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Understanding India’s Net Zero Policies: A Primer for Jou​​​​rnalists

Men in hardhats standing and kneeling at a coal mine.

Net Zero, or carbon neutrality, is a target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, to be achieved by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  

Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas whose increased concentration is warming the earth and driving the climate crisis. Carbon dioxide is emitted when coal, oil or natural gas is burnt to generate electricity, power vehicles and run industrial processes. So, controlling carbon dioxide emissions requires fundamental changes in a country’s energy, transport, industrial and other policies. Increasing tree cover is the best-known way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This requires policies to halt deforestation and increase forests. 

India is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, ranking 7th out of 181 in the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, evidenced in its frequent and intensifying heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, landslides, avalanches and salinization along the coastline. The country has committed to reach net zero by 2070, and to take significant steps before 2030 to reach this goal. 

This will necessitate policy changes that impact all aspects of the economy and society in general, making it imperative for journalists to understand what is going on and what can be expected. A move from coal to solar and wind power has positive implications on health but potentially negative implications on jobs and consequently on electoral politics. Climate change impacts and the way they are being handled affects the country’s land and maritime borders. Many chemical fertilizers and pesticides are oil-based. A move away from them has positive implications on health but potentially negative implications on productivity, food security and profit. Policymakers are now engaged in finding ways to maximize positive impacts and minimize the negative impacts of these changes. It is clear that journalists covering any beat need to understand what is going on in this area, since it affects their work across all beats. 

This tipsheet is a deeper dive into policy issues, following the introductory tipsheet on this subject: A Journalist’s Guide to Covering India’s Net Zero Transition. Make sure to learn more about the crucial issue of climate finance to fund the energy transition required to reach Net Zero: Financing India’s Transition to Net Zero: A Primer for Journalists.

What is the Indian government doing to move towards net zero?  

At the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in 2021, India announced that it would achieve net zero by 2070. This was followed by India pledging to reduce the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 45% by 2030, achieve 450 gigawatts of cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources, and create a sink of 2.5-3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest cover. 

Since then, there has been a flurry of announcements by different departments of the Indian government, public sector units and the private sector, outlining actions to achieve the net zero target. Despite this, there has been some concern that India lacks a concrete plan to move towards net zero.  

Towards the end of 2022, the national government unveiled its “Long-Term Low-Carbon Development Strategy” which shines a light on how India is planning to move towards a net zero economy. According to the strategy document, the focus will be on a massive push towards renewable power, energy efficiency, low-carbon transport through better fuel efficiency and cleaner fuels including electric mobility; enhancement of forest cover; promotion of green hydrogen; and the exploration of low-carbon options in the hard-to-abate sectors, which include iron and steel manufacturing, the production of non-ferrous metals (copper, aluminum, zinc, etc.), non-metallic minerals (cement, plaster, lime, etc.), and chemicals.

Click here to take EJN’s self-paced online course to learn more about renewable energy in India.   

Subsequently, in January 2023, the Indian government announced an outlay of about Rs 20,000 crore (USD 2.45 billion) for the national green hydrogen mission.  

Green hydrogen is produced using the electrolysis of water with electricity generated by renewable energy. India believes it can become a crucial instrument in decarbonizing its heavy industry whether it is steel, power, shipping, chemical, etc. The government believes it can be an important tool in the energy transition journey. However, there are issues that need to be resolved: it is expensive to produce, there are safety issues and it is difficult to store, among others. 

The government has noted interest in future innovative technologies such as carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), which may be critical to India’s 2070 goals. In November 2022, Niti Aayog, the Indian government’s own think tank, released a policy framework and deployment mechanism for CCUS in India. 

CCUS can be explained as a set of methods and technologies used to capture carbon dioxide (CO2). The captured carbon is then used in different applications or injected into deep geological formations (like depleted oil and gas reservoirs) which can trap CO2, perhaps permanently. But its adoption on a large scale is limited by factors like high cost, transportation issues and uncertainty around storage capacity. 

