump out the emissions that cause climate change, however, temperatures will continue to rise well beyond 1.5°C, to levels that threaten the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere.

• This is why a growing number of countries are making commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, or net zero emissions within the next few decades. It’s a big task, requiring ambitious actions starting right now.

• The countries need to demonstrate how they will get there. Efforts to reach net zero must be complemented with adaptation and resilience measures, and the mobilisation of climate financing for developing countries.

• The good news is that the technology exists to reach net zero and it is affordable.

• A key element is powering economies with clean energy, replacing polluting coal, gas and oil-fired power stations with renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar farms. This would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Plus, renewable energy is now not only cleaner, but often cheaper than fossil fuels.

• A wholesale switch to electric transport, powered by renewable energy, would also play a huge role in lowering emissions, with the added bonus of slashing air pollution in the world’s major cities. Electric vehicles are rapidly becoming cheaper and more efficient, and many countries, including those committed to net zero, have proposed plans to phase out the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars. 

Nature-based solutions

• Reducing emissions is extremely important. To get to net zero, we need to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Here again, solutions are at hand. 

• The most important have existed in nature for thousands of years. The “nature-based solutions” include forests, peat bogs, mangroves, soil and even underground seaweed forests, which are all highly efficient at absorbing carbon. This is why huge efforts are being made around the world to save forests, plant trees, and rehabilitate peat and mangrove areas, as well as to improve farming techniques.

Why should developed countries lead the way?

• Major emitters, such as the G20 countries, which generate 80 per cent of carbon emissions, in particular, need to significantly increase their present levels of ambition and action.

• Far greater efforts are needed to build resilience in vulnerable countries and for the most vulnerable people. They do the least to cause climate change but bear the worst impacts. Resilience and adaptation action do not get the funding they need, however.

• Even as they pursue net zero, developed countries must deliver on their commitment to provide $100 billion dollars a year for mitigation, adaptation and resilience in developing countries.

Net‐zero emissions pledges

• Net‐zero emissions pledges have been announced by national governments, sub-national jurisdictions, coalitions and a large number of corporate entities. 

• According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), over 40 countries and the European Union have pledged to meet a net zero emissions target. In total, they account for around 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions and GDP. 

• Of these, some countries have made meeting their net zero target a legal obligation. In 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050.

• The G7 countries have committed to aligning official international financing with the global achievement of net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050.

• China has proposed to achieve net zero target by 2060.

Key points on India’s pledge to achieve net zero target

• Presenting the country’s national statement at COP26, Modi listed out five commitments of India to combat climate change with an announcement that it will achieve the target of net zero emissions by the year 2070.

1) India will reach its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030.

2) India will meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.

3) India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now on till 2030.

4) By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 per cent.

5) By the year 2070, India will achieve the target of net zero. 

• Modi said that India is at number four in the world in installed renewable energy capacity. India’s non-fossil fuel energy has increased by more than 25 per cent in the last seven years. And now, it has reached 40 per cent of our energy mix.

• Indian Railways has set itself a target of making itself net zero by 2030. This initiative alone will lead to a reduction of 60 million tonnes of emissions annually. Similarly, a massive LED bulb campaign is reducing emissions by 40 million tonnes annually.

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