How India can balance emission and growth
The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) requires countries to set targets called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) that would help the world collectively move toward curtailing the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and that can set the world on a low-carbon, climate-resilient future pathway. India made ambitious commitments and the two fundamental elements of India’s NDCs are 33-35% reduction in emission intensity of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and a conditional increase in the cumulative share of non-fossil fuel energy in installed capacity up to 40% by 2030.
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in its series of research based policy analysis of NDC have said time and again that these two pillars to achieving the NDC goals in countries such as India require early uptake of advance climate-friendly technologies, while appreciating the level of ambition.
This study by International Energy Agency (IEA) released last week questions the ambition of these targets and the level of effort put in by governments towards achieving these targets. Reducing the carbon intensity of electricity generation requires that non-fossil fuel-based power generation should grow at a higher rate than fossil fuel-based power. Even though Indian government is pushing renewable energy generation through focused missions and schemes, reducing the share of fossil fuels would require comparatively larger capacity installation of non-fossil-fuel power systems (other than nuclear and hydro power) in order to meet the increasing demand for electricity due to higher projected growth. That is going to be an uphill task for India.
Estimates made by the government indicate that India could achieve part of its NDC goals more than a decade earlier than targeted, based on the impetus on renewable energy. But a question still remains over the future of coal. India’s National Electricity Plan (NEP), adopted earlier in 2018, is aimed to guide India to remain on track to achieving the renewable energy pillar of the Paris Agreement targets ahead of its time. It could potentially also become a global leader in combating climate change if it were to abandon plans to build new coal-fired power plants. The draft NEP contained no expansion of coal power after 2022, however the final NEP took a step backward and included more than 90 GW of planned coal-fired capacity, with an added risk of these becoming stranded assets. So coal in India is here to stay in India defining its development pathway, but that’s not the only defining element as it used to be a few decades ago.
A 2018 report by the national coal mining company, Coal India, confirms declining future costs of solar and renewable electricity storage (Coal India, 2018), which is likely to foster low-carbon investments. Investment in renewable power in India topped fossil fuels for the first time in 2017, according to the IEA, which is a consolation even in the wake of this current study by IEA. Therefore, with sustained growth, larger upfront investments in new transport infrastructure, buildings and power sector will be critical to India achieving its NDC targets.
Vidya Soundarajan is India regional programme manager, Action on Climate Today
The views expressed are personal