In our efforts to be green, we must not greenwash: On India’s net zero pledge at COP26

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News: India’s net zero pledge at Glasgow, though commendable, raises several questions.

Apart from serious doubts about their techno-financial feasibility, there are at least three reasons to question the commitments made by India at COP26.

Must Read: India announces new climate targets at COP26 – Explained, pointwise
What are the issues with India’s net zero target?

i). Sustainability issues: Commitments made by India at COP26 regarding non-fossil fuel and renewable energy generation entail ecological and social costs.

Nuclear and large hydro projects will cause deforestation, people’s displacement, climate change emissions, and hazardous radiation etc.

Solar and wind energy promotion in India is largely focused on mega-energy parks, requiring enormous amounts of land. For example: About 60,000 hectares of Kachchh’s ecologically fragile grassland-desert ecosystem have been allotted to energy mega-parks.

ii). Continued use of coal and thermal power: The government has continued promoting coal mining and thermal power, and has no intentions of even plateauing fossil fuel use or reducing it. At this rate, it may overtake the US and China as the highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. This also means continual devastation of India’s most valuable forests for mining, and the displacement of communities. Thousands of Adivasis have been protesting against proposed mining in the biologically rich Hasdeo forests in Chhattisgarh, but the government is busy clearing it.

iii). Net zero target is merely a greenwash: Net zero simply means that emissions at one place can be offset elsewhere by activities like planting trees, or by capturing carbon etc. It is to be noted that net zero doesn’t necessarily talk about reducing the emissions rather just cancelling them out.  In India, the pursuit of net zero target might result in govt grabbing land from communities for massive new plantations, like in case of compensatory afforestation.

Greenwashing means to make people believe that more is being done to protect the environment than it really is.

iv). 2070 is too late a target: Additionally, scientific opinion is that we need to drastically cut emissions within a decade or so; waiting till 2050 or 2070 is simply too late for the earth.

Must Read: Does India has a right to burn fossil fuel?
What is the way forward?

India can achieve its net zero target only if it commits to fundamental changes in its economy, focused on meeting basic needs of all. This can be achieved via

– community based strategies based on sensitive use of land and nature including decentralised energy generation, without costly and massive infrastructure.

leveraging India’s traditional knowledge and skills with the best in modern systems.

– Prioritising of small and medium manufacturing, promoting worker-led cooperatives and producer companies.

– addressing energy-guzzling production processes and lifestyles that are being pushed in the name of development.

– Accelerated deployment of electric or fuel-cell vehicles must go alongside a rapid reduction in personal vehicle use and a major push for mass transportation.

– Minimising Carbon lock-ins and energy use through mandatory green construction codes for the huge housing and other buildings stock, highways and infrastructure yet to be built.

– Encouraging employment-intensive recycling of waste goods and materials, including in solid and liquid waste management linked to methane recovery, would deliver substantial benefits across sectors.

– Embracing a multidimensional approach, embodied in the idea of LIFE (Lifestyle for Environment (LIFE), that India gave to this world at COP26.

Source: This post is based on the article “In our efforts to be green, we must not greenwash: On India’s net zero pledge at COP26” published in The Indian Express on 12th Nov 2021.

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