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 Climate Change

COP26
Published on: Nov. 17, 2021, 11:43 a.m.
Not so cool coal
  • Despite its ambitious steps towards renewables, India relies on coal for 70 per cent of its energy

By Business India Editorial

COP26 President Alok Sharma was close to tears as India and China made sure the pledge was not to ‘phase out’ coal but ‘phase down’. 

A change of a small word but the implications are not so small. Sharma explained to the Glasgow gathering how both the Asian neighbours exerted pressure to water down the wording, and the last-minute alteration brought sharp words of rebuke from the US and other countries.

Interestingly, it was not India who used ‘the soft’ phrase in reducing the use of coal but China and US had the ‘phase down’ phrase in their bilateral climate agreement signed on 10 November.

Though many countries were angry at the weakening of the pledge, there are experts who believe that the real villain is climate injustice as developing countries are expected to meet the same commitment as developed, wealthy countries, who have had their share of emissions in the past and now are rich and developed.

Even though India has been vilified now for its stance in the coal issue, one should remember that India has now taken a firm step and announced its commitment to go net-zero by 2070. Agreeing to ‘phase down’ coal is also an important step in its commitment to honour the decision to cut emission and be net-zero in 50 years.

“India setting a net zero target and agreeing to phase down of coal is surely a step forward from where it was in terms of national policies and commitments before arriving at Cop this year,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in India.

India also has an ambitious target of 450GW of renewables by 2030, which is a huge and challenging task for the government. “If India formulates a detailed plan for coal phase-down and aggressive renewable energy deployment, they will be on track to diminishing coal capacity and consumption,” Dahiya said.

Despite its ambitious steps towards renewables, India relies on coal for 70 per cent of its energy, and it is not possible the country to take a bold step to pledge to ‘phase out’ coal without taking into consideration the huge economic price its people and economy will pay.

In the next 20 years, India’s energy demand is expected to grow the fastest in the world as the country grows, develops and urbanises. Moreover, uninterrupted electricity is still a pipedream in most rural areas. It is true that the renewables are growing fast but it is still takes care of only 18 percent of the country’s power generation.

Ulka Kelkar, director of climate at the World Resources Institute in India, said: “India’s intervention reflects its lack of choices – the country does not have significant oil and gas reserves and spends more than $100 billion each year to import these, and nuclear power accounts for less than 2 per cent of its electricity capacity.”

There are experts who believe that vilifying India in the coal phrase is not right. Brandon Wu, the director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid, points out that the agreement had only targeted coal while avoiding mention of other fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil, which are used in abundance by the US and European countries.

“By focusing only on coal and not including oil and gas, this text would disproportionately impact certain developing countries like China and India. India said in negotiations that all fossil fuels must be phased down, in an equitable manner,” said Wu.


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