Climate change: What emission cuts has India promised?

·4 min read
Students in India have been taking part in Global Climate Strikes
Students in India have been taking part in Global Climate Strikes

India is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) after China and the US.

With its rapidly growing population and an economy heavily dependent on coal and oil, its emissions are on a steep upward trajectory unless action is taken to curb them.

Along with China, India forced a last minute change to the agreement at the COP26 climate summit, softening a commitment to tackling emissions from the burning of coal.

What emission cuts has India promised?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set his country a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2070, a significantly later deadline than many other countries.

India has resisted setting overall reduction targets, saying industrialised nations should bear a much greater share of the burden as they have contributed far more towards global warming over time.

It says an "emissions intensity" target, which measures emissions per unit of economic growth, is a fairer way to compare it with other countries, it says.

By 2030 Mr Modi says India will reduce the emissions intensity of its economy by 45% (that's of all greenhouse gases not just CO2) - a more ambitious target than the previous goal of a 33-35% cut in its emissions intensity from the 2005 level by 2030.

But a fall in carbon emissions intensity does not necessarily mean a reduction in overall emissions.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which monitors government policies and actions, says the target is unlikely to have an impact on limiting overall projected emissions.

Chart showing CO2 emissions by fuel type in India
Chart showing CO2 emissions by fuel type in India

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says a target of global net zero - where a country is not adding to the overall amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere - by 2050 is the minimum needed to keep the temperature rise to 1.5C.

And more than 140 countries have publicly promised to meet this.

Coal supplies power to around 70% of India's electric grid
Coal supplies power to about 70% of India's electric grid

India's prime minister has pledged that it will increase its non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030.

It currently has a capacity of around 157GW.

India had previously set itself a target of reaching 175GW by next year. This goal excluded large hydroelectric and nuclear capacities, which it looks likely to miss as it currently stands at just over 100GW.

Although the new target for 2030 is more ambitious, it will only have a "small impact on real-world emissions," says Climate Action Tracker.

Chart on India's renewable energy target and what's achieved so far
Chart on India's renewable energy target and what's achieved so far

Also in 2015, India promised to provide 40% of all electric power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. Mr Modi has now increased this figure to 50%.

Generation capacity from these sources stands at around 39% as of September this year, according to India's official statistics.

But the actual amount generated in 2020 was lower at around 20%, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Cindy Baxter, of CAT, says developing countries such as India, need international support to decarbonise their economies and limit the temperature increase to 1.5C in line with the Paris Agreement.

"India does not have a conditional target that identifies where...or indeed how much support it needs."

India has also abstained from signing a global deal made at COP26 to reduce emissions of methane gas.

It's one of the most potent greenhouse gases, created by agriculture, fossil fuels and waste, and India is a major emitter.

Are India's forests expanding?

India has highlighted many times it wants to bring a third of its land area under forest cover, which can help absorb carbon.

But it has not given a timescale for this - and progress has been patchy.

Although there have been replanting initiatives in the southern parts of India, the north-eastern region has lost forest cover recently.

And India plans to plant enough trees by 2030 to absorb an additional 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Satellite image showing India's green cover
Satellite image showing India's green cover

Global Forest Watch - a collaboration between the University of Maryland, Google, the United States Geological Survey and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) - estimates India lost 18% of its primary forests and 5% of its tree cover between 2001 and 2020.

But the Indian government's own survey data indicates a 5.2% increase in forest cover between 2001 and 2019.

The GFW report includes only vegetation taller than 5m (16ft) whereas India's official figures are based on tree density in a given area of land.

Additional research by David Brown

More on climate summit top strapline
More on climate summit top strapline

The Cop26 global summit, in Glasgow, in November, is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. Almost 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions - and it could lead to major changes to everyday lives.

More on Climate Change bottom strapline
More on Climate Change bottom strapline
Reality Check branding
Reality Check branding

Read more from Reality Check

Send us your questions

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting