UN envoy urges India to raise climate ambition

Luis de Alba praised rapid expansion of renewable energy and pressed the government to go further, on a visit to Delhi

Delhi (Pic: Jean Etienne Minh Duy/Flickr)


The UN is putting pressure on India to announce a strengthened decarbonisation plan at a leaders’ summit on climate action in September.

UN special envoy on climate change Luis Alfonso de Alba met with Indian government officials in Delhi on Tuesday to discuss what the country will bring to the New York event.

It comes after UN secretary general António Guterres sent a letter to all heads of state, asking them to come to the summit with plans to upgrade their 2030 ambition and set a course for carbon neutrality by 2050. Countries are due to formally submit updated climate plans to UN Climate Change by 2020.

India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, the US and EU. Its carbon footprint is growing fast as the government encourages both coal and renewable generation to expand access to energy among its 1.2 billion people.

Under the Paris Agreement, India pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of its economy 33-35% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. But forecasts show India is likely to significantly overachieve one of its commitments.

Guterres asks all countries to plan for carbon neutrality by 2050

A recent report by India’s Central Electricity Authority shows the country is already close to achieving its 2030 target to get 40% of power capacity from non-fossil fuel sources – more than a decade early – and could reach 65% in March 2030.

“I am aware that India has achieved a lot and it may surpass its Paris agreement targets. I hope that this will translate into enhanced [climate commitments],” de Alba said in a briefing with national media.

“That is a decision the Indian Government should take in the coming day,” he said, adding that “more needs to be done on agriculture, air quality and other issues”.

De Alba hinted at a commitment from the Indian government to increase its climate targets but said he wasn’t aware of the specifics. “It’s for the government to announce that at the summit,” he said.

Following the meeting, India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted the government was “walking the talk” on climate action.

Not everyone is optimistic India is ready to ramp up ambition. Guterres set a 7 August deadline for countries to communicate what they will bring to the meeting.

J M Mauskar, a former Indian climate negotiator and co-chair of the UN climate talks in 2012, told Climate Home News: “I am not sure any large country will be able to announce anything new about their [national climate contributions] by that deadline…

“But it’s entirely possible that by September there will be some degree of elaboration and clarification of the [climate] goal – note that I am not talking about enhancement here.”

Mauskar was equally sceptical about India’s capacity to adopt a carbon neutrality by 2050 target.

“In India, carbon neutrality is not being talked about as a firm target but as an aspirational goal,” he said, adding that achieving net zero emissions would depend on the availability of finance and technology.

Analysis: Which countries have a net zero carbon goal?

For a 50% chance to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C of warming by the end of the century, the world needs to become carbon neutral by 2050, according to the latest scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If rich, developed countries were to achieve carbon neutrality earlier than 2050, it would give poorer countries longer to make the shift. But while the UK and France have each set a 2050 net zero emissions target in law, no major economy has adopted a more ambitious timeline.

Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the New Delhi-based  Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) told Climate Home News “if the UK is saying [net zero by] 2050, India will say we are going to do it by 2070”.

“I would like India to be [carbon neutral by] 2050 and the UK to be doing aggressive work in the next 15 years, with all the money and resources [it has]” to achieve net zero earlier, he said.

Other campaigners in India are calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead by example and establish a viable pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.

This would make India “an example for other rapidly developing economies to emulate,” said Damandeep Singh, director of CDP India, an initiative to get corporations disclosing and managing climate risk.

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Elsewhere, Guterres’ efforts to push countries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 have been welcomed by campaigners.

In China, Li Shuo, senior climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace, praised Guterres’ asks for being “perfectly in line with the Paris Agreement”.

“However politically audacious it may look, his letter is no more than a simple reminder to the countries of their own obligations,” he told CHN, adding Guterres’ summit will be a test for China and other major emitters.

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