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Climate Crisis Explained: What Is Net Zero Emissions And Can It Be Achieved By 2050?

Net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions means that the volume of CO2 that is released, is balanced by the same volume of CO2 absorbed. How can it be achieved?

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Climate Crisis Explained: What Is Net Zero Emissions And Can It Be Achieved By 2050?
Ahead of COP26, India rejects calls to announce a net zero carbon emission target
  • In 2018, IPCC suggested attaining net zero by 2050 to limit global warming
  • Net zero means absorbing all the carbon released in the environment
  • Once net zero is achieved, a country can move to carbon negative trajectory

New Delhi: “By 2070, India will achieve the target of ‘net zero’,” announced Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech at Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition Centre where he is attending the opening ceremony of the COP26 climate summit. PM Modi further added that more passengers than the entire population of the world travel by Indian Railways every year. This huge railway system has set itself a target of making itself ‘Net Zero’ by 2030. “This initiative alone will reduce emissions by 60 million tonnes per annum,” he added.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body said that to limit global warming to a safe level which is 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level, the world has to reduce global net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels of emissions. It also said that the world has to turn net zero by 2050. Net zero CO2 emissions will be achieved when CO2 emissions generated by human beings are balanced globally by CO2 removals over a specified period.

Also Read: Climate Change: UN Panel’s Five Possible Temperature Rise Scenarios Explained

According to NASA’s The Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the average global temperature during the late 1800s was about 13.7°C, today it is around 14.9°C. Experts say that while the world has crossed 1.2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperature, it should not surpass the 1.5°C mark ever in order to prevent even more intense and devastating consequences of the climate crisis. Therefore, in 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, also called the Paris Climate Accord promising that they will carry out climate actions to pursue efforts to not let the temperature of the Earth rise above 1.5°C from the pre-industrial times ever in the future.

Avantika Goswami, Deputy Programme Manager, Climate Change at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said,

When you are absorbing the same amount of carbon that you are releasing in the environment, you could say that the total emission level is net zero. There is always a way to absorb CO2 back into the earth.

How To Achieve Net Zero CO2 Emissions?

Ms Goswami said that there are two key ways to absorb carbon – firstly, as we are aware that trees absorb CO2 so we can have more forest area and expand other natural ecosystems like wetlands which store carbon. They are called natural sinks. The second way is to adopt technologies like carbon capture and storage or direct air capture. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of capturing and storing CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere.

The decision of going net zero can be taken even at a small scale like a company can decide to off-set their CO2 emissions. For instance, carbon capture can be attached to a coal power plant. Companies can purchase carbon off set where they pay money to set forests elsewhere in the world. We hope that the forest will absorb an equivalent amount of carbon that is being emitted. Forest can be created anywhere in the world as long as there is an accounting and verification authority monitoring that offset and quantifying it, said Ms Goswami.

Also Read: World Facing COVID-19, Fragility, Conflict, Climate Change; We’re At Turning Point: UNGA

Why Net Zero Emissions And Not Zero Emissions?

Zero-emission is when you are not releasing any emissions at all. Ms Goswami said that it is difficult and quite expensive to reduce emissions to zero because we still have to emit a certain amount. She added,

For certain sectors of our economy like steel, cement, and aviation and shipping which are quite viable to the global economy, it is very difficult right now to reduce emissions to zero. Those sectors you could recommend going net zero. But right now, it becomes politically much easier for everybody to say that we will be net zero as opposed to only the hardest to reduce sectors because it simply buys you time.

For example, China plans to become carbon-neutral by 2060 which means the country has around four decades to continue emitting CO2. Committing to being carbon-neutral means by a particular year, a country will have enough carbon sinks and technologies.

On the other hand, India on October 27 rejected calls to announce a net zero carbon emission target and said it was more important for the world to lay out a pathway to reduce such emissions and avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures. As quoted by news agency Reuters, India’s Environment Secretary R.P. Gupta said,

It is how much carbon you are going to put in the atmosphere before reaching net zero that is more important.

Also Read: India Rejects Net Zero Carbon Emissions Target, Says Pathway More Important

Ms Goswami said that the hope and assumption are that once a country or world reaches net zero, they will continue to absorb and after that, we move to carbon negative trajectory as per the IPCC. Entering carbon negative trajectory means absorbing more carbon than what is being emitted.

It’s important to note that attaining net zero by 2050 is a prescription from climate scientists to curtail global warming from exceeding dangerous levels. The recommendation can be adopted by any country, company, and industry. It is not legally binding.

How Can Net Zero Be Achieved?

The Conference of Parties (COP26) which is set to begin in Glasgow from October 31 calls for stronger international collaboration to achieve net zero global emissions. The four focus areas as per the COP26 are:

1. Innovation as 45 per cent of the emissions cuts needed for net zero will come from technologies that are not yet fully commercialised;

2. Scaling up initiatives like deployment of solar power panels. As per COP26, every time we double global deployment of solar power panels, their costs falls by 28 per cent;

3. Creating stronger incentives for investment into zero emission vehicles;

4. Growing the markets for sustainable produce.

Also Read: Climate Change Is For Real, Here’s Why We Need To Limit Global Warming And Act Now

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India. 

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