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India strengthens national net zero strategy with new 2030 emissions goals

India has this week strengthened its official national climate action plan, providing a major boost to international climate efforts ahead of this autumn’s COP27 Climate Summit in Egypt.

The new strategy formalises Indian Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s previous pledge to deliver net zero emissions by 2070 and crucially includes new near-term emissions goals for 2030, with the government setting a target to cut emissions intensity by 45 per cent by the end of the decade .

In an announcement today, the government said the Cabinet had approved updates to its formal national climate action plan, known as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in the UN jargon, which will now be submitted to the UN climate secretariat ahead of COP27.

The updated NDC incorporates Modi’s ‘Panchamrit’ strategy, which was unveiled at last year’s COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow and for the first time committed the country to achieving net zero emissions.

However, the updated NDC also commits India to more ambitious climate targets for 2030. Under the plan India is now committed to reducing emissions per unit of GDP by 45 per cent by 2030, against 2005 levels. The new target is an increase on its previous target of a 33 to 35 per cent reduction in emissions intensity.

The plan also sets out how the government intends to meet the target by accelerating the country’s renewable energy boom. It includes a target to generate around 50 per cent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel-based sources by 2030 – an increase on the previous target of 40 per cent.

The government said the “enhancements” made to its NDC mark an important step towards achieving India’s long-term goal of reaching net zero by 2070.

“The updated NDC seeks to enhance India’s contributions towards achievement of the strengthening of global response to the threat of climate change, as agreed under the Paris Agreement,” the government said in a statement. “Such action will also help India usher in low emissions growth pathways. It would protect the interests of the country and safeguard its future development needs based on the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC.”

The NDC also includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “sustainable lifestyles and climate justice to protect the poor and vulnerable from adverse impacts of climate change”, which is being promoted through a mass movement campaign dubbed ‘LIFE’ or ‘Lifestyle for Environment’.

“The vision of LIFE is to live a lifestyle that is in tune with our planet and does not harm it,” the government said. “India’s updated NDC also captures this citizen centric approach to combat climate change.”

India first submitted its NDC in 2015 ahead of the Paris Agreement. As per the terms of the Paris Agreement, all countries were required to submit an NDC to the UNFCCC and for their plans to be updated every five years.

India’s original NDC featured eight goals, of which only three had official targets. In addition to reducing its emissions intensity and generating electricity from alternative sources, India has also previously set a forestry target in which it promised to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

In this week’s announcement the government revealed it has already made progress across some of its sustainability goals and with its ongoing efforts to “decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions”.

Progress highlighted included Indian Railway’s net zero target, which it said would lead to a reduction of emissions of 60 million tonnes annually by 2030.

In addition, it highlighted the progress made by its “massive” LED bulb campaign, which it said is reducing emissions by 40 million tonnes annually.

The announcement also stated that to date India’s climate actions have been “largely” financed by domestic resources. However, in order to deliver on its long term goals the government stressed that new and additional financial resources and technological support would be required from industrialized nations, which it said were “among the commitments and responsibilities of the developed countries under UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement .”

“India’s goal is to reduce overall emission intensity and improve energy efficiency of its economy over time and at the same time protecting the vulnerable sectors of economy and segments of our society,” the announcement stated.

The new NDC represents a significant boost for climate negotiations ahead of the COP27 Climate Summit. The Glasgow Climate Pact agreed at the COP26 Summit called on all countries to strengthen their NDCs to bring their emissions reduction goals into line with a 1.5C warming trajectory, but to date relatively few countries have updated their plans.

Critics will note that India’s use of an emissions intensity target at a time when its economy is booming could result in a continued increase in emissions and be used to justify on-going investment in coal power. But the new plan still represents a significant strengthening of its previous targets and should provide a major boost to the country’s fast expanding clean energy sector while also ratcheting up pressure on other major polluters to strengthen their NDCs ahead of COP27.

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