 

A graph explaining carbon capture with illustrations
Some industries can capture CO2 by storing or using it for their manufacturing process. Facilities that can't capture, store or use that CO2 are emitting climate-changing gas / Credit: The Nature Conservancy.

 

In September 2022, Niti Aayog produced a report on transforming the country’s trucking sector, which is ​​a major carbon emitter, on the pathway to net zero. It is a crucial sector as heavy- and medium-duty trucks carry the bulk of India’s goods — about ​​70% of today’s domestic freight demand. With an expected increase in demand for road freight, the number of trucks is expected to touch 17 million in 2050 compared to 4 million in 2022. For such a sector, the report said zero-emission trucks (ZETs) — including battery electric trucks (BETs) and fuel cell electric trucks (FCETs) — can offer a compelling alternative to the diesel trucks which dominate India’s road freight sector now. According to a Climate Action Tracker study, India’s transport sector is responsible for 13.5% of its energy-related CO2 emissions and, according to Niti Aayog, the trucking sector alone is responsible for one-third of transport-related CO2 emissions in the country.  

Earlier, in mid-2020, Indian Railways, which ferries about 23 million people every day, announced that it will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.  

In addition to the railways, the Indian government is also taking steps to reduce carbon emissions in the aviation sector. Recently, it said it has “advised all operational brownfield airports and upcoming greenfield airports to work towards achieving carbon neutrality and net zero" which includes the use of 100% green energy.

India has 148 operational airports including 137 airports, two water aerodromes and nine heliports. In September 2022, India’s civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said that the country has a target of turning 90 airports carbon-neutral by 2024. In March 2023, he said most of the airports have been given the target of achieving 100% use of green energy by 2023 and net zero by 2030. He said that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has already installed solar power plants at various airports with a cumulative capacity of more than 54 megawatts. 

The Indian government is also in the process of finalizing a Carbon Credit Trading Scheme to establish a domestic carbon market. 

A carbon market refers to the system where carbon credits are bought and sold. Companies purchase carbon credits through these carbon markets to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions. Purportedly, it has several benefits such as the reduction of emissions, encouraging improved ecosystem and forest management, environmentally responsible businesses and more finance options. For instance, electric carmaker Tesla has sold carbon credits worth over USD 5.5 billion in the last five years including USD 1.78 billion in 2022. 

But everything is not rosy with the concept as there are challenges too, ranging from the effectiveness of the carbon credit market in curbing emissions to the poor quality of credits. It is also noted by critics that buying carbon credits can help those with resources to avoid reducing emissions, or enable them to reduce emissions at a much slower rate. Even as countries turn to carbon credits to achieve their net zero targets, concern is mounting about their efficacy. 

Tip for journalists: When reporting on carbon credits, make sure not to take commitments at face value. Here are some recent investigations that reveal fraud in carbon credits or poor performance: 

 

At the same time as India makes these moves towards a greener economy, government-owned Coal India — the world’s largest coal mining company — is looking to achieve 1 billion tons of coal production by 2023-24 and 1.5 billion tons by 2030. The company is looking to become net-zero in the same time frame, but that extends only to its mining operations, without taking into account the carbon dioxide that will be emitted when the mined coal is burnt. 

Indian policymakers say that together with net zero, the country is also trying to ensure energy independence and energy security. That is probably why it has not yet set a peak year for its coal production. 

 

Rail lines with coal being transported
In a push to revive the economy, the Indian government privatized coal mining in 2020 / Credit: Sushmita.

 

India’s other fossil-fuel major, Indian Oil, has a net zero operational emissions target by 2046 which will come at an investment of about Rs 2 trillion (USD 24.45 billion). State-run gas utility Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) is planning to achieve net zero by 2040. 

