Tue, Apr 23 2024 23 April, 2024

India’s enhanced climate pledges fall short of expectations

Some climate watchers are unhappy India has dropped bold commitments made by Modi in Glasgow last year and fear the nation will burn more dirty cheap coal to provide affordable energy to its population.

Rural bus on the road next to wind turbines (Photo credit: Adobe Stock/suhStock)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government approved on August 3 new pledges to combat climate change with a target to achieve about 50% of India’s installed power generation capacity from non-fossil fuel sources and reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 45% by 2030.


Both the goals are an improvement on what the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter had initially pledged at the Paris agreement in 2015, which was to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in the total installed capacity to about 40% and reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33%-35% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.


The Paris agreement mandated all countries to set their own climate goals or so-called nationally determined contributions (NDC), report on their progress and set new ones every five years. The updated pledges follow what Modi announced during the United Nations climate talks (COP26) in Glasgow last year but took almost a year to formalize. India will submit the revised pledges to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ahead of the COP27 summit in the beachside resort town Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in November.


“India has improved the targets under the NDCs in response to anticipation of the international community as also the requirement of the Paris Agreement,” Rajani Ranjan Rashmi, distinguished fellow with the New Delhi based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) told Gas Outlook. “This should reaffirm India’s global leadership and pre-eminent position within the G20 as far as ambition in relation to national circumstances are concerned.” 


However, some climate watchers are unhappy India has dropped bold commitments made by Modi in Glasgow and fear it will burn more dirty cheap clean coal to provide affordable energy to its population that could overtake China next year. What India does has a significant impact on global efforts to combat climate change as it is expected to be the global driver of energy demand growth.


In Glasgow, Modi presented his Panchamrit or five key elements including 2030 goals of taking India’s non-fossil fuel power generation base to 500GW, meet half of its energy requirement from renewable energy, reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tons, reduce carbon intensity of economy by less than 45% and a promise to make India net zero by 2070.


Navroz Dubash, a professor at the Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Policy Research, said that instead of specific capacity of 500GW of non-fossil fuel power generation by 2030, the updated pledge talks about 50% installed power generation capacity being non-fossil fuel based.


Achieving 500GW non-fossil fuel capacity would have stunted the role of coal in achieving that needed three-fold growth in 168GW of existing nuclear, hydro and renewable power generation base. During the financial year ended Mar 31, India added non-fossil fuel capacity of 16GW, which includes 15.5GW of renewable. Reaching 500GW by 2030 would mean an annual addition of 42GW of capacity which would have pushed the government to fire on all cylinders. 


The existing non-fossil fuel capacity, including solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, of 168GW already accounts for 41.5% of the country’s total installed generation base of 404GW. Just adding another 60GW non-fossil fuel capacity to the existing total base would help achieve 50% goal, analysts say.


Vibhuti Garg, Energy Economist and India Lead with the Ohio-based the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), told Gas Outlook that due to energy security issues and with the intent of reducing reliance on imports and reducing its current account deficit, there is some push towards coal as well in India. And that could be the reason for not including some of the targets that were announced last year. India has also downgraded its economic growth forecast and so therefore its energy demand will also go down. Further, because of efforts on energy efficiency and demand side management, India may not need massive capacity addition to meet its demand growth, she added. 


But TERI’s Rashmi feels that the omission of the specific capacity of renewables in the update does not indicate a change in India’s emphasis on renewable energy but a flexibility needed in the energy system to sustain the growing baseload requirement and the peak demand.  


The updated pledge is also silent on the plan for meeting half of India’s energy requirements from renewable energy. “A generation pledge would have been a game-changer, because it would have required active management of thermal versus renewable power,” Dubash says.


Climate watchers are also not impressed with India’s emissions reduction goal. According to New Delhi-based climate advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment, India achieved 25% of emission intensity reduction of GDP between 2005-2016 and is on a path to achieve more than 40% by 2030 under the existing policy scenario.


IEEFA’s Garg said she was expecting more in the revised NDCs but was not surprised given the current geopolitical conditions. “While last year at COP26 in Glasgow, Prime Minister Modi announced more ambitious targets but with the Russia-Ukraine war and supply disruptions on account of Covid-19 which further got exacerbated by the war, the country is now being careful.” 


Still, Garg feels that India enhancing its NDCs from 2015 is a positive step even though the country is well positioned to achieve more than what it has committed to. The formal communication on enhanced targets ahead of COP27 in November will consolidate India’s position as a climate leader within G20 whose chair will be with India in 2023, says Rashmi. 

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