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LOOMING CLIMATE CHANGE- IS INDIA DOING ENOUGH



Climate change is the most pressing issue in the world today. It poses an even bigger threat to developing nations like India, exacerbating the issues of socio-economic insecurity and climate variability. Historically, it has never been a significant contributor to global carbon emissions; it accounted for a mere 4% of emissions between 1870 and 2019, despite having a much larger share of the population. Despite being the planet's third-largest emitter, with 2.8 Gigatonnes of CO2, India is far behind both the USA (at 5 Gigatonnes) and China (at 10.5 Gigatonnes). The country has met its planned goal of cutting down the emissions intensity of its GDP by 21% by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. According to reliable estimates, it is also on track to meet its 2015 objective of establishing a 40 per cent non-fossil fuel-based energy-producing capacity by 2023.


It suffices to say that goals are being achieved. In fact, some goals will be achieved before their timeline. But what do these goals mean? An independent research organisation that monitors governments' climate initiatives (Climate Action Tracker) has categorised India's efforts as "highly insufficient." India's objectives are centred on geopolitical circumstances rather than science. It is only committing to targets in proportion to what other nations are doing. Since, in the larger picture, almost none of the countries are doing enough to prevent a disaster, India is also not doing enough.


According to the World Economic Forum, climate change inaction is the greatest risk the world faces in the next ten years. So, there is no doubt that climate change is an issue that India needs to put its most focus on. But at COP26, India's commitments massively disappointed other nations in the climate deal. Our country agreed to reach its net zero emissions target by 2070, far behind many other countries, including the USA and China. What was even more disappointing was that India disputed the pledge to "phase out" coal; instead, it only committed to "phase down" coal. Several years ago, nations agreed to collectively work towards keeping global warming within 1.5C. India's negotiations concerning coal could severely impact this goal. Several small island states in the Pacific were already at significant risk, and this agreement has put them in a more precarious position.



India is showing no signs of reducing coal capacity, despite the government's promises. Several new coal projects are under development, and many more have been announced. Coal India Ltd. (a government-owned mining corporation) said that 114 coal projects are currently in various phases of development. These projects collectively have an output of 830 million tonnes per year. By 2030, India's coal capacity is all set to rise to over 260 GW from the present levels of 200 GW. Over 35 GW of coal generation will come into use within the next five years.


The government has also said that the emissions intensity will reduce by at least 45% by 2030. However, environmental experts believe that a reduction in emissions intensity does not always imply a reduction in total emissions. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) says that this target is not going to cause any reduction in emissions but is, in fact, raising them. India's goal contradicts any notion of a reasonable strategy to stay within the 1.5°C limits set by the Paris Agreement. If other countries adopt this approach, warming could easily reach 3°C, possibly even 4°C.



In terms of the percentage of energy generated by renewables, India is lagging behind most of its neighbours, including China, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The government is doing very little to encourage the adoption of renewable energy. Despite making some progress in this direction, India is likely to fail the unambitious target of 175 GW, which is to be achieved by the end of 2022. While subsidies and fiscal benefits are being provided for both fossil fuels and renewables, subsidies for the former are still more than 30% higher. Tax incentives and land subsidies are high for building coal stations.


The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles in India (FAME) is a crucial factor in India's greener transport strategy. But it has failed to meet almost all of its targets, including that of new charging stations and new car sales. The scheme thus adopted a new target–30% EV car sales by 2030. This target does not seem very achievable with the current budget and is not in line with the targets of 50% EVs adopted by a few countries.

According to the Union Ministry for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, the forest cover in India has improved to 24.5%. However, this figure conflicts with other reports. The International Union on Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that the land has only been brought under restoration, but the forest cover has hardly risen. India has thus failed to meet the target of 33% under forest cover by 2022, by a huge margin.


A recent report by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) reveals that India needs to invest at least $170 billion every year in climate action. However, the government spent a mere $19 billion on average in recent years. The argument here is that a country that is already striving to reduce widespread poverty cannot spare such a large sum on environmental action. We do not realise that the poor will bear the most damaging consequences of climate change. In fact, a paper titled "The Costs of Climate Change in India" said that warming could undo the developmental progress made in the last decade.


Simply put, India is not doing enough to combat climate change. Unless India adopts more ambitious targets and works diligently towards them, a climate disaster is inevitable. A fresh climate-smart growth trajectory could bring about a number of benefits, including poverty reduction, greater employment, and a better standard of living for everyone. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage public health and the health of the economy in general. The need for a green economy is now more critical than ever before, and this has to be kept in mind while moving forward.

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