The cost of transitioning to a net-zero economy runs into trillions of dollars. In 2022, a report by the think tank Climate Policy Initiative estimated that India needs about USD 10.1 trillion to reach net-zero emissions by 2070. There is no ​​​​assured dedicated source of funds yet. See the companion tipsheet for details: Financing India’s Transition to Net Zero: A Primer for Journalists.

The examples above show that the Indian government and state governments across the country are taking a series of measures to achieve net zero, cut down emissions and increase renewable energy adoption even as India is yet to curb its coal production.  

Tip for journalists: Journalists can track different sectors on their net zero targets, both state-wide and nationally, to understand how progress is made on these commitments. They need to closely track the websites and annual reports of various ministries and private companies undertaking these net zero commitments and also monitor their claims during various public events.  

What are state governments doing?  

A blue-toned chart showing CO2 emissions by Indian state
State-wise analysis of carbon emissions (mtpa) / Credit: Niti Ayog.

 

Some of India’s 36 states and union territories (UTs) are already off the block and have started laying the groundwork to create a pathway to net zero, while others are lagging due to the absence of supporting policies. Nearly a dozen states and UTs are yet to have clear net zero plans. Maharashtra was probably the first state to pioneer net zero policies, when, in 2021, it announced a commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions in 43 cities, including Mumbai, by 2050, two decades ahead of the national goal. 

Among other states, Arunachal Pradesh has a net zero plan (by 2047); Assam talks about getting its villages to achieve net zero; Andhra Pradesh has an energy efficiency program; Bihar has a target of being net zero by 2040; Chhattisgarh has a target of 2050; Gujarat has a target of 2070; Kerala has revised its renewable policy aiming to become a 100% renewable energy-based state by 2040 and carbon neutral by 2050; and Tamil Nadu has announced that it will achieve net zero targets much before the national target of 2070. It also became the first state to launch its own climate change mission. 

India’s national capital, Delhi, also talks of achieving net zero (by 2030) but there is no clear plan. The neighboring state of Haryana also has no clear plan but one of its major cities, Gurugram, aims to go net zero by 2050. The state of Karnataka does not have a clear net zero plan but its capital, Bengaluru, wants to become carbon neutral by 2050.  

Many states like Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh have either no plans or unclear plans for net zero. Some have climate/renewable energy goals but without a clear timeline. For instance, Madhya Pradesh’s renewable energy policy talks about state government departments being net zero by 2030, Odisha has come out with a climate budget but there is no clear timeline to achieve net zero while Rajasthan has a properly laid out state action plan on climate change and renewable energy goals but no clear net zero plans.  

In March 2022, the then Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur announced that the state government will work towards ensuring 100% of the state’s energy needs are met through renewable power. In March 2023, the Chhattisgarh government launched a scheme to plant 15 million trees across 180,000 acres over a period of five years. According to the announcement, this initiative will offer “additional income through carbon credits.” In February 2023, Chandigarh, a union territory, declared all government schools in its area as carbon-negative.  

Sikkim is India’s lone state that ​​​​thus far remains carbon negative.  

Seven Indian states — Tripura, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Punjab, Telangana, West Bengal and Tripura, which together represent 29.07% of India's population and contribute nearly 30% to the country’s GDP — are also part of Under2 Coalition. The coalition is a global community of more than 270 national and sub-national governments committed to the goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. 

Though it has no net zero target yet, Jharkhand, which is heavily reliant on coal for its revenue, has made a task force to ensure a just transition, that is, justice for the communities directly or indirectly dependent on coal, since they will be the worst affected once coal is phased out. 

A just transition is crucial to ensure alternate livelihoods and the welfare of people as well as the environment when energy transition/decarbonization takes place. 

At the national level, the government has started working on a just transition framework though it has not declared a target year by which coal production will peak or be phased out. Academics have started to look at the issue. Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur has opened a Just Transition Research Center

Tip for journalists: Irrespective of which subject journalists are reporting on, understanding net zero targets and how policies to achieve these targets impacts other sectors will be crucial. Journalists should monitor the progress — or lack of progress — and communicate the implications of these actions to their audiences. How will measures to achieve net zero affect the lives of people, the position of industries, the state’s revenue and jobs? To present balanced and objective reports, they should reach out to climate scientists, government institutes, retired policymakers, think tanks, etc. 

