The world’s largest climate experiment (global climate actions) is currently taking place in India. An experiment in which everyone is participating, from the government to the private sector, and even individual people are also participating in this experiment.
This experiment is trying to turn a country whose primary power source is coal-based power plants into one where families ride electric scooters and use solar energy for their energy requirements.
India has the 14% of the global population, recently India overtook China and become the most populated country in the world. Now just imagine, if India keeps using coal-based power plants for its energy needs. All the parameters of climate action will fall down. India can either lead the world towards net zero or can destroy it.
Since India is still a lower-middle-income nation, the majority of its economic development and addressing many needs, including housing, water, electricity, mobility, and nutrition, still lie ahead. Furthermore, so far, no nation has achieved these goals without generating greenhouse gas emissions or using fossil fuels.
The South Asian country is currently the third-largest emitter of global warming pollution behind China and the United States, and over the next 20 years, it is anticipated that its energy demand would increase more quickly than that of any other nation.
The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2040, it will require the addition of a power infrastructure comparable to that of the European Union.
Additionally, given its scale, if the additional energy is derived from fossil fuels, it will harm the climate.
India will therefore be unable to emulate China, the United States, or other nations who industrialised their economies before cleaning them up.
“India is sort of the first example of the leapfrog that developing countries would have to take into a lower-carbon energy system but also development model,” said Thomas Spencer, an analyst at IEA who models power sectors.
India needs proper policies and strategies
India recently joined the group of top emitters. Over the past two decades, along with brisk economic growth, its emissions have risen.
The average American produces 14.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, compared to India’s 1.9 metric tonnes, or approximately eight times less. Additionally, the country’s GDP per capita is much lower than that of China and other emerging countries as well as industrialized nations.
Politicians in India frequently use this imbalance as evidence for why their country should pursue its development strategy, one in which it is entitled to its fair share of the global carbon budget and is not held accountable for the century’s worth of emissions that have contributed to the current climate crisis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India would try to achieve zero emissions by 2070 during the international climate negotiations in 2021. Two weeks later, as discussions came to an end, India took the initiative to weaken language that called for gradually ending the use of coal, which accounts for over 70% of the nation’s power generation.
The nation, which relies heavily on coal, has established high goals for the growth of renewable energy: 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030, or roughly half of its electricity.
However, coal will continue to play a significant role in India’s energy mix well into the future, according to the country’s authorities, in part because it creates so much employment.
“For most developing countries, a just transition cannot be equated with decarbonization but with low-carbon development,” Bhupender Yadav, India’s minister of environment and climate change, said at the closing of last year’s climate talks. “Developing countries need independence in their choice of the energy mix and in achieving their development goals.”
India has started collaborations like the International Solar Alliance, whose goal is to expand solar energy in underdeveloped nations. It recently unveiled a national strategy to advance green hydrogen and modified the National Energy Act to hasten the industrial sector’s decarbonization. It was also one of just 22 nations that updated their climate targets last year to include a commitment to a more sustainable way of life and a general decrease in emissions intensity. This program is known as LiFE or Lifestyle for the Environment.
According to a recent IEA research, global carbon emissions might decrease by more than 2 billion metric tonnes by 2030 if all nations implemented the kind of policies suggested by that program. To put the world on track to meet its net-zero targets this decade, around one-fifth of the necessary emissions reductions must be made. Additionally, it might lessen regional disparities in energy usage.
India, which is hosting the Group of 20 major economies this year, intends to focus discussions on energy security and climate finance. The IEA report claims that it might potentially influence energy transition debates by bringing up its stance on energy usage in those meetings.
The benefits of shifting to a clean economy have become obvious as the price of green technologies declines, said Spencer from IEA. It anticipates that India’s proportion of total emissions would rise to just over 10 percent in 2050 in large part due to the growth of renewables in the power sector and more climate-friendly policies.
The benefits of shifting to a clean economy have become obvious as the price of green technologies declines, said Spencer from IEA. It anticipates that India’s proportion of total emissions will rise to just over 10 percent in 2050 in large part due to the growth of renewables in the power sector and more climate-friendly policies, he said.
“There is a lot of action happening on the ground, which is leading to policies in India which may not all be reported at an international level and which co-exist along with these umbrella statements saying India needs the energy to grow,” said Kelkar, director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute India.
Spending on clean energy has dramatically increased recently in India. However, the IEA estimates that it will require $150 billion annually—roughly a threefold increase—by 2030 to achieve its climate goals. Additionally, much of that activity requires international cooperation.
What challenges India will face ahead?
India cannot simply replace its current energy systems with renewables due to its upwardly skewed growth, according to analysts. Its generation will need to be multiplied. This contrasts with developed nations where the energy demand is mainly stable or decreasing.
India will continue to use coal to power its current systems, many of which are state-owned and are still making back their investments, even though the majority of new power generation can come from renewable sources. As a result, it is far more difficult to phase them out than it would be in a nation where the coal plants are already close to being retired.
According to climate think tank E3G, India has the largest planned coal expansion outside of China, with more than 30 GW of new coal capacity now under construction. Additionally, Modi recently declared that it would increase its reliance on natural gas and oil.
Energy prices have increased as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has not helped.
It was more difficult for India to boost shipments of liquefied natural gas due to higher gas costs. In exchange, India increased its coal use and increased its imports of Russian oil.
A last-minute decision to phase down coal rather than phase it out was made at the climate negotiations in 2021 as a result of India’s dependence on coal. Then, in COP 27 the previous year, Indian negotiators took the lead in a push to phase out all fossil fuels.
The action was India’s way of signaling that it would phase out coal use once the developed world was prepared to do so.
One of the best things India could do in the absence of a phaseout of coal is to start its phasedown by ceasing construction of new coal plants and beginning the closure of existing, inefficient ones, according to Pai, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
This is consistent with the IEA’s conclusion that no new coal-fired power plants can be constructed if the global temperature rise is to be limited to the 1.5 degrees Celsius target outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Way Forward for India
Several Indian states are taking efforts to combat climate change.
One of the most industrialized states in the nation, Tamil Nadu, is attempting to develop environmentally friendly alternatives. So is Bihar, a considerably less developed and disaster-prone state that is working to raise living standards without causing further harm. Several states have also stated that they will not let any additional coal-fired power.
“India is not just one homogenous place where everybody is in agreement and everybody is following the same policy,” said Kelkar from WRI. “But actually, a lot of states are ahead of the game.”
A plan by the Group of Seven and other wealthier nations to assist emerging economies in switching from coal power to renewables has been discussed with India. However, experts warn that doing so could be challenging in a nation where states wield such sway. Additionally, India is unlikely to consent to any agreement that would compel it to phase down coal use.
India has many reasons to prevent further damage from being caused by climate change. A large portion of its people still lives in unstable conditions, making it one of the nations most susceptible to the effects of climate change. It may open the way for other nations if it can grow its economy while reducing emissions.