As negotiators at the climate change conference in Paris got down to business Tuesday after the exit of world leaders, there were unmistakable signals that India would get singled out over the next two weeks over its plans to expand use of coal to meet its growing energy demands.
The formal negotiations began Tuesday morning with countries and negotiating groups making an opening statement in which all of them enunciating their long-held positions. These went along expected lines.
But outside the meeting rooms, in informal conversations, press conferences and news articles, there was increasing talk about India’s coal plants and how India was playing spoiler. Such talk has been happening in the climate change circle ever since US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his disapproval of India’s plans on coal usage in a recent interview.
“This is unfortunate and a very inadequate appreciation of India’s energy transition. We are ramping up our renewable energy capacity by seven times and it would be really unfortunate if that effort is not appreciated. Coal would also grow but it is necessary for our development,” Ajay Mathur, one of the key negotiators for India, said.
Mathur said he too foresaw “an increasing amount of discomfort” in some quarters about India’s rapid growth of energy sector. He said the India was probably lacking in communicating its efforts properly but “the numbers are for everyone to see, these are all in the public domain”.
While India has embarked on an ambitious renewable energy pathway, coal is likely to remain its primary source of energy for the next few decades at least. In a recent projection, the government had said it hoped to bring down its dependence on coal for electricity production from the current 61 per cent to 57 per cent by 2031-32. By that year, the contribution of renewable energy — solar, wind and biogas — in total electricity generation was projected to grow to 29 per cent from the current 12 per cent.
But that has clearly not impressed many people. In one of the press conferences by Climate Action Tracker, a group of NGOs which released a new analysis on emissions from coal plants, each and every question was related to coal plants in India.
“It is clear that India would be making a very risky investment for sustainable development by going too much further into coal when the alternatives are both cheaper, more cost-effective and have a much lower environmental, health, and agricultural damage on the country,” Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, one of the constituent NGOs, said.
In reply to another question Hare acknowledged India’s massive push for renewable energy like solar, wind and biogas but said India’s insistence on using coal was “political argument” and not really a necessity.
“What we see in India are two possibilities. We see a massive, one of the fastest upscaling of renewables that has ever happened on the planet, unfolding in that country. And we see on the other hand a huge lot of talk from the coal industry and (coal) ministry about coal being essential to Indian future. And I think that is a political issue that is playing out. This is an argument that is commonly made in many countries. But on a technical level, there not much basis for that,” he said.
Earlier in the day, China, speaking on behalf of the BASIC countries comprising India, South Africa, Brazil and itself, attacked the developed countries for refusing to do enough on climate change and not delivering on their commitments in the Kyoto Protocol, the existing international mechanism on climate change which is sought to be replaced by the ongoing negotiations in 2020.