 

A woman dressed in green works with a solar-powered lamp.
A women working under a solar powered lamp in a village with no electricity / Credit: Jarnail Singh for The Climate Group via Flickr.

 

What are corporations doing to move towards net zero?  

India’s ambitious renewable energy plans and net zero goals mean that the private sector is also undertaking a journey toward net zero. Firms have tried reinventing themselves because their growth or long-term survival depends on them undertaking the transition. 

For instance, the State Bank of India, which is India’s biggest bank, has a target of going carbon-neutral by 2030. Similarly, Tata Group’s Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a leading global IT services firm, has announced plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. 

Tata Group is one of India’s oldest and biggest industrial groups and has interests ranging from IT, energy, power, infrastructure, steel, automobiles, retail and media. It has started a project called Aalingana: Embracing Sustainability to achieve net zero by 2045. 

Other majors of the fossil-fuel sector such as Reliance, NTPC and Adani have also come out with detailed plans to embrace renewable energy. Reliance Industries, for example, has set a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2035. The group is also making renewable energy a serious focus area with an investment of about Rs 5.95 trillion (USD 72.78 billion) in green energy over the next 10-15 years. This includes generating 100 gigawatts of solar energy capacity by 2030 and a massive renewable energy manufacturing capacity in Gujarat, which will include “critical components” of renewable energy including a solar photovoltaic cell manufacturing complex, advanced energy storage systems for integrated cells, battery packs, electrolyzer manufacturing facility, semiconductor development, and basic raw material and auxiliary materials manufacturing.  

Adani Group, which has interests in projects related to power, coal, ports, airports and highways, has also made ambitious renewable energy plans. In 2022, Gautam Adani, who heads the Adani Group, announced a USD 70 billion investment in clean energy by 2030. Several companies of the group have set net zero targets. For instance, Adani Transmission has announced 2050 as its target year to achieve net zero emissions. 

Renewable energy companies including ReNew Power have also announced their interest in green hydrogen plans. ReNew Power has plans to achieve net zero by 2040

Many firms in India are making plans to shift to renewable fuel for their energy needs, investing heavily in renewable energy projects, and are aiming to scale up recycling and circularity and focus on innovative technologies such as carbon capture. 

Major Indian software firms such as Wipro and Infosys have announced their targets for carbon neutrality. While Wipro announced its commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, Infosys notes that due to their decade-long efforts, they became a “carbon neutral company in 2020.” 

The industry is also coming together through various groups to work on climate action. For instance, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) came out with a report, titled "Mission NetZero: A Roadmap for Indian Chemical Industry." Tata Power and Social Alpha have come up with a Net Zero Industry Accelerator that is focused on industrial use cases of clean energy transition and industrial decarbonization contributing towards India’s net-zero targets. 

In September 2022, CII launched a Climate Action Charter to enable Indian businesses to map “climate change as a material risk across value chains and develop long-term actions” to build resilient businesses. It is based on four principles: developing measurable short-term (five years) and long-term targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, supporting value chain in climate transition, building resilience for future climate change impacts and accelerating green finance for climate transition. 

Tip for journalists: For journalists reporting either on business and economy, startups or environment and the climate, it is an interesting time to see how major Indian corporate players  involved in the fossil fuel business are turning a green leaf. To critically examine their claims and investigate if they are involved in greenwashing, journalists need to closely look into their annual reports, disclosures to financial markets, ESG reports, and their voluntary announcements regarding their net zero targets. Other documents that can be tracked are quarterly investor calls and even the documents submitted by these companies in various courts.  

 

A solar farm in the desert
A solar farm in Rajasthan / Credit: Jitendra Parihar for Thomson Reuters Foundation via CIF Action on Flickr.

