Will Global Zero Emission Target Go For a Toss?

Geopolitical conditions do not look like improving to ensure a strife-free world. 

4 mins read
Aerial View of Coal Fired Power Station. According to Stanford University report, investments post-COVID continues to be overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuels in most countries. (Photo credit: iStock)

In the recent COP 26 Glasgow Climate Meet,  all the Prime Ministers and Presidents of various countries who participated in the meeting expressed deep concern about global warming and pledged to limit the emission of carbon dioxide and other noxious gases in their regions,  to save the global climate from possible disaster.

Different countries promised and pledged that they would bring the emission to zero level in their regions with different target dates.

 United States has set a goal of 100% clean electricity by the year  2035, which would result in a crucial foundation for net-zero emissions no later than the year 2050  in the USA.  China informed the UN General Assembly that it would aim for peak carbon emission before 2030 and would reach carbon Net Zero by 2060.   Japan declared that by 2050, Japan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero.     The Russian government has drafted a new decarbonisation strategy that sets a 2060 net zero emissions target.  Indian Prime Minister had announced India’s zero-emission target to be achieved by 2070

 At the end of the Glasgow meeting, looking at the commitments made by the leaders from different countries, many people around the world thought that zero-emission would happen in the coming decades.

However, the subsequent developments in the geopolitical scenario in the world and consequent energy issues have created doubts and apprehension as to whether the zero-emission target would be achieved at any time.

Impact  of climate change

The adverse impact of global warming and climate change has already become evident across the world.

 In Europe,  drought has threatened to make the  Rhine river, which is a crucial waterway for German, Dutch and Swiss trade for centuries, extremely difficult to be used. In several European countries, drought conditions have created severe water shortages and the countries are now considering plans to curtail the use of water in all possible ways. In several countries, heavy unseasonal rains and floods are throwing life out of gear for people.  China has now issued a warning regarding possible drought conditions in the country and some regions in China are reported to be suffering from heat waves. 

The significant regional warming leads to continued loss of sea ice, melting of glaciers and of the Greenland ice cap. The Arctic is warming three times as fast as the global average.

These conditions are alarming by any stretch of the imagination.

Primary requisites

The primary requisite to achieve zero emissions in the world is that the use of coal as fuel should be completely eliminated.  Further, the methane emission during storage and transportation of natural gas also needs to be totally eliminated. Apart from these steps, the sulphur dioxide emission from vehicle exhaust also needs to be brought to zero level.  These are some of the essential requisites which have to be done.

To eliminate the use of fossil fuel completely, the remedial measures that have been identified are the massive boost for the production of renewable energy from wind, solar and hydro projects and also large-scale production and use of green hydrogen as an energy source and feedstock source.

While there has been a high focus on renewable energy projects, the ground reality is that the world over, such focus on renewable energy has failed to meet the energy needs caused by the recent developments.

It appears that dependence on renewable energy as an important strategy to move towards low emission will not have a significant impact,  in view of the fluctuating seasonal climatic conditions and low capacity utilisation of the renewable energy sector., as well as a large quantity of power required to produce a massive quantity of green hydrogen that would be required in the world.

While all over the world,  there is a lot of focus on hydrogen energy which is green energy, what is needed is the massive production of green hydrogen at an affordable cost. Considering the various technological and infrastructure issues and constraints such as storage and transportation and production cost,   green hydrogen as the ultimate energy source to achieve zero emission in the world appears to be a little too optimistic at this stage.

Target may become difficult  due to world conflicts:

The Ukraine – Russia war has led to serious questions the world over on whether the zero-emission targets would be attainable.

Consequent to the Ukraine-Russia war and with  NATO countries and the USA imposing various sanctions against Russia, the availability of crude oil and natural gas from Russia to NATO countries is rapidly going down.  In such a desperate situation,  to tackle the scenario, several countries like Germany are restarting the coal-based thermal power projects and are planning to restart the nuclear power plants which were closed earlier.

Many countries have started mining coal and boosting crude oil/gas production in their countries. The adverse impact of this shift towards coal, oil and gas on meeting the global emission reduction targets is too glaring to be ignored.

India’s dependence on coal:

In 2021-22, India produced 778 million tonnes of coal compared to 716 million tonnes in the previous year.  India has now set a target of increasing coal production to 1000 million tonnes per annum. The government of India has announced that in the financial year 2023, coal production in the country is likely to record 900 million tonnes.

The use of coal in India will certainly not reduce but it would only increase in the foreseeable future if India were to maintain the industrial and economic growth and GDP growth of more than 8%.per annum.  Coal will remain the permanent baseload option for India for a long time to come.

Strife-ridden political scenario:

If the countries behave responsibly by avoiding war, which causes huge emissions due to bombing and shooting and missile attacks and energy-related issues then there could be some hope that the efforts of scientists and technologists to find a  way to achieve zero emission would be fruitful.

Geopolitical conditions do not look like improving to ensure a strife-free world. 

Ultimately, one can say that the challenge of achieving zero emission should also be fought in the minds and hearts of men and women, where war and conflicts and the use of arms would become a thing of the past. Will it ever happen?

N.S.Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause and to promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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