And the winner is… Coal: Why India thought the Climate Summit was great

India weakened the Glasgow agreement at the last minute this weekend by not joining its coal-phasing ambition altogether. Why is the state resisting this?

At the insistence of India, the Glasgow Climate Summit concluded with an amendment to the text on the use of coal. The signatories will not seek to phase out this fossil raw material, but rather to reduce consumption. Exact percentages or deadlines are not mentioned.

While India’s environment minister, Bhubandar Yadav, handed over the final text, the Indian capital, New Delhi, was hit by a heavy smog this year. The concentration of particulate matter in the air is currently 10 times higher than what the World Health Organization (WHO) considers healthy.

Incomprehensible contradiction in the eyes of outsiders. It is often asked why Indians do not protest against their government. Why don’t they demand clean air when they themselves are choking on fossil fuel emissions? In light of this, it seems odd that Yadav would be proud to return from Glasgow. The minister described the summit as a great success for India and most Indians agree with him.

For those who have paid attention in recent years, this situation is not so strange. First of all, India is confident: its climate goals set in Paris in 2015 are ambitious and, moreover, they were achieved early. The goals have since been adjusted upwards.

From this perspective, India believes it is right to demand more from developed countries that have contributed relatively more to global climate change.

clean lungs

Moreover, the hunger for development in India is nothing less than the craving to clean the lungs. Hundreds of millions of homes have been connected to power for the first time in recent years, while hundreds of millions of others have made their first breakthrough into the upper middle class providing cars and energy-hungry appliances like air conditioners.

When the Delhi government a few years ago attempted to introduce a system whereby only cars with even number plates were allowed to go out on the street on even dates and cars with odd numbers on even dates, there was an outcry. A family friend, who had bought a good Honda with a loan, stated that he never wanted to go back to the metro. That would be a disaster for someone who, through hard work, was the first in his family to reach the upper middle class. He would have preferred to live a few years shorter than regressing to public transportation again.

Women walking along the Dhanbad Coal Mine.AP . image

Therefore, Yadav’s speech in Glasgow drew great admiration for the Indians who had moved up the social ladder in recent years. “Developing countries have the right to responsibly use fossil fuels,” Yadav said, also noting that historically richer nations have contributed much more to current climate change. He also talked about fair and equitable solutions. Lack of commitment to climate finance (For poor countries, editor) It’s worrying. There is a significant mismatch between climate finance and mitigation efforts. So far, almost nothing has been done to support developing countries in their implementation.”

$100 billion

In 2009, it was agreed that high-income countries would mobilize $100 billion by 2020 to help developing countries achieve their climate goals. It is now clear that it will take at least until 2023 to collect this amount.

Environmental experts also see the finger in India as unfair. “The problem is not India,” ActionAid’s Brandon Wu wrote on Twitter. “The problem is that the United States and rich countries refuse to put the phase-out of fossil fuels in the context of global equality.”

It refers to the fact that fossil fuels are first explicitly mentioned in the climate treaty. The question is why focus on coal, which is still of great importance in the emerging Indian economy. Gas and oil, widely used in the United States and European countries, are not specifically mentioned.

According to Wu, the reason is obvious. This would place most of the burden on the shoulders of the United States and the rich nations. That would be unacceptable to the Biden administration’s negotiators.”

But India sees it differently, because to continue growing at the current pace, it has no choice but to continue betting on coal. India has no major oil or gas reserves. Nuclear power makes up 2% of the energy mix.

sun and water

In recent years, huge investments have been made in non-fossil energy sources, especially solar and hydropower. The goal set in Paris was that by 2030, 40 percent of electricity should come from non-fossil fuels. With 39 percent, that goal is nearly met — although the actual energy generated comes from non-fossil sources for just 20 percent. Given the challenges in solar energy storage, capacity is far from being fully utilized.

Dhanbad Coal Mine.  AP . image

Dhanbad Coal Mine.AP . image

India has now revised its 2030 target to 50 per cent. The emission intensity target (greenhouse gas emissions divided by GDP) is also moving in the right direction and has been revised upwards.

In the meantime, new coal-fired power plants will be built. It is estimated that this capacity will increase by 30 percent. Partly because of the lobby: Coal India is a major state-owned company. There are many jobs in heating plants and coal mines that could be lost if coal use were reduced. Fuel is also still needed to meet the rapidly growing demand for energy. Energy demand is expected to increase by 5% each year until at least 2030.

However, phasing out coal is a long-term imperative. Energy generated from solar panels is actually cheaper than that from coal-fired power plants. Therefore, as storage becomes easier and more expensive, the share of solar energy in India’s generated energy mix will naturally increase. Research firm BloombergNEF predicts that by the end of 2030, India will have more electricity from solar energy than from coal.

So why did India choose to fight the rest of the world at this point? This question was Times of India asked Chandra Bhushan, CEO of research organization iFOREST. He writes: “Given the development of sustainable and storage technologies, it is imperative that India does not build new coal plants after 2030.” According to Bhushan, India gained nothing by forcing an amendment to the text of the treaty, other than a huge impact on the country’s image.

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Denton Watson

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