Ground reality belies PM Modi's tall talk on climate action

India remains the world’s second largest consumer of coal. Over four million people are employed directly and indirectly in the country's coal industry

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is welcomed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the G20 Summit
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is welcomed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the G20 Summit

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

The G20 Summit 2022 which opened at Bali, Indonesia on Tuesday, is an annual event where global leaders gather to discuss pressing challenges.

This year’s agenda is underscored by the deteriorating climate conditions and the future course of action, the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the long-drawn conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Bali this morning and was welcomed at the summit by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Modi’s address at the summit primarily highlighted India’s climate action plan. “By 2030, half of our electricity will be generated from renewable sources. Time-bound and affordable finance and sustainable supply of technology to developing countries is essential for inclusive energy transition,” he said.

Mentioning the nation’s ambitious plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2070, Modi said that India will prioritise a “phased transition to cleaner fuels”. 

The G20 Summit coincides with the CoP27 Climate Summit which is currently being held in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh.

India submitted its Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy (LT-LEDS) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during CoP27 on Monday.

The report delineates how India plans to meet its 'decarbonisation' pledge made in 2021, reiterating that the nation’s climate action plan will be marked by a transition from coal to renewable clean energy resources.

India's current LT-LEDS focuses on six areas to reduce net-emissions: electricity, transport, urbanisation, forests, finance, and industry.

“Increased use of biofuels, especially ethanol blending in petrol, the drive to increase electric vehicle penetration, and the increased use of green hydrogen fuel are expected to drive the low carbon development of the transport sector. India aspires to maximise the use of electric vehicles, ethanol blending to reach 20 per cent by 2025, and a strong modal shift to public transport for passenger and freight,” read the report. 

However, the report also mentions that India is concerned about its energy security and is unwilling to compromise on its energy security in the name of urgent mitigation, considering that developing nations have contributed significantly less to global warming than the developed nations. 

“The focus will be on the rational utilisation of national resources with due regard to energy security. The transitions from fossil fuels will be undertaken in a just, smooth, sustainable and all-inclusive manner,” highlights the report, also stressing that “low carbon development transitions in the sector should not impact energy security, energy access and employment.”

According to a Reuters report, India wants all nations at the CoP27 Summit to agree to phase down all fossil fuels, rather than just coal.

Even at the G20 Summit, Modi said: “India's energy-security is also important for global growth, as it is the world's fastest-growing economy. We must not promote any restrictions on the supply of energy and stability in the energy market should be ensured.” He added that India is, however, committed to meet its clean energy pledges.

Modi has also called on developed nations to contribute to global climate finance, citing that the cost of transition to low carbon development pathways is estimated to stand trillions of dollars by 2050. He said that the onus of ensuring that climate pledges are met rests largely on the developed countries.

"India is having to pay for a crisis that it didn't cause with money that it doesn't have," said Dipa Singh Bagai, country head for Natural Resources Defense Council in India.

While India’s dependency on coal has been a part of the global climate discourse for quite some time now and climate experts and policymakers have repeatedly urged India for a phase-out, India’s energy demand grows tangentially to its rapid industrialisation.

The International Energy Agency predicts that between now and 2040, the nation will have the largest growth in energy demand in the world.

Several climate experts have pointed towards gaps in policy that sustain India’s coal-dependency.

“If we want to counter the usage of fossil fuels we need to create demand and accessibility of solar energy to the masses at a local level, like at a municipal level. If there is accessibility and people adapt to these new technologies, only then can people plan to shun fossil fuels," said Ranjan Panda of Water Initiatives India and Down To Earth

"You take the example of rooftop solar, the whole idea did not find its reach in local levels and it got confined to limited consumers. The need of the hour is to make it affordable, incentivise the domestic consumers so that there is large-scale revolution in the sector. Such steps can also lead to creation of more green jobs in local areas, rise in entrepreneurship and give impetus to local manufacturing,” he added. 

“Yes, we all know that burning coal is bad for the environment, not to mention the health of coal workers and local communities. But it is not fair to ask a developing country like India to bear the costs of an exit from a carbon-based economy without developed countries making significant emissions reductions first — which they are demonstrably not doing. What’s more, weaning India off coal too fast would come with terrible human costs that cannot be ignored,” says Vijaya Ramachandran, the director for energy and development at Breakthrough Institute.

Over four million people are employed directly and indirectly in India's coal industry.

India remains the world’s second largest consumer of coal. Coal India Limited is the largest coal miner in the world, producing approximately 600 million tons of coal a year. India holds around 100 billion tons of coal reserves.

India will officially assume the G20 presidency from December 1 and will hold the Summit in 2023.

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