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Is India On Track to Meeting the Paris Agreement's 2°C Goal?

Dec 15, 2020 12:19 PM 4 min read

Five years ago, representatives from nearly every nation on earth patted themselves on the back in Paris. They were raising a toast to the first comprehensive climate action plan the world had agreed upon - the Paris Agreement.

On Saturday, December 12th, world leaders convened for a virtual climate conference - the Climate Ambition Summit - co-hosted by the UK, France and the UN. The agenda before the leaders was simple: To update the world on their country’s record on meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets and set the stage for next year’s larger climate congregation - COP26.

At this summit on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India is not only on track to achieve its 2030 targets, but to better them “beyond expectations”.

What were India’s targets? Were they actually met? What comes next?

But first, a bit of background...


The Paris Agreement for Dummies

This is the international pact that was negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties at a UN conference in Paris and adopted by consensus on December 12th,2015.

Nearly every country on earth is party to the Agreement. Notable exceptions include Iran, Turkey and the US (which formally withdrew in 2020).

As per the Paris Agreement, the goal is to limit the increase in global average temperature to below 2°C, and striving to limit this further to below 1.5°C.

To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries are aiming to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible so as to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.

For example, China has said it will reach peak emissions by 2030; some countries like Russia, Germany and Canada have already passed their carbon peak. (Here’s an interactive chart on this.)

Knowing when emissions will peak is crucial, because it can show when a net-zero carbon future can be reached. Some countries have already announced individual deadlines - Japan and South Korea plan to go carbon-neutral by 2050; China, the world’s largest polluter, says it will strive for the same by 2060. (FYI: India is yet to set an emission peak/carbon-neutral deadline for itself.)

The climate accord stipulates that each country can develop its own strategies to meet the targets set - and to communicate the same to the global community. Thus, it works on five-year cycles of “increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries”. The countries’ action plans constitute the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which were discussed in Saturday’s conference.


India’s Report Card

A November report by a global coalition of think tanks analysed countries’ individual climate policies to find if they were sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals.

As per the report, India is the only OECD country on track to meeting its 2015 climate commitments i.e. Its policies were “<2°C compatible”. Other countries’ progress was determined to be varying levels of “insufficient”.

FYI: OECD countries are mainly in focus because they are the largest greenhouse gas emitters. Smaller countries,especially low-lying or island nations tend to fare relatively better. In fact, two countries,Morocco and Gambia,have pursued policies that have been deemed to be “<1.5°C compatible”!


What We Promised

Now, India’s NDC included the following three key targets:

  1. To reduce the emissions intensity by 33-35% by 2030 below 2005 levels
  2. To increase the share of non-fossil-based energy resources to 40% of installed electric power capacity by 2030
  3. To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonne CO2 per annum through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 (FYI: a “carbon sink” is a reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon dioxide)


Where We Are

As per PM Modi, India has reduced its “emission intensity by 21% over 2005 levels...Our renewable energy capacity is the fourth largest in the world. It will reach 175 GW before 2022...We have also succeeded in expanding our forest cover”.

These three statements affirm that the country is largely on track to meeting its three key climate action targets.

The National Electricity Plan (NEP) 2018 has established a clear pathway to achieve 40% electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. As of Q1 2020, the country’s solar capacity stood at 36.6GW – which is miles behind that of other countries like China, Japan and the US – but it aims to reach 100GW capacity by 2022.

The India State of Forest Report 2019 showed that 25.56% of the country was covered by forests and trees - an increase of 5,188 square kilometres from 2017. (However, this is still far from the Government’s goal of achieving 33% forest cover.)

To achieve its climate goals, India has pursued a multi-pronged approach. This includes cuts in diesel usage by vehicles, 450 GW renewable energy capacity by 2030, stringent anti-pollution norms, cleaning Ganga initiative, energy efficiency step-up for electrical devices, and elevated levels of private sector participation through a myriad of initiatives striving for  net-zero emissions.


Where We Go From Here

The Government has enlisted near-term future goals, including the restoration of 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 and investing more in public transport systems like metros which will contribute to a cleaner environment.

The slowing growth in emissions, the rising adoption of green energy, and the slowly-but-surely increasing forest cover are all objectively positive developments. But that doesn’t mean the road ahead is bound to be rosy. Policy gaps, issues with taxation, pre-pandemic economic slowdown, recession-sparked dip in demand and various other obstacles stand imposing in front of the country’s 2030 climate goals. To sail through, these roadblocks would have to be confronted.

Drafting ambitious goals is one thing; following through is another ball game altogether. A developing country like India can stay true to climate commitments only as long as its economic growth is stable and robust. Going green - while undeniably indispensable in the long-term - is still a tedious and costly affair, especially for a fiscally strained Government of a recession in a pandemic-struck world.

Bottom line being: You can’t build a clean future with a faltering economy.


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