Going beyond Net Zero: How collective global action can protect life on earth

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The world is speeding toward the brink of an irrevocable climate crisis. We have dangerously warmed up our planet and the repercussions are distinctly visible in the form of global warming-triggered erratic weather conditions.

The current climate chaos threatens life on earth gravely. Global warming is making the planet much hotter to a degree beyond not just human survivability but also that of myriad organisms. Some of the manifestations include shrinking habitats, falling food production, recurring drought and even the direct elimination of species that either can’t withstand the heat or face severe weather events.

More worryingly, scientists predict that if the current COշ emissions trajectory continues, climate change will drive more than one-third of animal and plant species into extinction by 2050. This number will rise to 70 per cent by the end of the century.

Such a mortal loss would irreversibly damage biodiversity, disrupt ecosystems and cause unimaginable devastation worldwide. Consequently, this issue needs a collective pledge for global cooperation in protecting life on Earth. But how can that be achieved?

The solution lies in a swift transition to clean energy sources for power generation, such as green hydrogen, to achieve the universal net-zero emissions goal.

India and net zero

The net-zero objective is emerging as a global rallying cry. Several countries, including India, have already announced individual goals for achieving carbon neutrality. Although emissions will continue, there would be some balance in the atmosphere due to methods promoting the greater absorption of carbon dioxide and the lower addition of new emissions.

The collective fight against climate change must be sustained with more nations joining the Paris Climate Agreement, which calls for pursuing initiatives that limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels.

Recently, the Indian government has committed to reducing the nation’s emissions intensity to 45 per cent below the 2005 levels by 2030. The pledge also reiterated that by 2030 more than half of its energy needs will be fulfilled from renewable energy sources. The country’s commitment is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement at COP26 in Glasgow of achieving net-zero targets by 2070. The timing of this pledge is also apt as it comes before the upcoming UN climate summit COP27 in Egypt, indicating the country’s determination to become carbon neutral and energy independent.

In 2021, the country’s COշ emission was 2.88 gigatonnes. According to the Centre for Science and Environment’s projections, India’s generation in a business-as-usual scenario will be 4.48 gigatonnes in 2030. The collective transition toward green hydrogen holds the potential for the reduction of at least 3.6 gigatonnes of COշ emissions before 2050.

The Green Hydrogen Solution

After the pandemic outbreak and subsequent national lockdowns in 2020, global COշ emissions fell by 6.4 per cent (2.3 billion tonnes). Restrictions on aviation and the shutdown of industries saw emissions decline 48% globally from 2019 levels. Due to falling consumption of oil, coal and other fossil fuels for power generation, in four decades India recorded its first year-on-year reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to 30 per cent by April 2020.

This demonstrates that coal-powered energy generation can see a dip if the transition to renewable, clean energy sources is made quickly. In context, one of the most promising sources for the future is green hydrogen.

A Niti Aayog report on ‘Harnessing Green Hydrogen’ notes that the demand for this energy molecule in India “could grow more than four-fold by 2050, representing almost 10% of global hydrogen demand”. Given the abundance of natural resources, the right policies and favourable geographic conditions, the country has the necessary elements for becoming ‘Atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) not just in terms of energy efficiency but also as a low-cost producer of good quality green hydrogen.

But this can only happen if there is a free transfer of technology by developed nations while honouring their pledge made 13 years ago to provide $100 billion in financial assistance annually to assist emerging nations in adapting to climate change.

Beyond Net Zero

While switching to renewable energy sources is the way forward to reach the global net-zero goals, in achieving this the world has forgotten what comes next. Although lowering the planet’s temperature is the primary aim, it poses questions of what the future temperature should be, how fast we need to achieve it and how to maintain that natural balance.

As per Climate One – a leadership discussion on energy, economy and environment – reducing carbon footprints has taken precedence over efforts to maximise our carbon handprint (the positive climate impact of a product). All positive actions taken by public and private enterprises to reduce their carbon trail must be formulated into a collective action to reap maximum environmental and social benefits.

Now, the goal should be to grow the carbon handprint and outpace the footprint’s growth to reach the zero emissions target while protecting and supporting life on Earth and paving the way toward a sustainable future.

As one of the fastest-growing major economies, India has moved a step ahead in increasing its carbon handprint by introducing solar and wind energy as reliable energy sources. Indeed, the nation plans to curb the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes between 2021 and 2030. This shows the country has the potential for becoming self-reliant and energy independent in the coming years. India’s journey can then act as a global blueprint for other countries to achieve the same.

The author is chairperson, Avaada Group. Views are personal.

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Going beyond Net Zero: How collective global action can protect life on earth
Going beyond Net Zero: How collective global action can protect life on earth
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