Updated: November 18, 2021 9:09:16 am
India on Wednesday said it was being “unfairly blamed” for getting a reference to a “phase out” of coal in the COP26 final agreement changed to “phase down”, claiming that all it had done was to borrow the phrase that was used in a US-China joint statement a few days earlier.
Among other things, the Glasgow Climate Pact, as the final outcome of the recently concluded two-week climate change conference was called, had called upon all countries to work towards the “phase-out” of unabated coal power. India, and many other countries, were not very happy with this language, and moved an amendment at the last minute to get it changed to “phase-down” of unabated coal power.
This was the first time that a phase-out of coal had been explicitly mentioned in any decision of the climate change meetings, and was seen as one of the progressive elements in the Glasgow outcome. A few countries and civil society groups saw this as dilution of the final outcome.
“It is not a term that India either proposed or tabled [for the first time]. It [term] was already there [in circulation], we simply accepted it,” a Ministry of External Affairs official said.
On the sidelines of the Glasgow climate meeting, the US and China had issued a joint statement on enhancing their climate cooperation between them in the current decade. Among other things, the joint statement said that China will “phase-down” coal consumption during it 15th five-year plan that runs through 2025.
The MEA official said India had raised, and submitted written objections to, three primary concerns, not just one, “which we saw as being problematic”. Besides the coal phase-out, India had objected to the provisions asking for enhancement of current mitigation efforts from everyone without any active mechanism in place for raising the ambition of climate finance. The third thing India disagreed with, the official said, was a directive for all countries to submit their nationally-determined contributions (climate action plans) every year.
“For us, the most problematic of these was the mention of coal phase-out and also phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies. As far as the coal phase-out is concerned, India has not peaked yet [in coal based electricity generation] and we will need some coal production till 2030 in order to meet our demands. We cannot suddenly and completely shut down one of our major energy sectors. Of course, we are working toward transition to renewables as can be seen in the announcements made by the Prime Minister at COP,” he said.
“The gap between coal and other fossil fuels is a fundamental problem. The UNFCCC refers to mitigation of greenhouse gases, and does not single out coal. For that matter, all fossil fuels are bad. But developed countries have moved on to other fossil fuels – such as oil and gas – and are no longer dependent on coal. Whereas developing countries are still in the process of transitioning. But there has been very little discussion on the other fossil fuels,’’ he said, adding that countries needed to address the issue of equity in climate negotiations.
Coal and developing countries
IN THE run-up to the Glasgow climate meeting, hosts UK and some other developed countries had been putting a lot of efforts in getting countries to agree to coal phase-out, a sensitive subject for developing countries like India and China where coal still plays a very important role in electricity generation. India has, in the past, said that it is not in a position to completely phase out coal-based electricity generation for at least a couple of decades.
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