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Placing climate change at the centre of its environmental policies, India took bold pledges in 2021 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserting at the crucial international climate summit COP 26 that it is the only country delivering in “letter and spirit” the commitments under the Paris Agreement.
From pledging to become net zero emitter of carbon by 2070 to achieving 500 gigawatts non-fossil energy capacity by 2030, India led from the front on environmental issues this year, grabbing eyeballs across the world.
At the UN climate meet, India once again highlighted that developed nations have not only failed to meet the USD 100 billion goal annually of support to developing nations since 2009 but also continue to present it as the ceiling of their ambition all the way to 2025.
Addressing the world leaders at United Nations COP 26 at Glasgow, Modi listed out five commitments of India to combat climate change with a bold announcement that it will achieve the target of net zero emissions by the year 2070, achieving 500 giga watt non-fossil energy capacity by 2030, fulfilling 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy sources by 2030.
India also launched ‘One Sun, One World, One Grid’ (OSOWOG) at the conference with an aim to harness solar energy wherever the sun is shining, ensuring that generated electricity flows to areas that need it most.
Towards the end of the summit, the country drew sharp criticism from several nations for allegedly watering down the global commitment to cut down use of coal in the climate pact adopted at COP26 by using the term “phase down” instead of “phase out” of coal in the Glasgow pact.
However, India countered the criticism and denied making the amendment saying it had only read out the text at COP26 and had not authored the text. India also pressed the issue of emission reduction to combat climate change at the 16th G20 Summit held in Naples, where it urged the G20 countries to bring down per capita emissions to global average by 2030 in view of the “fast-depleting available carbon space”.
Speaking to PTI, Bhupender Yadav, who took charge as the Union Environment Minister in July and led the Indian delegation at the climate summit in Glasgow, said that India successfully represented the developing nations and put forward a strong front.
Listing and lauding the initiatives taken by his ministry, Yadav said it was more successful in curbing stubble burning this year compared to 2020.
“Since the time I became the minister, our 14 tiger reserves have got CA|TS accreditation, 47 sites have been declared as Ramsar protected sites, 10 beaches have got Blue Flag certification… We have established a new commission for Delhi’s pollution for which we brought a new legislation, we have amended the biodiversity and wildlife laws, regional conferences under NCAP have begun in Mumbai and Guwahati. We will do it across India.
“Process of public opinion and consultation on amending Forest Conservation Act has been completed. We have been more successful in curbing stubble burning this year compared to the previous year,” he said.
The year also saw several initiatives being taken by the government to tackle the menace of toxic air in the capital and adjoining areas.
India entered into Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAFMD) with the US under India-US Climate Clean Energy Agenda 2030 aimed to provide both the countries an opportunity to renew collaborations on climate change while addressing the financing aspects.
The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) was established after a bill was passed by the Parliament which initially also provided for penalizing farmers for causing pollution by burning stubble. However, this provision was later withdrawn.
Bio-decomposer solution was introduced in the city and neighbouring states to decompose the stubble left after the harvest.
India also launched a campaign ‘Plastic Hackathon 2021’ to ensure that the country becomes free of single-use plastic by 2022.
The beginning of the year saw environment activists expressing disappointment with the Supreme Court’s nod to the government’s ambitious Central Vista Project saying the project is harmful for the environment and is an encroachment of public places.
Several reports also made headlines in 2021, bringing India’s pollution and climate situation under scanner.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’ warned that the Indian Ocean is warming at a higher rate than other oceans and that India will witness increased heat waves, heavy rainfall and flooding, which will be the irreversible effects of climate change.
The World Air Quality Report, prepared by a Swiss agency, found that 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India with Delhi ranked as 10th most polluted city and the top polluted capital city in the world.
Eyebrows were raised when a report by Greenpeace India revealed that Delhi saw a spike of 125 per cent in air pollution due to nitrogen dioxide in April compared to the same month last year.
Another report claimed that 39 lakh people in India were displaced in 2020 due to climate disasters and conflicts, making it the fourth worst-hit country in the world to have such a high number of internal displacements.
A report by the Centre for Science and Environment raised concern that Ozone is becoming more widespread in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) across all seasons.
Soon after the report, the government gave its nod for ratification of the Kigali Amendment for phase down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by India under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.