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Why did India defend coal at the close of the Cop 26 climate summit?

India and fossil fuels. | Posted on 2021-11-20 14:38

In the world of diplomacy, India will surely be remembered for its last-minute push for coal and its demand to change the semantics of that fuel during this year's climate talks.

But India's importance in the global shift away from fossil fuels is important for other reasons.

It is the third largest carbon polluter in the world and also a rapidly expanding economy, which means the amount of greenhouse gases it will continue to send into the atmosphere will only continue to grow as its population.

For India, the ability to reap the benefits of fossil fuels as the United States and other industrialized economies have done as they grow is a matter of fairness. This is something India's Environment Minister and chief climate negotiator Bhupender Yadav highlighted in his remarks to delegates from nearly 200 countries at the climate conference in Glasgow.

“How can we expect developing countries to make promises on phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies? "Has he asked. “Developing countries still have to deal with their development and poverty eradication programs. "

The proposal to change a provision in the final text of COP 26 from a “phase-out” of coal to a “phase-out” was not just an idea from India. China and several other emerging economies have also pushed for it. But it highlights the challenges faced by countries seeking to reduce their emissions while bringing energy and quality of life improvements to growing populations.

At the start of the climate summit, India drew attention for an entirely different reason.

The first day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the surprise that his country would reach carbon neutrality by 2070.

It would do so in part by increasing its use of renewables, he said, ensuring that clean sources like solar and wind would account for half of India's electricity mix by 2030, up from around a quarter today.

As a result, coal use will naturally decline, said RR Rashmi, a former climate negotiator who now heads an earth sciences and climate change program at the Institute of Energy and Resources in India.

It will need to step up the pace of its dependence on coal, with India's demand for electricity roughly three times the global average, according to the International Energy Agency.

“[India] has a unique position in these conferences. Indeed, the stakes are of great importance to us because we are so vulnerable to climate impacts, ” said Ulka Kelkar, Climate Program Director at World Resources Institute India. “But also as a so-called big emitter and big economy, a lot is expected of us in terms of commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "

The fact that the country of 1.3 billion people is a clean energy goal as ambitious is remarkable given the difficulty and cost it will generate.

“I think people forget that what India is trying to do is pretty daring,” Kelkar said. “Our current energy needs are not being met, and we promise the world that we will meet all of our growing energy needs for development from clean sources. "

Much of India's phase-out of coal will depend on its ability to ensure that renewable energy can be fed into the power grid. This will require better storage systems and other technologies that need to be scaled up in India.

The other challenge India faces is that it lacks alternative sources of fossil fuel. It imports oil and natural gas at a high cost, which increases the important role coal plays in the energy mix, Kelkar said.

This does not mean that India is not already starting to make the transition.

"In fact, the ambitions and India's goals are much more ambitious than many G20 countries," said Rashmi Institute of Energy and Resources.

Yadav, Minister of Environment, highlighted the establishment by India of the International Solar Alliance and its participation in an initiative to create a global solar array increasingly interconnected as proof of its commitment to reduce emissions through international commitments.

"We are moving from words to deeds," he added.

While India has continued to highlight its work on renewable energy, it has been much more reluctant to take a stand on coal. The country has not joined a coalition of nations that pledged to phase out coal in the first week of the climate summit.

And he continued to push back the wording of the final text of the Glasgow agreement which he saw as deviating from Paris's commitment to take into account national particularities - language that many developing countries interpret as meaning they should not be asked to reduce their emissions as quickly as the world's biggest historical polluters, like the United States.

Market forces can push in that direction anyway.

"Although coal is clearly part of the Indian economy for the next two decades, given the huge amount of its energy needs and the amount it uses already, his next coal supplies already become completely non profitable for the country. So he has to look at the alternatives and really work hard to develop them, ” said Camilla Fenning, senior policy advisor on coal transitions at E3G.

Other initiatives that were based on scaling up renewable energies or transitions to clean energy were also launched on the sidelines of the climate negotiations. Many of them are more measurable because they set specific goals. But it is difficult to say whether they will be enough to limit the rise in global temperature in line with what scientists say is necessary to prevent irreparable climate damage, as many agreements only exist on paper.

How countries work to move them forward will be vital, Fenning said.

Rashmi said removing coal from the global energy system requires action, not just agreement.

"Without strategy in terms of technology and finance, these decisions do not mean much," he added.

Much of what India was asking for when it sparked an uproar in the dying moments of COP 26 was recognition of when it is finally decided to start the transition, both for itself and for other countries in the developing world.

"Since there was COP ... the interests of different countries are never aligned, their needs are not the same, their ability to deliver was not the same" said Kelkar of WRI India.

“What matters is to see this as one more episode in an ongoing multilateral process that is not the only weapon in our arsenal to fight climate change. "

Posted on 2021-11-20 14:38

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