On November 1, from COP26 in Glasgow, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his country will commit to carbon neutrality, i.e. that it will stop emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than it can absorb, by 2070. This promise has been derided and criticized by some, who have judged it inadequate to the climate emergency, but it is also described as courageous and important by many newspapers. The reason for this difference in reactions is due to the fact that on the one hand India is the third country for greenhouse gas emissions in the world, on the other hand it is the 145th country in the world for per capita GDP, it has a growing population that today it already has 1.38 billion people and uses electricity half produced with coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.
The situation in India is emblematic of one of the biggest problems related to the climate crisis: the difficulty of reconciling interventions to reduce emissions with the needs of countries with economies still in the developing world and widespread poverty among the population.
If only the climate is considered, India’s target appears to be out of time. China, which is responsible for 27 per cent of emissions currently produced, has promised to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The United States, which is the second largest country in terms of emissions (producing 12 per cent of the total), by 2060. 2050. The same has been done by the European Union, which taken in its entirety also produces more emissions than India, despite having a fraction of the inhabitants: both account for about 7 percent of the total.
However, judging Modi’s promise simply by looking at this graph is an understatement and unfair, as many environmental activists have pointed out. First of all from a historical point of view. In fact, if we consider the emissions produced by the countries of the world over a longer period of time than in recent years, for example since 1960, India falls to sixth place in the ranking.
However, it is not the only aspect to consider when evaluating India’s role in relation to climate change. To give a fair judgment on emissions, we need to consider how many are in relation to the population, that is, per inhabitant.
The countries whose per capita contribution is the largest are mostly fossil fuel producing countries with small populations (such as Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates), which in absolute terms are responsible for less than 1 percent of global emissions. A more weighted judgment can be made by looking at the per capita emissions of the countries that contribute most in terms of total emissions: in the rankings obtained in this way, India falls to the bottom.
The climate and energy dissemination site Carbon Brief has also tried to make estimates on the climate responsibilities of various countries considering both historical emissions and population: it is a rather complex analysis, but it is enough to know that by doing it both India and the China, but also Brazil and Indonesia, do not appear in the top twenty countries with greater responsibilities.
These data must then be integrated with a further observation: the countries with the most developed economies – the United States, Western European countries, Japan – have for years moved part of their industrial production abroad, for example to China. and in India, where labor costs are lower and environmental protection rules are less restrictive. Therefore, if we want to make a speech of responsibility as general as possible, a part of the Indian emissions – and many of the Chinese ones – can still be traced back to the United States and the European Union. This is similar to what can be said about plastic waste in the oceans: it comes largely from Asian rivers, but Western countries have exported their plastic waste to China and other countries in that part of the world for decades.
Finally, it must be taken into account that emissions are linked to economic growth and that so far India’s has not yet lifted a large part of its population out of poverty. According to data from the World Bank, India’s GDP per capita was $ 1,900 in 2020; that of Italy at more than 31 thousand dollars. The same can be said for many other Asian and African countries. Under the current conditions of these countries it is unthinkable to imagine that the transition to an economy totally based on renewable energy sources could take place at the same time as more advanced and already largely less polluting economies like the European ones.
However, despite the different historical and contemporary responsibilities in the production of greenhouse gas emissions, today the whole world must try to reduce its emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. The first major international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, called for a reduction in emissions only from countries with the most developed economies, but since COP17, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2011, it was decided that for the future global collaboration was needed: the Paris Agreement concerns all countries of the world – excluding those few that have not yet ratified it.
A commitment by India to reduce emissions was therefore included in the Agreement. It arrived late compared to that of many other countries – before Monday there was never a date by which India would try to reach carbon neutrality – but despite appearances it is not necessarily insufficient to meet the target. more ambitious set in Paris, to keep the increase in average temperatures below 1.5 ° C compared to pre-industrial levels.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global neutrality of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) by the middle of the century, but for the emissions of other greenhouse gases, some more complicated to reduce, we can even reach 2070, the time horizon indicated by India, to achieve neutrality – having first eliminated the net emissions of CO2. Instead, to keep the increase in average temperatures below 2 ° C compared to pre-industrial levels (the less ambitious goal of the Agreement), 2070 is the year by which global CO neutrality can be reached.2.
The climate impacts of the Indian promise have not yet been specifically estimated, also because Modi has not provided a detailed plan on the short-term objectives. He only promised that by 2030 India will use non-fossil energy sources to cover half of its energy needs (today it uses 39 percent, including nuclear, according to government estimates; 20 percent according to those). of the International Energy Agency) and that for that year it will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 1 billion tons without downsizing economic activities, which could lead India to reach its emissions peak.
Modi did not say anything about what will happen in the forty years between 2030 and 2070 but gave a rough indication of how India plans to decarbonise its economy: with the help of countries with more developed economies. “India expects the developed nations of the world to provide trillion dollars in climate funds,” Modi said, calling for support for both his country and others in similar conditions without specifying which part of it. sum would like India.
In 2009, at COP15 in Copenhagen, it was decided that the countries in greatest difficulty would receive 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, but last year only 80 billion was reached. Today, developing countries would like funds to be increased from 2025 onwards, and Modi’s request is the highest that has been made. “Justice wants countries that have not kept their promises to be pressured,” said the Indian prime minister.
The main purpose of the funds agreed so far was to finance adaptation initiatives, which would allow less rich countries to cope with the more serious consequences of climate change to which they are more exposed than European countries and the United States. India in particular would have a great interest in countering global warming, because it is particularly vulnerable to weather events such as severe heat waves and floods, which are made more extreme by rising global temperatures. Furthermore, for Modi, financial aid should also be used for projects to decarbonise the economy.