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The world’s third-biggest carbon emitter disappointed Downing Street by naming 2070 as its target date to reach net zero – 20 years later than the summit’s aim – but won praise for its first climate plan nevertheless.
Hailing “real leadership” that suggested India’s emissions will peak by 2030, Professor Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics, said: “This was a very significant moment for the summit.”
After China’s refusal to budge on its CO2-cutting plans, India’s announcement offered hope of keeping the Glasgow summit “on track”, The Independent was told.
It came as Boris Johnson was criticised after revealing he plans to fly home to London on Tuesday – because it would take him too long to travel by train, according to No 10.
Meanwhile, world leaders were told to begin annual reporting of actual progress made towards their climate promises, because a gap of five years will be too late.
“Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.”
Watch: Greta Thunberg says politicians are 'pretending' at COP26
Outside the summit, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg told campaigners that only their pressure would save the planet, as she attacked the “blah blah blah” of the leaders behind the security fences.
Joe Biden apologised for Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on cutting emissions, saying: “We will demonstrate to the world the United States is not only back at the table but hopefully leading by the power of our example.”
India’s role in Glasgow is seen as crucial if the summit is to “keep 1.5C alive” – the limit on the global temperature rise since industrialisation if runaway climate change is to be averted.
With the leaders of China, Russia, Brazil, Japan and Turkey absent, all eyes were on Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, as he pledged that 50 per cent of the country’s energy would come from renewable sources by 2030.
He also announced that the carbon intensity of the economy – a measure that relates to the amount of goods produced per unit of energy – would be reduced by 45 per cent, not 35 per cent, by 2030.
However, Mr Modi said that rich nations must cough up more climate finance to turn pledges from developing nations into reality, after a three-year delay to a long-promised $100bn annual fund.
In his response, Mr Johnson made clear he was listening, promising to “work with India” through a new £3bn “clean green initiative” he unveiled yesterday.
The prime minister tweeted: “India has today announced ambitious plans for half its energy to come from renewables by 2030. This will cut carbon emissions by a billion tonnes, contributing to a worldwide decade of delivery on climate change.”
Climate experts agreed that India’s announcement was potentially “a big deal”, although the details of the pledge were yet to be examined.
Shri Rashmi, of the Energy and Resources Institute, said: “A 1 billion tonne reduction in absolute terms is massive. This shows tremendous leadership.”
Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, said: “India has clearly put the ball in the court of the developed world. This is real climate action.”
And Dustin Benton, of Green Alliance, said: “For India, the big deal is its 2030 commitments. If this means it peaks its emissions in the next 10 years, then the world can stay on track.”
Mr Johnson will fly out of Glasgow on Tuesday afternoon, at the end of the leaders’ summit that opened Cop26, leaving open the option of a return next week – if the summit appears to be heading for success.
Watch: India won’t hit net-zero emissions until 2070, Modi tells Cop26