 

What are the perspectives of researchers and think tanks?  

Research bodies are highlighting the issues that India’s net zero plan could pose. 

A report by McKinsey, "Decarbonizing India: Charting a Pathway for Sustainable Growth," says that the bulk of India’s emissions (about 70%) are due to six main sectors — power, steel, automotive, aviation, cement and agriculture. It urges policy interventions for orderly and accelerated decarbonization and for a transition to be set up in this decade. 

Another report, "Getting India to Net Zero" by Asia Society Policy Institute, notes that the years to 2040 will be defining for policy intervention. It states that for India to reach net zero emissions by 2070 and potentially earlier by 2050, a balanced mix of policies will be needed, including carbon pricing across the economy, introduction of no-new-coal policy as soon as possible, strengthening financial subsidies for renewable power and electric vehicles, support for research and development to nurture pre-commercialization low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, and more. 

However, Climate Action Tracker, an international scientific project that tracks climate action by governments around the world, evaluates India’s net zero targets as poor.  

It states that although the central government’s Long-Term Low-Carbon Development Strategy “outlines sector-specific action areas, targeting the power, industry, transport, building, and urban sectors,” it “does not give sufficiently clear policy guidance on how the government intends to achieve net zero beyond its current policies and programs.” 

“It neither presents any emissions pathways, nor does it show to what extent their policies and measures will translate into the required emissions reductions by 2070. Moreover, the government’s plan does not provide transparent information on the intended use of CCUS or other carbon dioxide removal technologies to meet its net zero target. India’s net zero target performs poorly in terms of its scope, target architecture and transparency.” 

It noted there is significant room for improvement if India clarifies the emissions scope of the target, quantifies its mitigation measures and pathways and develops a target review process.  

Tips for journalists: Think tanks and research institutes come up with various reports which sometime release startling figures. Journalists can track these reports and compare the differences in their methodologies to understand the nuances. They should approach their stories from different perspectives such as social, environmental and financial. These reports are also often a source of good case studies from other countries and thus can be closely tracked. While reporting on what is being said by think tanks and research institutes, it is important to quote all stakeholders, government, other researchers, private sector etc. in the stories. Stories can also be strengthened through comparisons with policies in other countries.  

 

A rickshaw transports people
A battery-powered rickshaw transports people in Howrah, India / Credit: Biswarup Ganguly via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Journalists should endeavor to track commitments and progress made by governments, as well as private companies, and produce balanced and objective reports on India’s progress towards net zero, as well as the obstacles in its path. Remember, this is not just an issue of interest for environmental or climate reporters, as the country’s net zero efforts will impact every walk of life, from politics to the economy.  

Questions to consider:  

  • Does the Indian government have a comprehensive strategy to move towards net zero goals? 
  • Are the Indian government’s net zero plans ambitious enough and well supported with mechanisms and clear targets? 
  • The interplay between various schemes of the different ministries of the central government regarding net zero. 
  • How can lagging Indian states make ambitious moves towards net zero? 
  • Can India’s million-plus population cities become carbon neutral? 
  • Which industry sectors require the most support for the country’s net zero goals? How much finance is required for it? 
  • The extent to which large industrial groups in India are pursuing mega renewable power plans while some are also championing fossil fuel sector projects. 
  • What support does the Indian industry need to fast-track its net zero goals?  
  • Is India missing a target-based approach in pursuance of its net zero goals? Do we need a better reporting mechanism? 
  • What are the Just Transition plans of the central government and various state governments? Are they adequate? Do the people who will be affected know anything about these plans? 
  • Are companies and their employees who will be adversely affected by the move towards net zero making any plans for the transition? 

 

Examples of good reporting on net zero:  

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Resources:  


This tipsheet was produced by Mayank Aggarwal.  

Banner image: Workers at Eastern Coalfield Limited (ECL) coal mine in Jhanjra village, India / Credit: Aarushi Tanwar.