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India’s Fossil-Fuel-First Policy Unyielding To Paris Climate Deal Pressure

Vijay Raj Jayaraj, India

The Indian government has adopted a fossil-fuel-first attitude and has made clear it will not compromise on India’s developmental goals.

Image result for India energy mix 2040
Source: The Economic Times of India

The Paris Agreement is the United Nation’s flagship climate treaty aimed at reducing global CO2 emissions.

India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the country’s official commitment to Paris agreement, states that the total preliminary estimated cost for India’s climate change actions (between 2016 and 2030) are $2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices).

However, the proposed actions include no significant measures to curb India’s fossil fuel use or production. Moreover, the NDC states that the country reserves the right to overturn its commitments if the proposed climate mitigatory actions causes any impedance to the growth of individual economic sectors.

Earlier this year, the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, responding to Michael R. Bloomberg’s question on reducing coal, remarked,

This is right that the world’s third largest coal reserves is in India. In a poor country like India, we cannot ignore it but there is a solution to it…. We cannot deny the resources and assets that India has but we want to see how can we make use of these assets in an environment-friendly way. That is what we are focusing on.”

He reiterated on India’s renewable energy installations and said India is on track to achieve its 175 gigawatts capacity target from solar, wind and biomass (by 2022) and that he hopes India will increase the renewable target to 450 gigawatts in the near future.

India is also the key member of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) which aims to reduce the cost of solar power installations across the globe. ISA has pledged a trillion US dollars towards the cause.

In August, during his speech at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, PM Modi mentioned that India is looking forward to “create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.”

Though India has increasing its renewable installations and desires to create carbon sinks, its dependency on fossil fuels remains unaffected and unaltered. The scope for any reduction in fossil fuel consumption is slim to none, as India has excluded the fossil fuel sector from its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the Consortium of Parties (COP) of the Paris agreement. 

Currently, coal contributes about 72% of the total electricity generated in the country. India’s coal reserves are the third largest in the world. According to country’s long-term energy plan, coal is expected to contribute around 50% of total electricity demand in 2047, as renewables are expected to increase in India’s energy mix.

It is to be noted that the Indian government is also investing heavily in domestic coal infrastructure. Most of the current coal mining and handling systems at the state-run Coal India limited (CIL) are non-mechanized and the government is injecting 2.1 billion GBP to mechanize 35 projects.

Coal mining target is set at around 880 million tonnes for 2024. But the government is pushing to achieve 1 billion tonnes as soon as possible. News reports indicate that the government is set to announce key measures, including a relaxation of norms and issuance of global tenders, to attract large international miners to operate in the country.

Both the coal secretary and the coal minister have stressed the need to “urgently expand coal production” and “achieve the 1 billion tonnes target at the earliest”. In order to boost the domestic production, the Modi government is keen on liberalizing the coal sector and pushing for the maximum possible foreign direct investment. Under PM Modi’s rule, the country has added around 82 Gigawatts of coal power plants.

India’s thermal coal import grew by 19 percent in 2018, the highest ever, amounting to an total import of 172 million tonnes. In November 2019, Indian energy executives met Russian counterparts and the Russian ambassador to India in order to expediate the coal import from Russia.

The Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan, said “Long-term cooperation with Russian Far East in the coal sector will help India bridge the demand gap of coking coal in the country”. He also mentioned that the country is looking to “secure more coking coal for the domestic steel industry.”

Coal is just one aspect of India’s fossil aspirations. Oil import is also on a constant increase. The import from U.S. especially is at an all-time high and has skyrocketed in recent years owing to geopolitical tensions in the middle east. Energy trade was an important agenda of PM Modi’s visit to the U.S. in 2019 and the India’s trade with them is likely to increase by 40 percent in 2019-20, amounting to USD 10 billion.

Just days before the New York climate summit this year, Modi’s government released an update to their climate and finance policy in a document titled “Climate Summit for Enhanced Action: A Financial Perspective from India”. It outlaid India’s course of climate action and its reservations about the lack of climate funding from the developed nations (around 40 percent short of the USD 100 billion).

The report explicitly states “Despite the various climate finance decisions, there are attempts by some developed country Parties to shrug off even their modest past responsibilities.” While the document reiterates the country’s commitment to climate action (including mitigate climate change and promoting renewable energy), it clearly communicates that its efforts are on “best effort” basis.

The document also emphasised that no major new climate actions will be announced until 2023 and that the country wont reassess its climate targets: “For the present, India may only be in a position to elaborate or clarify its post 2020 climate actions already pledged in its NDC.”

The document is clear signal that the Indian government will not compromise on its developmental goals. This fossil-first attitude of the Indian government was also reflected in the cabinet decisions made in the run-up to the current UN Conference of Parties (COP 25) meeting in Madrid.

The cabinet approved the Indian government’s policy of not yielding to the pressure from developed countries on implementation of climate actions, especially when the developed countries themselves have not addressed the gaps in the pre-2020 commitments and pledges made by them to developing countries.

PM Modi, a man known for his keen aspirations for economic development, will not compromise on India’s reliance on fossil fuels to appease those at UN. As explicitly stated by him, the country cannot afford to put the brakes on fossil fuels and will continue to explore alternative ways to reduce its carbon footprint and improve the use of emission-free technologies. Fossil fuels are here to stay in India.