A bridge too far

These are the biggest hurdles to India achieving its net zero goals

Prime minister Narendra Modi had promised to cut India’s emissions to net zero by 2070.
Towards a greener future. 
Towards a greener future. 
Image: Reuters (Reuters)
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India has set a huge emissions target for itself. Achieving it, however, may be a different thing.

Speaking at an India-focused discussion on Sep. 20 on the sidelines of the 77th United National General Assembly (UNGA), some Indian panelists—policymakers and private sector executives—thought India could turn net zero even before the 2070 deadline set by prime minister Narendra Modi

Net zero, or becoming carbon neutral, implies not adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Roadblocks to India turning net zero

Climate experts, while suggesting that the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US can probably do it, point to hurdles.

“India has just set a net zero target...But it lacks concrete sectoral targets and trajectory...and short-term milestones and targets. There is much work for India to do,” Sunil Dahiya, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) analyst, told Quartz.

He indicated that India “lacks a clear direction of moving away from fossil fuels.” For instance, it is still heavily dependent on coal.

India must “invent an entirely new method of progress, which will be extremely difficult,” said Gurmit Singh Arora, national chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) Indian Green Building Council and national president of Indian Plumbing Association. 

“Can the new method be green and sustainable without hindering growth? Is it plausible and climate-friendly?” Arora asked.

The demand for this new system comes at a time when the country is home to some of the world’s most polluted cities and massively accounts for pollution-related deaths.

Another area of concern is funding. “India’s stumbling block is the availability of funding and future technologies,” said Nidhi Aggarwal, founder of Spacemantra, an online construction and interior design marketplace.

To achieve its 2070 target, India needs an investment of $10.1 trillion beginning now, a report titled Getting India to Net Zero in August showed. If the deadline is advanced to 2050, the amount rises to $13.5 trillion.

There is also the matter of just transitions of the energy.

“The primary worry...will be making sure that growth is fair and equal and that the poor in the nation must not lose their entitlement to advancement in this renewable power future,” Aggarwal said.

The way forward for India

Nothing is impossible, though.

“Rapid electrification for development and focusing on green electrification will make (India) achieve (the emissions target) faster,” said Vineet Mittal, chairman of Avaada Group, a Mumbai-based renewable energy developer. “Transmission, distribution, and storage would need rapid improvement, with a strategy of green electrification.”

India’s coal-dependent sectors must increasingly prioritise non-fossil energy sources, said Arora of CII. Besides, he said, new mobility solutions, enhanced public transport, and industrial green hydrogen must also be fast-tracked.

Most importantly, a strong and effective policy framework is critical, said Dahiya of CREA. “India still lacks clear sectoral direction and targets for polluting sectors,” he said.