IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Reject this inequitable climate proposal

18th September, 2020 Editorial

Context:  The UN Secretary General’s recent advice to India amounts to asking for its virtual de-industrialization and stagnation


The UN Secretary General call for India to give up coal immediately and reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 is a call to de-industrialize the country and abandon the population to a permanent low development trap.

Piling on the pressure

  • In an extraordinary move in climate diplomacy, Mr. Guterres, called on India to make no new investment in coal after 2020.
  • Foundational principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that distinguish sharply between the responsibilities and commitments of developed countries vis-à-vis those of developing countries.

What is the state of India’s climate action today?

India’s track record

  • Its renewable energy programme is ambitious while its energy efficiency programme is delivering, especially in the domestic consumption sector.
  • India is one of the few countries with at least 2° Celsius warming compliant climate action, and one of a much smaller list of those currently on track to fulfilling their Paris Agreement
  • India’s annual emissions, at 0.5 tonnes per capita, are well below the global average of 1.3 tonnes, and also those of China, the United States and the European Union (EU), the three leading emitters in absolute terms, whose per capita emissions are higher than this average.
  • India’s contribution by 2017 was only 4% for a population of 1.3 billion, whereas the European Union, with a population of only 448 million, was responsible for 20%.

What then lies behind the UN chief’s call to India to set aside coal right away?

  • The UNFCCC has reported that between 1990 and 2017, the developed nations (excluding Russia and east Europe) have reduced their annual emissions by only 1.3%.
  • While it is amply clear that their commitments into the future set the world on a path for almost 3°C warming, they have diverted attention by fuzzy talk of “carbon neutrality” by 2050, and the passage of resolutions declaring a climate emergency that amount to little more than moral posturing.

A First World strategy

  • Alongside, large sections of First World environmentalist have turned to pressure the developing countries to bear the brunt of climate mitigation.
  • Their strategies include the demonizing of coal mining and coal based power generation, promoting claims that immediate climate mitigation would miraculously lower domestic inequalities and ensure climate adaptation, promoting Third World natural resources as active sites of mitigation and not adaptation, and promoting theories of “degrowth” or the neglect of industrial and agricultural productivity for the pursuit of climate change mitigation.
  • All of these are accompanied by increasing appeals to multilateral or First World financial and development institutions to force this agenda on to developing countries.
  • The agenda of carbon neutrality by 2050 as national level goals applicable to all, without any reference to global and international equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in climate action.

Ending coal investment

What will be the consequences if India indeed ceases all coal investment from this very year?

  • Currently, roughly 2 GW of coal based generation is being decommissioned per year, which implies that by 2030, India will have only 184 GW of coal based generation.
  • But meeting the 2030 electricity consumption target of 1,580 to 1,660 units per person per year, based on the continuation or a slight increase of the current decadal growth rate, will require anywhere between 650 GW to 750 GW of renewable energy.
  • Unlike the developed nations, India cannot substitute coal substantially by oil and gas and despite some wind potential, a huge part of this growth needs to come from solar.
  • None of this will really drive industry, particularly manufacturing, since renewable at best can meet residential consumption and some part of the demand from the service sector.
  • Currently, manufacturing growth powered by fossil fuel based energy is itself a necessity, both technological and economic, for the transition to renewables.
  • Annual filing of patents shows a marked decline, ranging between 30% to 50% or more from 2009 to 2017, across all subsectors and across all developed countries, without exception. The exception is China which has a rising trend in select areas.
  • Regrettably, India’s presence in such patenting hovers between minimal to near vanishing, a persistent trend over decades that is very difficult to reverse any time
  • Lacking production capacity in renewable energy technologies and their large-scale operation, deployment on this scale will expose India to increasing and severe dependence on external sources and supply chains.
  • It is also a truism that renewables alongside coal will generate, directly and indirectly, far more employment than renewables alone.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/reject-this-inequitable-climate-proposal/article32634171.ece