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India’s Energy conundrum: promoting Renewables but still among the topmost producers of Fossil fuels, UNEP Report reveals

Actions, indeed, speak louder than mere words.

In the times when every second is a witness to changing climate and things are becoming more incorrigible than ever, we stand at difficult crossroads: Humans can either continue whatever we have been doing since centuries or mend their irresponsible ways.

As UNEP has aptly described: “The devastating impacts of climate change are here for all to see. There is still time to limit long-term warming to 1.5°C, but this window of opportunity is rapidly closing”.

For changing is hard, abandoning a change is comparatively easier.

We can continue to burn fossil fuels, pollute the environment as we have so far done, make no compromises with our standards of living. It’s easy, who will survive to see the end of century bearing the punishment of our sins.

Despite the bigger pledges and promises made by the world leaders, the countries’ staggered economies seem to be driven by fossils.

While there may be promotion of Renewables and focus on its positives, point of discontentment is that the fossils still thrive and the cleaner fuels are not yet ready to fill up its shoes.

The Production Gap Report 2021 published by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides data for 15 major producer countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Is India confused about the Energy pathways it can afford to choose?

India’s commitments to the Paris Agreement as a part of their Nationally determined contributions (NDC) involves 33%–35% reduction in its respective “carbon emissions intensity” as compared to 2005 levels till 2030.

India has aimed to achieve energy installed capacity in renewables and nuclear energy to account to approximately 40% of its total capacity by 2030.

This is totally conflicting with its future plan to fund Rs 500 billion for the infrastructure involved with coal extraction across the country.

“The plan outlines measures to expand coal production by nearly 60% from 2019 to 2024 (from 730 to 1,149 tonnes), including through the removal of barriers to land acquisition and building capacity for exploration”.

“India also aims to increase total oil and gas production by over 40% in the same period through measures such as accelerate exploration licensing, faster monetization of discoveries, and gas marketing reforms.”

It is visibly keen to make expenditure in fossils in the long run while fostering the renewables, provide tax rebates and even subsidies for dedicated coal production.

This can add up approximately INR 17.5 billion (USD 249 million) for coal alone, INR 29.3 billion (USD 417 million) being for the promotion and infrastructure development of oil and gas.

It calculates and analyzes the gap between governments’ planned production of fossil fuels and global production levels required to meet the Paris Agreement temperature limits.

It is inclusive of the efforts and findings by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and E3G.

Started back in 2019, the Gap report depicts no change in the attitude towards limiting fossils and consequently the planet’s temperature.

As per the lead author of the report: “The research is clear: global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C”.

“However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn.”

These country specific profiles have conveyed a trend throughout the world that most of the governments continue to provide refuge to fossil fuel production with convenient policy support.

Most of these countries have professed to deliver the goals necessitated under the Paris Agreement.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres highlights the same: “Recent announcements by the world’s largest economies to end international financing of coal are a much-needed step in phasing out fossil fuels.”

“But, as this report starkly shows, there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future.  It is urgent that all remaining public financiers as well as private finance, including commercial banks and asset managers, switch their funding from coal to renewables to promote full decarbonization of the power sector and access to renewable energy for all.”

The leading researchers through the report have exposed the governments of consistently planning to produce more than double the quantity of fossil fuels in 2030 being currently used, something inconsistent with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and 45% more than those under 2°C.

Profound increase in fossils derived from the Report:

With current plans, the government policies are intended to yield around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030: 240% more coal production, 57% more oil and 71% more gas production worldwide.

This increment in re-adoption of fossil-based energy will be the most between 2020 and 2040 based on current governments’ plans.

Since the beginning of Pandemic, different governments have already directed over USD 300 billion towards fossil fuel activities in the face of new funds.

Leaked information about India’s future Energy plans:

With different countries announcing their plans to cut emissions in the near future where the major polluting countries (such as the United States, the European Union and China) have agreed to reach net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Global fossil fuel production forecasts to 2040 compared to the levels required to limit global warming to 1.5°C and 2°C. – AFP / AFP

India has so forth not announced any definite year to reach net zero emissions but it has always endorsed doing so.

Similarly, if we tend to believe in the leaked papers including the reply under covers by India to UN for future prospects in the domain, India will maintain its dependency on coal for a few upcoming decades.

Currently, India uses fossil fuels to power more than 70% its grids, while close to 40% of its districts are anyway linked to the coal related employment. India is second largest producer of coal after China.

A Senior Scientist (mining and allied) of India clarifies in the leaked docs: “In spite of substantial growth in renewable energy sector in India, coal is likely to remain the mainstay of energy production in the next few decades for sustainable economic growth of the country”.

India remains the world’s third-largest carbon emitter, after China and the US.

Its response and efforts are quite important and countable for the world to exist without emissions, although its per capita emissions are meagre and much lower than the countries in its league.

The docs reveal how India is one of the several other Nations who have been petitioning against completely banning the fossil fuels being considered by the United Nations.

Nevertheless, it remains a matter of concern how India plans to achieve its own targets and when, especially after it is facing the coal crisis. One should know that silence to commit cannot be answer here.

The lockdown and subsequent crisis can dependently, serve as an opportunity for the Renewables in the country or can give birth to a public narrative that is decadent and capricious of leaving fossils behind.

Can the selective Investments towards Renewables help drive the change?

While the policies continue to favor fossils, there has been a reversing trend in regards with the financial Institutions.

Nearly one-third of MDBs (multilateral development banks) and G20 powered development finance institutions (DFIs) depending on their collective asset size, seem to have favored policies excluding the fossil fuel production activities from future finance.

As per IISD: “Early efforts from development finance institutions to cut international support for fossil fuel production are encouraging, but these changes need to be followed by concrete and ambitious fossil fuel exclusion policies to limit global warming to 1.5°C”.

All eyes are set at the upcoming Conference due this year but implementation seems to be far necessary than more and more decisions:

“At COP26 and beyond, the world’s governments must step up, taking rapid and immediate steps to close the fossil fuel production gap and ensure a just and equitable transition. This is what climate ambition looks like.”

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