Commodities

India’s new commitments will mean a massive pushback on coal

M Ramesh November 2 | Updated on November 02, 2021

Modi announces five enhancements of NDCs made in 2015

By announcing extremely ambitious enhancements of India’s ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDC) made in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given out two signals. One, India aims to be a leader in climate action; second, the ball is now in the developed countries’ court — India's lofty aims cannot be met, unless there is support in terms of finance and technology.

In 2015, during the Paris talks, India had given three commitments: one, it would reduce the carbon intensity of its GDP (emissions per unit of GDP) by 33-35 per cent by 2030, over what it was in 2005; two, 40 per cent of its electricity generation capacity would be of non-fossil fuels by 2030 and three, it would create carbon sinks so as to absorb 2-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.

Revamped NDCs

Now, Modi has announced five points, all of which are major enhancements of the previous NDCs.

The first is that India’s non-fossil fuel capacity would reach 500 GW by 2030. This means that India’s non-coal, non-natural-gas-based power capacity should increase at least three-fold in nine years. Since large hydroelectric projects are too difficult to do, this commitment cannot be met without a major push for wind and solar, there again, more solar than wind. This, in turn, would have implications on land made available for solar and the capacity of the grid to take that much renewable energy.

As such, major investments would need to be put into grid-balancing — essentially energy storage and hydrogen.

The second announcement is that India will get 50 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2030. This is a bit of a shocker, because installed capacity is one thing, energy is quite another. At present, electricity from renewable sources works out to around 10 per cent of total electricity generation. To raise this five times in seven years would be quite a feat. Also, this cannot be done unless there is a massive pushback on coal. There seems to be no sign of that happening.

The third commitment is to reduce one billion tonnes of carbon emissions between now and 2030. Experts, such as RR Rashmi of TERI, a former India negotiator himself, has called this “massive”. Compare this commitment with the entire greenhouse gas inventory of 3 billion tonnes, which will be 4.5 billion tonnes by 2030, the pledge of 1 billion tonne of reduction is 25 per cent of the inventory in 2030, he says. This, Rashmi points out, means that India has committed itself to a peaking of emissions “without saying so explicitly”.

The fourth commitment is to reduce carbon intensity of the economy by 45 per cent, against the previously made commitment of 33-35 per cent. This is again a big promise, something that cannot be fulfilled without saying goodbye to coal.

The final commitment is the announcement of the much-awaited net-zero date, as 2070. This is reasonable, though India’s would be the farthest date among all countries that have announced net-zero dates. Russia, China and Indonesia have committed to 2050. India has therefore given itself enough time to achieve net-zero emissions — a situation where the emissions would be no more than what would be absorbed back or offset by other measures.

Walking the talk

On the overall, India has talked, and the task on hand now is to walk the talk. As Ulka Kelkar, Head of World Resources Institute, India, observes, meeting these targets will not be a simple matter.

All these commitments are completely out of sync with India’s plans for coal. A 2020 report jointly produced by several ministries for a vision and action plan for developing India’s resources speaks of expanding coal production by nearly 60 per cent between 2019 and 2024 — from 730 million tonnes to 1,149 million tonnes. Towards this, India in 2020 auctioned coal mines that would add 225 million tonnes of coal.

These plans just don’t go with the announcements made by the Indian Prime Minister at Glasgow.

Published on November 02, 2021

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