Delhi and Brussels have reaffirmed their commitment to expand collaboration on climate change, with the possible launch of a “green hydrogen alliance” on the agenda of bilateral talks next year.

With New Dehli targeting net-zero emissions by 2070, the prospect of India’s transformation into a global powerhouse for renewables could present opportunities for EU-India climate cooperation.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week used the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow to announce 2070 as the country’s target to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

Modi’s surprise announcement came after months of pushback against international pressure to make further climate commitments, and after his environment minister dismissed the idea of net-zero pledges only a week before.

In Glasgow, India raised its 2030 target for low-emission energy capacity to 500 gigawatts from 450 gigawatts and pledged to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 1 billion tons above business as usual before the end of the decade.

The most ambitious of India’s five targets is to draw half of the country’s energy from renewables by 2030, up from around 38% in 2020.

According to sources close to the Indian government, the ambitions would be even higher, but Delhi’s is not ready to set more targets without more financial support and transfer of technology from richer nations.

“Developed countries reached peak emissions in the ’90s and announced net-zero by 2050, which is a gap of 60 years, while India would reach, as per current estimates, peak emissions maybe around 2040-50,” the source told EURACTIV. “However, we announced net-zero by 2070, with a gap of only 20 years.”

“What the EU has been trying to achieve in 60 years, India is trying to achieve it within 20-30 years period,” the source stressed.

“Per capita emissions of developed countries should at least reach the global average, and there should be enough carbon space for developing countries,” the source added, saying that measures such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) should be a last resort.

CBAM, designed to also drive demand for green products, has been described as discriminatory by emerging countries like India, a country from which the EU imports substantial amounts of aluminium and steel.

“CBAM could on the other hand open Pandora’s Box of trade wars in the context of historical emissions and current emissions,” sources close to the Indian government told EURACTIV.

Although India is currently the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US, the country’s per-capita emissions are much lower than those of other major economies.

Earlier this week, leaders of developing nations expressed frustration in Glasgow that developed economies so far have failed repeatedly to live up to their promise of mobilising more funds to support them in the energy transition.

“It is India’s expectation that the world’s developed nations make $1 trillion available as climate finance as soon as possible,” Modi said, in reference to failed promises to provide $100 billion in annual climate financing beginning in 2020.

“Justice would demand that those nations that have not kept their climate commitments should be pressured,” he added.

Within the Green Deal, the EU has pledged to increase its support to international climate resilience and preparedness, including through scaling up of international finance.

“We absolutely recognise that climate finance is key to a climate-neutral and resilient global economy and global society,” the EU’s envoy to India, Ugo Astuto, said at an event of the Ananta Aspen Centre ahead of COP26.

Green hydrogen alliance

During his visit to India in October, EU climate chief Frans Timmermans suggested exploring joint initiatives, such as a possible joint forum and high-level meeting in the first half of next year.

Timmermans also announced that the EU will launch a €1 million programme to strengthen cooperation with the International Solar Alliance. The funding would come in support of academic exchanges, research and innovation and to enable the exchange of best practices on how to mobilise finance for solar energy deployment.

“I expect green hydrogen to play a major part in the conversation between EU and India in the coming months,” Astuto said.

The promise of green hydrogen, produced emission-free using renewable energy, has generated increased interest in developing countries aiming to decarbonise their economies.

With an eye on a future trade partnership with the EU, Delhi has expressed interest in a  green hydrogen alliance with the bloc.

During their joint summit in Porto earlier this year, Delhi and Brussels reaffirmed their commitment to expanding their collaboration on climate change mitigation. The EU-India Connectivity Partnership, also agreed at the same summit, now covers numerous issues relevant to climate action, including the transition to clean energy.

According to an EU official, India has proposed discussing the creation of an EU–India Green Hydrogen Forum during the next EU-India Energy Panel.

“From the EU perspective, this could be useful to support business-to-business cooperation in support of green hydrogen pilots in India, cooperation on regulatory frameworks and international initiatives to certify green hydrogen,” an EU official told EURACTIV.

Beyond bilateral efforts, experts believe the EU could also work with India to develop green technologies suited to third countries in the global south.

Delhi could become a major beneficiary of the new global energy trade in hydrogen, and a net exporter of energy in the future, since the country is one of few to have announced national hydrogen plans.

At the same time, the EU’s recently published Indo-Pacific strategy has signalled a stronger EU aim to strengthen cooperation with countries in the region.

It also explicitly mentions working with Quad working groups on vaccines, climate change and emerging technologies.