In his research paper, Anirudh Mohan, a climate and energy policy researcher, analysed India’s participation in the global climate politics spanning more than two decades. He discusses how India, “…has shifted from a protest voice on the fringes of global climate policy to one that is actively shaping international efforts to combat climate change.” A good example of this can be seen in the Paris Agreement of 2015 and the part played by India since then.
The Paris Agreement gathers together all nations for a common cause, to undertake efforts for combating climate change and adapting to its effects, and assisting developing countries to do the same.
In 2015, before the finalisation of the Agreement, India listed out a slew of actions that it would undertake to combat climate change. Out of them the three key commitments made by India were a reduction in the emission intensity of GHG (Green House Gases) by 30-35%, a raise in the power generation capacity through non-fossil fuels by 40%, and creation of carbon sinks equivalent to 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 through afforestation. The deadline to achieve these goals was 2030.
Throughout the last year, from January, when it released the National Electricity Plan (NEP), until a few months back, India was creating headlines as it seemed to be well on its way to achieving two out of the three targets way before the deadline. But the recent actions taken by the government on coal mining show a backtracking on its promises and shed light on the threatening situation it is posing for the economy, the people, and the natural environment of India.
The NEP while listing out the targets for renewable energy, also included the targets for domestic coal production which amount to 1,000 million tonnes by mid 2020, more than a 60% increase over the 676 million tonnes that it produced in 2017.
In its recently released COP24 report WHO stated that if India strives to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, then the value added in terms of health gain would be almost 1.5-3 times its net GDP, which is to the tune of $3.2-8.4 trillion. Yet, the subsidy provided by the government for coal is nearly 400 times more than the whole budget of the Environment Ministry.
According to a report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, the cost of renewable energy sources has been steadily declining over years and in 2017, the price in India of wind and solar power dropped by 50%, making it cheaper than the power from a coal plant.
An analysis report by IEEFA of the recently proposed Khurja Thermal Power Plant states that investing in coal power is a waste of public and financial resources. “India’s power sector is responsible for $40-60 billion of the country’s ‘bad debt’ burden… an accelerating number of developers are walking away from their planned but now long stranded coal power plants. As a result, lot of planned coal-based capacity has already been shelved… The problems in thermal power sector in India are deep and there is no quick fix,” the report says.
Employment and environment perspective
According to a report by TERI analysing coal transition in India, the coal sector provides direct employment to more than 5,00,000 people, but the number has been decreasing substantially as labour productivity is increasing rapidly. It projects the new entrants in the labour market of six coal rich states (Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha) to be in the order of 45 million between 2018 and 2030, but no job creation in contrast.
In its extensive report on coal power and its implications, The True Cost of Coal, Greenpeace highlighted several statistics. “Across the planet, 11 billion tonnes of CO2 come from coal-fired power generation…In 2005, this made up just about 41% of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions… (and) will increase to 60% by 2030,” the report said.
A study published on The Lancet Planetary Health in December 2018 found that 12.5% of the total deaths in India in 2017 were because of issues attributable to air pollution. According to the study, one of the major sources of air pollution in India is coal burning for thermal power production. According to the findings of the 2018 report by the World Bank, South Asia’s Hotspots, there would be substantial decrease in standard of living by 2050 due to changes in the average weather of India; in terms of GDP this will cost the Indian economy an amount to the tune of $1.2 trillion.
From 2014-2018 there have been numerous violations of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, with the SC-NBWL passing proposals for activities that seriously harm the forests on their whim and wish. Recently, the Forest Advisory Committee of the ministry of environment, forests, and climate change made it to the news for allotting the coal mining contract for the Parsa Coal Block. It spans over 2,000 hectares of the protected Hasdeo Arand forests in Chhattisgarh. The Hasdeo Arand region is one of the largest intact forest areas in central India. Besides being highly bio-diverse and ecologically rich, it is also home to many forest-dwelling Adivasi communities such as the Gonds. These communities largely depend on the forest produce, and agriculture for survival. The coal-field that has been mapped by the ministry of coal comprises of 1,502 sq. kms. of forest land. All that stands between the massive displacement and deforestation is a stay from the Supreme Court. On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered 19 states to evict the occupants dwelling in the forests (primarily Adivasis) whose claims had been rejected by the FRA.
Clearly, there is a deep contradiction in the government’s claims regarding its stance on environment and its actions in the name of fulfilling the said claims. Not only has it back-tracked on its own promises but has also thrown all caution in the air when it comes to the well-being of the country’s economy, people, and environment, in exchange for some supposed short-term ‘gains’. There is a need for whoever arrives next at the centre to take a step back and re-evaluate their stance on climate change and related issues because it will play a significant role in the health of this country, quite literally. Because there is no big picture if you let all the small elements that make it go to waste.