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India preparing to submit new climate targets to UN ahead of COP27 talks

India is set to finally submit official plans to cut emissions to the United Nations, as one of the world’s largest polluters backs away from a threat to withhold more climate commitments until rich nations provide more funds for poorer countries. 

The South Asian country is preparing to put forward the document — an obligation under the Paris Agreement — in September, according to people with knowledge of the matter, just weeks before crucial COP27 climate talks in Egypt. The official commitment would come close to a year after countries were told to submit updated targets by the UN before last November’s summit in Glasgow.

India’s delay has been striking given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise announcement at COP26 that his country would reach net-zero emissions by 2070. In the short term, he said the country would build enough carbon-free electricity generation capacity to reach 500 gigawatts by the end of the decade.

But Modi has also said that further ambition from India depends on financial help from rich countries. In Glasgow, he argued that India alone should get $1 trillion in climate funding out to 2030. The country will need to spend more than $12 trillion by 2060 to put it on track to reach net-zero emissions, according to Standard Chartered Plc. Modi’s demands are unlikely to be met. Rich nations have said that they will only be able to meet a 2020 goal to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to poorer countries in 2023. 

India’s failure to follow up its net-zero pledge with formal targets has drawn criticism from some experts. The 2070 goal is “an incredible target for a country that is still years away from peaking its emissions,” said Shikha Bhasin, senior program lead at Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a nonprofit. “The world would benefit much more from real climate ambition being implemented and realized. This, unfortunately, remains abysmally absent.”

Modi’s government is also under pressure as the incoming hosts of the Group of 20. It will take over the presidency at the end of the year. Developing nations have lobbied hard for rich countries to contribute more to helping them transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change. Showing they are doing their part can help strengthen that argument.

“India will gain more credibility in international climate negotiations if it submitted the new targets in writing as other countries have done,” said Kanika Chawla, program manager at UN Energy.

The government has delayed submitting the document, known in climate diplomacy jargon as “nationally-determined contributions,” or NDCs, because it’s still mired in inter-ministerial planning, especially for industrial sectors such as cement and steel, the people said, asking not to be named because they’re not authorized to speak to the media. A spokesperson at India’s environment ministry didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.

At a meeting on June 8, India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav defended the country’s record on climate action, saying it is one of the few nations that has met the targets set out in its first NDC from 2015.

Under the 2015 Paris deal, countries are expected to raise their ambitions on reducing emissions every five years. Among the largest emitters, only the European Union submitted its new NDC before the 2020 deadline. The US, Japan and Canada submitted stronger climate targets before COP26 last year. China also submitted targets before the Glasgow meeting, but those goals were in line with what the country already planned to do.  

Even if all countries that have submitted NDCs meet their targets, the planet is still on track to warm more than 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That’s a catastrophic level of heating that will trigger irreversible changes — entire islands will drown and coral reefs will be wiped out. It far exceeds the Paris Agreement’s stretch goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels.  

Even with its new goals announced by Modi at COP26, India’s climate plan is considered “highly insufficient” to meet the 1.5°C goal, according to Climate Action Tracker. That adds to growing risk of increased global emissions in the short-term as countries turn to more fossil fuels to counter an energy crunch made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Rajani Ranjan Rashmi, India’s former chief climate negotiator, echoed Modi’s stance on setting tougher climate targets. “India’s timing for submitting the NDC will be determined by what actions are taken by developed nations on their existing commitments on finance and technology, which still remain unfulfilled,” he said.

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