India says difficult to transition from coal to renewable energy

The comments come as India is facing criticism for diluting a coal pledge at the recent COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - India cannot end its dependence on coal, with consumption expected to go up in absolute terms to power the economy that is crucial for the livelihood of the vulnerable, said Indian officials.

Their comments come as India is facing criticism for diluting a coal pledge at the recent COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

The country is dependent on coal for electricity generation even though it has committed to meeting 50 per cent of its energy requirement through renewable energy by 2030.

"India depends on coal and fuel subsidies, it is not an easy transition to phase out coal. We can't just force people without making allowances for the vulnerable," said a government official who did not want to be named.

"While there will be an overall reduction of coal's contribution to electricity generation in percentage terms, there will still be some increase in absolute terms."

He added that India's energy requirements are growing and are yet to peak.

At the climate conference, India and China had been criticised for diluting coal pledges. In the text of the COP26 agreement, "phase out" of coal-fired power was changed to "phase down".

India has faced the bulk of the criticisms for what was seen as a watering down of the pledge deemed as key to limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 deg C.

But government officials said that "phase down" was not India's suggestion in the first place and that other countries had also objected to the wording.

India's longstanding position is that development is key to bringing millions out from poverty. It has maintained that countries which have enjoyed the fruits of industrialisation, namely the Western nations, should pay the bigger share of the financing of climate change initiatives and mitigation efforts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at COP26 that India, the world's third-biggest source of greenhouse gases, would increase the share of renewables in electricity generation and announced a long-term goal to bring carbon emissions to net-zero by 2070.

Still, India had also objected to the inclusion of a call to end subsidies on fossil fuels. It gives fuel subsidies for the use of liquefied petroleum gas to low-income households.

This includes free connection to poorer households that officials said had helped in eliminating biomass burning for cooking.

While New Delhi sees the climate conference as a success, a key area of disappointment has been climate finance, a major area of contention at the event.

India was among many countries that had sought enhanced commitments from the developed nations.

In 2009, it was decided that wealthy nations would plough in US$100 billion (S$136 billion) a year in climate finance to less wealthy nations by 2020. The target remained unachieved, with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development calculating that only US$79 billion a year was given till 2019.

Officials said that during negotiations at COP26, the African Union had sought US$1.3 trillion per year by 2030. This was supported by India, which had sought US$1 trillion, and like-minded countries. "But that went off the table," said the official.

The final COP26 text recognises the need for climate finance pledges from developed countries and asks them to reach the US$100 billion goal as soon as possible.

"Climate change is different from other areas where financing may be a charity or which is an addition. Here it is an integral part of the agreement. Without financing, there is no discussion on climate change," Ms Sunita Narain, director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, told The Straits Times.

She said the seven largest emitters - the European Union, the United States, Russia, Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan - have taken up the bulk of carbon budget. A carbon budget refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted over a period of time to keep within the goal of a certain temperature.

"If you add China to it by 2030, these countries will occupy 70 per cent of the carbon budget, which means the bulk of the world, including India, is left with no space for development," said Ms Narain.

She noted that developing countries needed a share of the carbon budget to develop but in a manner that mitigates climate change dangers with a low carbon footprint.

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