India bares new climate goals amid coal dependency woes

The Indian cabinet approved India’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions in line with the commitments under the Paris Agreement and the announcements made at the Glasgow COP26 Summit.

A pedestrian waits to cross a street in Mumbai, India. Image: World Bank Photo Collection, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

India has gotten its updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) approved by the Cabinet. This will be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). NDCs, which are long-term voluntary commitments made by countries signatory to the Paris Agreement, make up a global effort to reduce emissions and global warming.

In the latest updated NDCs, which broadly represent India’s framework for its energy transition between 2021 and 2030, the country has committed to attaining 50 per cent of its total electric power installed capacity through non-fossil fuel-based energy resources (renewable energy, including hydropower) by the year 2030.

At the UN climate change conference (COP26) at Glasgow last year, India announced a target of achieving 500 gigawatt (GW) of its total energy from non-fossil fuel-based energy sources by 2030.

The updated NDCs also committed to reduce India’s emissions intensity (volume of emissions per unit of its Gross Domestic Product) by 45 per cent in 2030 from the 2005 levels. They maintain the commitment of going net zero by 2070. However, the updated NDCs are silent on the commitment of the total reduction of carbon emissions by one billion tonnes.

As per the latest data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), India’s current total installed capacity of power stands at 404 GW out of which the majority of the power (50 per cent) comes from coal, whereas renewable sources of energy account for 28 per cent and hydro energy accounts for 12 per cent.

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. If there is accessibility and people adapt to these new technologies, only then can people plan to shun fossil fuels.

Ranjan Panda, convenor, Water Initiatives

In the announcement of the updated NDCs, the government said that a policy push to achieve these goals could help in creating more green jobs in the clean energy sector, increase its manufacturing capabilities, pace up exports while increasing the manufacture of low emission alternatives such as electric vehicles, with the added thrust on innovative technologies and green hydrogen.

The announcement also said that the government’s previous target of making the Indian railways emission-free by 2030 would also help in reducing emissions worth 60 million tonnes annually. It also batted for the dues from the developed countries to developing countries like India, for the Climate Finance and Technology Transfers, a mandate accepted by the developed countries at different COPs held over the last few decades.

Capacity building and green finance

Experts working on the energy sector and related policies in India welcomed the global commitments made by India through the updated NDCs. However, they highlighted the hurdles that are likely to show up on India’s path towards energy transition.

Chennai-based Bharath Jairaj, Director (Energy) at the World Resources Institute (WRI) India, told Mongabay-India that the updated NDCs helped in bringing clarity on the issue of India’s commitment to reduce its emissions and tackle the challenges of climate change. “During COP26, the Indian government made the commitment that 50 per cent of the country’s energy would come through non-fossil fuel energy. But it was not clear if it was related to the total generation or installed capacity. We were hoping this would be an ambitious generation target, but NDCs clarify that the focus is on total installed capacity,” he said.

He also added that in the past few decades there has been a good growth of renewable energy in India starting from the initial target of achieving 20 GW of solar energy as mandated by the Solar Mission in 2009 which, in 2018, was updated to 175 GW of total renewable energy by 2022.

“Besides the impact of Covid and existing developmental issues, India proved strong in its clean energy pathway as its targets and success rate increased. Now with the latest NDCs, the destination and the road to that destination are clear, and the journey is well underway. However, as climate change is a shared problem for the whole world, India and other developing countries do need climate finance and technology transfers from developed countries as committed by them during the Paris Agreement and at other COPs in the past,” he added.

Jairaj’s views also coincide with Indian government’s data on receiving global green funds as committed by developed countries way back in 2009 at the COP15 held at Copenhagen. The Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change told Parliament that the commitment of a total of $100 billion every year by 2020, by developed countries for developing countries like India, was delayed.

Shantanu Srivastava, Energy Finance Analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) opines that there is some dilution of commitments, while comparing the announcements made by India at COP26 and the updated NDCs. He however told Mongabay-India that the new NDCs can help in bolstering the confidence of private investors who are keen to invest in the clean energy sector in India, in the days to come.

“For any foreign investor who is keen to invest in the clean energy sector, a country with a concrete policy is always preferred. With the updated NDCs, India has put forth its long-term policy which could leverage private foreign investments in the sector. Any investor who is keen to invest in the Indian RE market now knows an approved long-term plan of the government, where it has planned to scale up its clean energy production basket,” he said.

Srivastava said that global aid in the form of climate finance has been miniscule and complex for developing countries to receive. This could curb the growth of clean energy as envisioned by the Indian government through their NDCs. Srivastava however batted for using global Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Financing which includes green bonds and other means of sustainability-linked facilities to scale up its clean energy sector financing. He also cited how NTPC, SBI, ReNew, Adani Greens and others used this route to finance their projects in the past successfully.

study report released recently by IEEFA in June 2022 hinted at the shortfall of investments in the clean energy sector in India. The report claimed that while the investments in India in the sector increased by 125 per cent in 2021-22, it needed further acceleration. It said that if India wanted to achieve its 2030 targets, it needed around $30 billion to $40 billion every year, whereas the real investment now stands at around $14.5 billion.

Coal dependency and other hurdles

Other experts however claimed that the several paths adopted by the Indian government to boost the clean energy sector in the country in the last few years suffered from some faulty policies. Ranjan Panda, Convener, Water Initiatives based in Odisha, who keeps a track on global climate negotiations told Mongabay-India that the lack of a decentralised thrust to promote clean energy has kept it away from the masses. The focus of the government is on the mega clean energy projects by big players.

“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. 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,” Panda said.

According to CEA forecast, India, which relied on coal for 50 per cent of its total energy by the end of June 2022, will see 33 per cent of it total energy coming from coal by 2029-2030 whereas 64 per cent of the total energy is likely to come from non-fossil fuels during the same period. However, Panda says the work progress on phasing out coal slowly in the country, has not been satisfactory. He also said that the pace of decommissioning coal-based plants is not going up with the pace of rise of renewable energy and claimed that if the decentralised planning of clean energy is not promoted with accelerated interest, India could fail in achieving its commitments as presented in the updated NDCs.

Chhattisgarh-based environmentalist and lawyer Sudiep Shrivastava told Mongabay-India that the commitments made in the updated NDCs are very conservative and not in line with the expected growth of the clean energy sector in India.

“Under the updated NDCs, India planned to include hydro energy too, with renewable energy and plans to achieve 50 per cent of their total installed capacity with non-fossil fuels, which are highly conservative and not at all ambitious if comes to growth of clean energy in India. According to the estimates of Central Electricity Authority (CEA) solar and wind energy alone were expected to share 50 per cent of the total energy share by 2030. The government is going back on its own expectations and past pace rates. This will lead to higher dependency on coal citing higher demands as we saw in the recent few episodes of the coal crisis,” he said.

He accused the government of going back on its own announcements made at international platforms such as at the International Solar Alliance among others.

Also, even if global commitments were set aside, India seems to be floundering on its own targets too. India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) admitted in a recent Parliamentary Panel Report that the country’s set target of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy by the end of 2022 could not be achieved, citing Covid pandemic and other reasons.

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