India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a shock that may have brought new momentum to United Nations climate negotiations in Glasgow yesterday, in a speech to world leaders that promised a 2070 deadline to bring his country’s greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero.
The pledge was backed by plans to install 500 gigawatts of non-fossil electricity and meet half of the country’s power needs from renewables by 2030, reduce its “total projected carbon emissions” by a billion tonnes by the end of this decade, and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 45%, India Today reports.
While important details of those plans will take shape in the days, weeks, and likely months ahead, independent analysts attending COP 26 said they added up to a 2030 target that would put India on track to achieve its 2070 goal—in contrast to a large proportion of national and corporate net-zero promises that have been long on 2050 spin, but short on 2030 substance.
“The announcement injected new life into talks that had been set back by a disappointing outcome from the Group of 20 meeting in Rome this weekend,” Bloomberg Green reports. “Though India’s goal is two decades behind rich nations such as the U.S. and U.K., it’s compatible with what scientists say is needed to avoid catastrophic global warming.”
And in fact, observers with the Washington, DC-based World Resources Institute said that’s exactly right—since India’s economy, as well, is in roughly the same place some developed countries were a few decades ago. Even with a 2070 endpoint, they told a news conference that India’s net-zero commitment would set the “direction of travel” in a country where the topic was scarcely on the agenda six months ago, but is now headline news in business media and a top story on public channels.
“This was a very significant moment for the summit,” iconic UK climate economist Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, told Bloomberg. He called it an opportunity for India to show that “it can deliver on both economic development and climate change.”
Modi also took his moment on the COP 26 stage to call on the world’s wealthiest countries to step up their commitments to international climate finance. “While we are all raising our climate action goals, the world’s ambitions on climate finance cannot remain the same as they were at the time of the Paris Agreement,” he stressed. “India expects developed nations to make climate finance of one trillion dollars available at the earliest. Today, it is important to track climate finance just like we track the progress of climate mitigation.”
Modi’s figure was 10 times the $100 billion per year that developed nations promised at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, and have still failed to deliver. “Justice would demand that those nations that have not kept their climate commitments should be pressured,” the Indian PM declared.
Bloomberg columnist Akshat Rathi says Modi’s bold commitment outshone U.S. President Joe Biden on the COP 26 stage. Biden acknowledged the U.S. is currently falling short, acknowledged that his predecessor in the Oval Office had set his country back, and pledged to “lead by example,” The Guardian reports. But the U.S. president, currently hamstrung by Congressional delays initiated by ostensible allies in his own Democratic Party, “offered promises of American action to combat climate change and propel clean energy—but made no new big, bold promises in his speech,” Rathi writes.
Earlier, UN Secretary General António Guterres urged delegates to do their part to keep the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C alive.
“Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink,” he said. “We face a stark choice: Either we stop it—or it stops us.”
So “it’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalizing biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.”
Instead, “investing in the net-zero, climate resilient economy will create feedback loops of its own—virtuous circles of sustainable growth, jobs, and opportunity,” Guterres added. “We have progress to build upon. A number of countries have made credible commitments to net-zero emissions by mid-century. Many have pulled the plug on international financing of coal. Over 700 cities are leading the way to carbon neutrality. The private sector is waking up. The Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance—the gold standard for credible commitments and transparent targets—is managing US$10 trillion in assets and catalyzing change across industries.”
And outside that widening tent, “the climate action army—led by young people—is unstoppable. They are larger. They are louder. And, I assure you, they are not going away.”
Guterres was echoing a point that came through loud and clear when #FridaysforFuture founder Greta Thunberg arrived in Scotland and was promptly mobbed by supporters, Sky News reports. On Avaaz.org, meanwhile, an emergency appeal for climate action produced more than 1.2 million signatures in its first 24 hours online. [If you haven’t signed yet, you know what to do—Ed.]