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Not moving away from coal anytime soon: Centre

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Mar 30, 2022 06:52 AM IST

Energy transition away from coal in India will not take place in the “foreseeable future”, the coal ministry said in the Rajya Sabha, although the government will promote renewable energy.

Energy transition away from coal in India will not take place in the “foreseeable future”, the coal ministry said in the Rajya Sabha, although the government will promote renewable energy.

Coal demand is projected in the range of 1.3-1.5 billion tonnes by 2030, an increase of 63% from current demand, according to the Economic Survey 2021-22. (HT file photo)
Coal demand is projected in the range of 1.3-1.5 billion tonnes by 2030, an increase of 63% from current demand, according to the Economic Survey 2021-22. (HT file photo)

In response to a question by Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Shiv Sena on whether the government has prepared any road map for districts with a coal-centric economy such as Korba in Chhattisgarh in light of country’s commitment towards energy transition, and whether closure of mines and industries in these districts will have socioeconomic consequences, coal minister Prahlad Joshi said coal demand is yet to peak in India.

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The “share of coal in the energy basket is going to remain significant in the years ahead” and coal demand in the country is yet to peak, Joshi said in a written response on Monday.

Coal demand is projected in the range of 1.3-1.5 billion tonnes by 2030, an increase of 63% from current demand, according to the Economic Survey 2021-22.

While this seems to be in contradiction with the agreement reached in the Glasgow climate summit in November last year to phase down coal, officials in the environment ministry who specialise in negotiations said its important to consider the wording in the pact.

“It states that countries will accelerate efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power and phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies in line with national circumstances. The words accelerate and national circumstances are significant for India,” a ministry official said, requesting anonymity. “So obviously, the effort is to reduce the proportion of coal usage gradually. But we are yet to peak in terms of coal demand in the country.”

Coal contributes to 51.6% of installed generation capacity in India’s energy mix, while hydropower, solar, wind, etc., contribute 38.5%, according to power ministry data.

India has also made ambitious commitments on increasing renewable energy capacity and lowering carbon emissions at Glasgow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had then announced that India’s non-fossil energy capacity will reach 500 GW by 2030, meeting 50% of the country’s energy requirements. India will reduce its total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030, reduce carbon intensity of its economy by 45% by 2030 over 2005 levels, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, he had said.

“Coal use in India is not going to decline in the next decade. In fact, a slow growth in coal use is not inconsistent with India’s net-zero target,” said Vaibhav Chaturvedi, economist and fellow at Council for Energy, Environment and Water, a think tank. “CEEW’s assessment shows coal use in India’s power sector would peak sometime between 2040 and 2045, post which it has to decline fast for India to achieve the net-zero target.”

At Glasgow, there was controversy regarding a last-minute change to the phrase ‘phase out of unabated coal power’ to ‘phase down of unabated coal power.’ Environment minister Bhupender Yadav, representing India, read out the reworded text. Indian officials from the environment ministry and ministry of external affairs said on the last day (November 13) ‘phase out’ got modified to ‘phase down’ because the phrase ‘phase down’ was in the US-China joint statement which was also released during the summit.

“This response (in Parliament) clearly articulates that India is looking to expand its coal footprint,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank. “However, the clarifications related to mine closures are relevant for coal mines where reserves are already exhausted, about to be exhausted or will be in the coming years. These will be important to be built into India’s social welfare, socio-ecological restoration and climate adaptation programmes.”

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