India is unlikely to bind itself to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050, government sources told Reuters, despite diplomatic pressure from the United States and Britain to do so to help slow global warming.
India is the world's third-biggest carbon emitter after China and the United States and thus is vital in the fight against climate change currently focused on reaching zero emissions by mid century or thereabouts.
China has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060 while US President Joe Biden's administration is expected to announce a 2030 target for reducing emissions at a summit next month, and later possibly set a target date for becoming carbon neutral.
But India's energy demand is projected to grow by more than any other nation over the next two decades and the worry is that it may have to cut back on consumption if it were to tie itself to a hard emissions deadline, two sources involved in the discussions told Reuters.
"We may not be able to commit ourselves to net zero emissions, it is a delicate problem," said one of the sources, who did not wish to be identified.
India will instead stick to the Paris pledge to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35% from its 2005 levels by 2030 and is aiming to outperform those goals, the source said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target of generating 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 which is five times current capacity and two and half times the Paris pledge.
"That's a significant transformation of the energy mix. So in that sense we are already ahead of the curve, no point making exaggerated claims," the source said.
But international pressure is growing in the run-up to an Earth Day summit that Biden is due to host on April 22 for leaders of 40 countries including India and China, followed by a G7 meeting in Britain to which India has been invited and culminating in a global climate conference in Scotland in November.
US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told an Indian conference last month that striving towards carbon neutrality by mid-century was a critical commitment. British politician Alok Sharma, who is organising the COP 26 climate conference in Scotland, met Indian government leaders including Modi in Delhi last month to push for greater commitments. Powerful action by India would encourage other countries to follow suit, Sharma said.
The Indian environment ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on government policy on carbon neutrality.
But officials have debated the net zero target and whether it was realistic and in line with the country's development needs, a second source privy to the discussions said.
Jayant Sinha, an MP from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, submitted a private bill in parliament this month for a legally binding net zero commitment, arguing it would help India draw investments worth billions of dollars.
"There have been two schools of thought within government. One is if you go for zero emissions, you will become a sort of a global icon," said the second source.
"The other is a more pragmatic view. Let's stick to the commitments we have already made, meet our energy needs. Our energy needs are much higher than many of these countries," the source said.
India's per capita emissions are an eighth of those of the United States and less than a third of China's.
"The scale of transition is going to be enormous for India, and there is a risk that in trying to reach net zero by 2050, we will end up constraining energy needs for the poor," said Navroz K Dubash, a professor at Delhi's Centre for Policy Research.