EXPLAINER: India is stepping up its climate goals; A look at the results so far and what’s new

On Wednesday, the Indian government turned two of the noteworthy pledges made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the climate change conference in Glasgow last year into formal targets that will now be a part of India’s international climate commitments for 2030.

These two pledges, which are both improvements of current goals, have been added to India’s NDC, or nationally determined commitments, and will be presented to the UN climate committee. According to the 2015 Paris Agreement, each nation must set its own climate goals, which must be gradually modified every few years with increasingly challenging ones. In 2015, just before the Paris Agreement was finalised, India submitted its first NDC.

The original India NDC had three primary goals for 2030:

A minimum of 40% of all energy generation must come from non-fossil renewable sources, down from 2005 levels.

A reduction of 33% to 35% in emissions intensity (or emissions per unit of GDP).

– Increasing the amount of forest cover would add 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to the global carbon sink.

PM Modi pledged to make India’s climate pledges stronger at the Glasgow gathering last year. He made five promises and referred to it as the “Panchamrit,” the Indian nectar produced from five different ingredients. Two of these included an upward revision of current targets, the ones that were included in the revised NDC on Wednesday and were given formal status.


Instead of just 33 to 35%, India will now lower its emission intensity from 2005 levels by at least 45% by 2030.

By 2030, it would also guarantee that at least 50%, not merely 40%, of the electricity it generates will originate from renewable sources.

The forestry goal remains unattained.

In addition to this, Modi had stated that by 2030, India’s installed electricity generation capacity would be based on non-fossil fuel sources to the extent of at least 500 GW. Additionally, he had pledged that between now and 2030, the nation will guarantee that at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent would not be emitted.

These two commitments have not been formalised as goals. However, they are interconnected with other objectives, so any advancements made toward official targets would also have an impact on these objectives.

Furthermore, Modi set a net zero objective for India for the year 2070. In a situation known as “net zero,” all of a nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are physically removed from the atmosphere using cutting-edge technologies, or they are absorbed naturally through processes such as photosynthesis in plants.

Net zero, however, is a long-term goal and is not acceptable for the NDC, which asks nations to submit climate targets for the next five to ten years.

India’s development

The two climate targets, which deal with reducing emissions intensity and increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in energy generation, have been revised upward. India will accomplish its current goals years before the deadline of 2030.

India’s emissions intensity was 24% lower in 2016 than it was in 2005, the most recent year for which data is officially available. The 33 to 35 percent reduction goal has either already been attained or is very close to being so. Even though these reductions get harder to achieve, a further decrease of 10–12% from here to fulfil the new target does not seem too difficult.

The other objective, which called for at least 40% of electricity to come from non-fossil fuels, has now been accomplished. The power ministry’s most recent statistics show that non-fossil fuels now account for 41.5% of India’s 403 GW installed electricity capacity. Hydropower makes up over 11% of this capacity, while renewable energy sources including wind, solar, and others make up over 28%.

A 10% increase in the percentage of non-fossil fuels used to generate electricity is not an impossible goal given that the majority of new capacity additions are occurring in the renewable energy sector.

PM Modi’s promises at Glasgow – A slippery slope

Modi made two pledges in Glasgow that haven’t been turned into official goals. India’s non-fossil fuel electricity generation capacity would reach 500 GW in 2030, according to the prime minister. Additionally, he had stated that between now and 2030, India would reduce its net projected emissions by at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

These two pledges were both tough. It is challenging to reach the 2030 non-fossil fuel electricity capacity objective of 500 GW. Over 236 GW, or 58.5 percent, of the current installed capacity of 403 GW comes from fossil fuel sources, while non-fossil fuels, which comprise not just renewable energy sources like solar and wind but also hydropower, nuclear power, and other sources, make up only 167 GW.

To accomplish the 500 GW goal, non-fossil capacity additions would need to treble in the following ten years.

The total installed electrical capacity has increased significantly over the past ten years (from 199 GW in 2012 to 403 GW now), but this is due to a variety of factors. While installed capacity from fossil fuels has doubled during this time, renewable energy has witnessed a remarkable development.

Even more troublesome was the pledge to cut at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from total estimated emissions through 2030. It was also the least clear target. It was the first time India had set a climate goal based on an absolute decrease in emissions.

But it appears that little planning went into its announcement. India’s emissions for 2030 are not officially projected. The trajectory of emissions from now to 2030 is likewise unclear. The aim would have had no purpose without a baseline.

India’s annual forecasts are anticipated to increase from over 3.3 billion tonnes in 2018 to approximately 4 billion tonnes by 2030, according to certain estimates. Thus, by the year 2030, India may have produced anywhere from 35 to 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. One billion tonnes less from this would be a reduction of 2.5 to 3%. Some government representatives contend that if India meets its stated goals, the benefits in terms of emissions saved could be far greater than one billion tonnes.

The revised NDC also clarifies some of the ambiguity that had resulted from the Prime Minister’s remarks in Glasgow. The words “energy” and “renewables” were interchanged in the written speech for “electricity” and “non-fossil energy sources,” respectively.

(With inputs from the Indian Express)

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