India wants richer countries to adopt “net negative” emissions targets and launched a broadside against the climate goals of big emitters in the EU and China, in a sign of how climate negotiations are heating up ahead of a UN summit this year.

Indian energy minister R K Singh told a virtual gathering of the world’s climate leaders that targets set for 2050 or 2060 were just “a pie in the sky”. He said that developing countries such as India should not be forced to cut their emissions to net zero.

In his speech delivered to peers such as US climate tsar John Kerry, Chinese energy minister Zhang Jianhua and EU climate minister Frans Timmermans at the summit hosted by the International Energy Agency and the UN COP26, Singh castigated their efforts.

“2060 is far away. By that time, if the people continue to emit at the rate at which they are emitting, the world won’t survive,” he said. “So what are you going to do with the next five years? . . . When are you going to bring your emission down to the world average, or below the world average?”

India does not have a target for when it will cut emissions and has been under diplomatic pressure ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November.

Instead it aims to reduce emissions intensity — or the amount of pollution relative to GDP — by 33 per cent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. Emissions intensity targets do not guarantee reductions in absolute emissions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will join other heads of state at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June, where climate is expected to be a key theme.

Net negative emissions refers to the absorption of more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than a country emits — currently Bhutan is the only country in the world that is net negative because of its extensive hydropower and forests.

The EU climate minister took issue with Singh’s remarks, saying that developing countries that needed electricity could go straight to renewable power.

“There is no need to hugely increase your carbon footprint, to get to the levels of wellbeing and wealth that you want for your population,” Timmermans said at the IEA/COP26 event. “There is a possibility to do it in a better way.”

John Kerry struck a note of alarm at the summit, which comes just one month before President Biden hosts his own climate meeting, to which Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have been invited.

“This is not [about] ideology. This is not some political goal. This is not a pet project of one or two or three countries,” Kerry said at the meeting. “This is a reality that the scientists for years have been telling us and Mother Earth, the planet, is screaming at us with the feedback loops that are telling us every single day, get this done.”

While the US, China and the EU are broadly in agreement about the importance of cutting emissions to near zero by the middle of the century, India remains as outlier.

Aarti Khosla, director of Climate Trends, a New Delhi based consultancy, said: “India is in a ‘wait and watch’ situation. They want to see what is happening in other major emitting countries across the world, before committing to further actions.”

India is expected to be among the world’s biggest contributors to emissions growth in coming years because of its increasing energy needs, although its total emissions today are less than half of the US level.

Energy Minister Singh said: “I believe that it’s important for all the developed countries to talk about, not net zero, but about removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they are adding — net negative is what they need to talk about.”

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