Coal booth at COP26 climate talks gives India time for transition, Energy News, ET EnergyWorld

Far from Glasgow, in the Ranchi coal hub in eastern India, union leader DD Ramanandan closely followed the COP26 climate summit, scanning expert tweets and news reports to verify any ” threat to coal “imminent in his country.

So when India, along with other coal-dependent countries like China, managed to dilute the language on efforts to move away from coal-fired power in the talks, drawing criticism, Ramanandan saw it as a opportunity to plan a better green transition.

“I have been following (the) COP to see if India is committed to the transition because then the process will start here and it will impact workers, land users, entire towns and villages. is a big deal, ”said Ramanandan, general secretary of the Coal Workers’ Federation of India.

“Local communities still do not believe that a future beyond coal is possible. But we must prepare,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“It is important to control carbon emissions and coal will end – if not in 20, then 50 years,” he added.

The two-week UN climate talks in Scotland ended on Saturday with a deal targeting fossil fuels for the first time.

But India, backed by China, South Africa, Nigeria and Iran, has rejected a clause urging a relentless “phase-out” of coal-fired electricity – which is not equipped with technology to reduce carbon emissions – and got a change in the text for “degradation”.

“How can we expect developing countries to promise to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when developing countries have yet to deal with their development and eradication programs? poverty? ”Indian Environment and Climate Minister Bhupender Yadav said at the conference.

Most just transition experts and unions backed India’s position at the summit, saying the country “had no choice”. Fossil fuels account for over 60% of India’s installed electric capacity, with coal accounting for more than half.

Sanjay Vashist, director of the Climate Action Network South Asia, said the Glasgow Climate Pact reflected the interests of rich and powerful governments to shift the burden of abandoning coal to developing countries while leaving oil and gas behind. intact.

“There will be pressure in the future to phase out coal. This is a wake-up call for India and they should hear it loud and clear – that the phase-out will have an impact on communities,” did he declare.

“India has not thought about the energy transition,” he added. “The closed coal mines in India are not due to climate change but because they are no longer profitable.”

India started off on a solid green footing at COP26 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his intention to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070 and to increase the share of renewables in India’s energy mix by about 38% last year to 50% by 2030.

But analysts noted that coal remains a dominant energy source in India, accounting for 70% of its electricity production.

After China, India is the world’s second largest producer of coal with around 730 million tonnes per year, but it also imports coal to meet the energy needs of its domestic industries, according to the government.

Days before COP26, a coal shortage in India made headlines as stocks hit extremely low levels amid high industrial demand after the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and high global prices of coal led buyers to avoid imports.

India is relaxing its mining laws to attract foreign players to its domestic coal sector and reduce imports.

The government has yet to support economic diversification in coal hubs, where decades of mining have reduced farmland and polluted water and air, while providing fewer local jobs than expected. .

“Communities living in mining areas are already suffering more than they should. And yet a very heavy reliance on coal for income – both legally and illegally – continues, ”said Ravi Rebbapragada, president of Mines, Minerals and People, an alliance of communities and institutions. affected by mining.

“The ideal situation would be to phase out coal, but there are no simple solutions,” he said, adding that a start could be made by ensuring strict compliance with mining laws. mines.

This would help alleviate both the threat of climate change and the suffering of communities affected by coal mining, he added.

The Glasgow summit sparked a dialogue in India about the unfair burden placed on the coal-dependent nation whose per capita emissions remain far lower than the wealthiest countries.

But experts also noted how cutting coal could benefit India.

“Emissions also affect us,” said Rohit Azad, who teaches economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, highlighting the huge population along India’s coast that is most vulnerable to extreme weather events.

“We are doing it for ourselves,” he said.

The Global Climate Risk Index 2021, a ranking by the Germanwatch research group, places India among the 10 countries most affected by climate change.

The South Asian nation is experiencing a rise in heat and sea levels, along with erratic rainfall and stronger cyclones.

Many of its poorest inhabitants, such as small farmers, are struggling to cope with loss and damage from increasingly severe weather conditions, the researchers say. At COP26, India said it achieved a 24% reduction in emissions intensity of its gross domestic product between 2005 and 2014.

The country must now use the extra time it has managed to secure in Glasgow to wean itself off coal to attract new industries to mining centers and provide alternative livelihoods for local communities, experts said. .

Labor leader Ramanandan foresees the gradual formation of a consensus to end the use of coal in India, alongside an expansion of campaigns to protect the livelihoods of those dependent on coal.

Meanwhile, investing in new economic opportunities in coal hubs will be an essential prerequisite for a just transition that leaves no one behind, to persuade workers to commit to a green future beyond fossil fuels. , said experts.

“There will be huge resistance unless they see alternatives,” Srestha Banerjee, climate justice program manager at think tank iFOREST, said in a podcast this week.

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