Independent charitable organisation Oxfam has said that ‘net zero’ carbon targets that many countries have announced may be a “dangerous distraction” from the priority of cutting carbon emissions.
What does net-zero mean?
Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero.Net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
- Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
- This way, it is even possible for a country to have negative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions.
- A good example is Bhutan which is often described as carbon-negative because it absorbs more than it emits.
Initiatives for net-zero goal:
A very active campaign has been going on for the last two years to get every country to sign on to a net-zero goal for 2050.
- It is being argued that global carbon neutrality by 2050 is the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of keeping the planet’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times.
- Current policies and actions being taken to reduce emissions would not even be able to prevent a 3–4°C rise by the turn of the century.
The goal of carbon neutrality:
The goal of carbon neutrality is only the latest formulation of a discussion going on for decades, on having a long-term goal.
- Long-term targets ensure predictability, and continuity, in policies and actions of the countries. But there has never been a consensus on what this goal should be.
- Earlier, the discussions used to be on emission-reduction targets, for 2050 or 2070, for rich and developed countries, whose unregulated emissions over several decades are mainly responsible for global warming and consequent climate change.
- The net-zero formulation does not assign any emission reduction targets on any country.
Net-zero and India:
India is the only one opposing this target because it is likely to be the most impacted by it.
- India’s position is unique.
- Over the next two to three decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it presses for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
- No amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions.
- Most of the carbon removal technologies right now are either unreliable or very expensive.
Arguments in favour of India:
On principle as well as practice, India’s arguments are not easy to dismiss.
- The net-zero goal does not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the new global architecture to fight climate change.
- The Paris Agreement only requires every signatory to take the best climate action it can.
- Countries need to set five- or ten-year climate targets for themselves, and demonstrably show they have achieved them.
- The other requirement is that targets for every subsequent time-frame should be more ambitious than the previous one.
At the same time, India has been saying that it does not rule out the possibility of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2050 or 2060. Just that, it does not want to make an international commitment so much in advance.