India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi this afternoon announced a landmark net zero emissions target for 2070 alongside a clutch of fresh renewable energy goals, in a major move that topped a broadly positive first full day at the COP26 Climate Summit, as a host of world leaders promised to raise their climate ambitions.
A star-studded day at the Glasgow Summit saw scores of high profile leaders take the podium to talk up their climate efforts – including Boris Johnson, Joe Biden, and Emmanuel Macron – while leading figures such as Prince Charles, Sir David Attenborough, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took the opportunity to demand far more rapid action from world leaders to curb global emissions.
The day also saw a number of significant new commitments from leaders, with Modi surprising observers by confirming India would become the latest major economy to set a national net zero emissions goal.
The Indian Prime Minister stressed the need for richer nations to offer financial support to help developing countries decarbonise, but pledged that India would aim to achieve net zero by 2070, and significantly he backed up the long term target with a pledge to cut the country’s carbon intensity by 45 per cent by the end of the decade.
Moreover, he promised to increase India’s renewable power target to 500GW by 2030, by which point he said India would seek to source half its electricity from clean sources. All in all, Modi said these commitments would see India slash one billion tonnes from its projected CO2 between 2020 and 2030.
The new 2070 target is likely to spark immediate calls for India to try and pull forward a goal that remains nearly 50 years away. But having one of the world’s leading economic powerhouses – which is home to almost 1.4 billion people – join the global net zero mission will be hailed by the COP26 hosts as a hugely welcome step forward. Meanwhile, several commentators were quick to point out that a 2070 net zero goal could potentially still put India on a 1.5C-complaiant pathway, and mean that its cumulative emissions would still be lower in 50 years’ time than many other countries in the OECD, including China.
“I am sure that the decisions taken in Glasgow will safeguard the future of generations to come and give them a safe and prosperous life,” Modi told the Summit.
Elsewhere, there were further signs of how quickly net zero targets are being adopted and accelerated, with the Prime Minister of India’s neighbour Nepal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, today announcing a fresh commitment to pull forward the country’s net zero emissions target to 2045, five years’ earlier than its previous 2050 goal.
In addition, Vietnam also joined the net zero club for the first time today, announcing a net zero target for 2050.
Meanwhile, fresh climate finance pledges came in from the UK – as trailed yesterday – and Australia; the USA and Canada promised their first commitments to the global adaptation fund; and Scotland become the first developed nation in the world to commit money – £1m in this case – to help address loss and damage in vulnerable nations, in a significant win for climate justice campaigners.
Beyond the main world leaders stage, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro delivered a video address, in which he reiterated Brazil’s 2050 net zero goal, and promised to halve the South American nation’s emissions by 2030. The fresh 2030 goal on paper marks an increase in ambition from its widely-criticised 43 per cent reduction plan, but many environmental campaigners will want to see the precise details behind the announcement before passing judgement.
Bolsonaro has also faced fierce criticism over his commitment to stopping deforestation, given destruction of the Amazon has surged under his presidency. However, he today promised to end illegal deforestation in Brazil by 2028, further fuelling hopes that the Summit could finally start to make a dent in global deforestation rates.
Further announcements are expected tomorrow as a scores more world leaders arrive to address delegates in Glasgow, including Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
However, it remains to be seen if leaders can live up to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plea for governments to emulate James Bond as they wrestle with the climate “bomb”. “We may not feel much like James Bond – not all of us necessarily look like James Bond – but we have the opportunity, the duty, to make this Summit the moment when humanity finally began – and I stress began – to defuse that bomb,” he said.
Johnson was followed this morning by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who called for a new framework to pressure countries into increasing their climate ambitions not just every five years – as is the present system under the Paris Agreement – but every single year.
Such calls are likely to gain increasing traction as the talks progress over the next fortnight, with observers warning the strengthened emissions targets put forward by countries at COP26 are still well short of what is required to deliver on the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting temperatire increases to 1.5C .
“Let’s have no illusions: if commitments fall short by the end of this COP, countries must revisit their national climate plans and policies,” Guterres said. “Not every five years. Every year. Until keeping to 1.5 degrees is assured.”
Beyond national commitments, there was also an important signal today for non-state targets, as Guterres announced plans to establish a new expert group to come up with a framework for measuring and assessing the credibility of corporate net zero pledges.
Stressing the need for “greater clarity” over the wave of net zero pledges from companies in recent years, Guterres lamented the “deficit of credibility and a surplus of confusion over emissions reductions and net zero targets, with different meanings and different metrics”.
“That is why – beyond the mechanisms already established in the Paris Agreement – I am announcing today that I will establish a Group of Experts to propose clear standards to measure and analyse net zero commitments from non-state actors,” he said.
Following the launch of the Science-Based Targets Initiative’s new net zero emissions goal framework last week, there is now increasing momentum behind efforts to combat ‘greenwashing’ and ensure net zero becomes far more than just a catchphrase.
The announcement came in a speech from the UN chief that was otherwise filled with growing agitation and warnings about the state of the climate and the urgent need for action.
“Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink,” Guterres warned. “We face a stark choice: Either we stop it — or it stops us. It’s time to say: enough. Enough of brutalising 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.”
The speech delivered a reminder that for all the positive signals and pledges from world leaders today, there is still a huge amount of work to be done if the Glasgow Summit is to mark a step change in global decarbonisation efforts.
As many leaders of developing nations repeatedly pointed out today, richer countries have singularly failed to meet their collective $100bn climate finance pledge, which is prompting major concerns over the level of trust between industrialised and developing nations at the talks ahead of complex technical negotiations.
Meanwhile, there are capacity and Covid concerns to worry about, which could prove a further barrier to progress at the talks. Today the Summit organisers were forced to warn observers to avoid the main negotiation area in the Summit complex, amid overcrowding fears.
ℹ️ UPDATE: There is currently a high level of attendance at the #COP26 venue.
In order to comply with COVID-19 measures, we encourage you to only visit the Blue Zone for as long as necessary and consider making use of the COP Platform where possible.
— COP26 (@COP26) November 1, 2021
Fortunately, Sir David Attenborough was on hand to offer a typically emotive and inspiring address, as he sought to remind world leaders and diplomats what was at stake over the next few weeks.
“If working apart we are powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together, we are powerful enough to save it,” he said. “In my lifetime I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope is why the world is looking to you, and why you are here.”