Policy Engagements and Blogs

Unpacking ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions, and a New Climate Agenda for India

Navroz K Dubash

March 26, 2021



The year 2021 promises to be a blockbuster for global climate politics. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its report this year, updated national pledges on emission limits are expected, and all this is on the table at a climate Conference of Parties in the United Kingdom (UK) in November. Not least, a re-invigorated Joe Biden-led United States (US) has placed the climate crisis near the top of its foreign policy agenda.

There is plenty at stake for India, including diplomatic, economic and climate outcomes. There is global pressure on India to telegraph its intentions as early as the US-hosted Climate Leaders Summit in April, or a UK-hosted G-7 Summit in June.

What should India say, and do? We are pleased to share a new two-part series in the Hindustan Times by Navroz K. Dubash which outlines a new approach to Indian climate policy, action, and leadership. We also include links to relevant blog posts, and selected quotes in the press.

In the Hindustan Times:

Part 1: Net-zero emission targets are a hollow pledge

By Navroz K. Dubash

India needs to define its climate policies in ways that meet diplomatic, developmental and climate interests simultaneously. A net-zero pledge by 2050, particularly if bound in law, would likely win us diplomatic credit, but will risk our development future, and ironically, may not, in practice, accelerate our transition to a low-carbon future.

Part 2: Proposing a new climate agenda for India

By Navroz K. Dubash

In India, a focus on development pathways requires three steps: sectoral transition plans for key areas of the economy; strong institutions for climate governance; and economy-wide targets that emphasise near-term actions.

In Environmentality, a blog by the Centre for Policy Research:

Blog: Should India consider a net-zero climate pledge?

By Navroz K. Dubash

Instead of uncritically joining the net-zero bandwagon, India could usefully advocate broadening of what counts as desirable climate action to include not just ambition, but also implementation.

Excerpt: Durable national institutions for climate governance

By Navroz K. Dubash 
In a recent contribution to MIT Technology Review, Dubash highlights the role of institutions in our collective response to climate change.

Quick Takes in the Press

  • “We don’t know exactly how we will do it and what are the potential trade-offs with development objectives. […] For countries such as India, the most important thing is to achieve the greatest development for the fewest additional emissions,” says Dubash. “Instead of setting a distant net-zero goal, India should figure out ways to avoid locking in high-carbon infrastructure.” In Bloomberg on March 17.
  • “A climate change commission is useful, but not one articulated solely or even mostly around carbon budgets,” says Dubash. “Meeting carbon budgets does not animate Indian politics and policy, transformational sectoral change does.” In Climate Home News on March 18.
  • “For the industrialised countries, the language of net zero seems to be very big. But I would welcome them telling us what that translates to in the next 10 years, and how are you going to get there? While we talk about an ‘ambition gap’ regarding emissions reductions,” says Dubash, “we also need to address the ‘implementation gap.'” In Mint Lounge on March 19.
  • “I’m completely in favor of having a focal point for global policy, but I sometimes worry that the tail shouldn’t wag the dog here,” says Dubash. “We want to not just have countries saying that they’re going to do something very progressive, we want to have hard evidence that they will actually do it.” In Lights On: The Weekend Read on February 21.