The Biden administration is soon expected to formally commit the United States to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century. When it does, nine of the world’s 10 largest economies will have made that pledge or something like it. The lone holdout–India–should do the same.
Unlike many other governments, India’s has generally preferred to under-promise and over-deliver on its climate pledges. The country is on track to meet its previously declared targets of generating 40 per cent of its power from renewable sources and reducing carbon emitted per unit of output 33 per cent to 35 per cent by 2030. But it’s declined up to now to set a goal for achieving net-zero, and it’s pushing back against international pressure to do so.
The reasons for this are familiar and understandable. Most of India’s more than 1.3 billion citizens remain desperately poor. If faster progress on climate meant asking them to forgo the fruits of economic development–power, roads, cars, flights, factories–it would be grossly unfair. Developed nations are responsible for the vast majority of historical emissions. If the U.S. and India both meet net-zero targets by 2050, the U.S. will have poured nearly five times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as India.
Yet the case for greater ambition is compelling. It needn’t mean diminished growth, correctly measured–and it could very well mean the opposite.