Climate Change

Coal concern has prohibited India from signing global pledge on renewables and energy at COP28

Methane reduction through all sectors another point of concern 

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Monday 04 December 2023
Photo: @NamPresidency / X

Concern about mounting pressure to phase out coal any time soon has mainly prevented India from signing the global pledge on renewable energy and energy efficiency on December 2 at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a senior official of the Indian delegation told this reporter on December 3.

Some 116 countries signed the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge on December 2, agreeing to triple the worldwide installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 gigawatts and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements to more than four per cent by 2030.

The first paragraph of the pledge, a copy of which is with this reporter, read:

… to ensure that the global community meets the collective goal of the Paris Agreement to keep warming well below 2°C while pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, the pace and scale of deployment of renewables and energy efficiency must increase significantly between now and 2030, propelling the global move towards energy systems free of unabated fossil fuels well ahead of and by mid-century at the latest.

It added:

… according to the IEA (International Energy Agency) and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change), in order to meet the Paris Agreement goal, renewables deployment must be accompanied in this decade by a rapid increase of energy efficiency improvements and the phase down of unabated coal power, in particular ending the continued investment in unabated new coal-fired power plants, which is incompatible with efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Pledge linked coal cut with renewable push

Both India and China, major emitters, have not signed the pledge though under Indian presidency, G20 has recently mentioned the need to triple renewable energy globally. 

A senior official of the Indian delegation pointed out that India cannot be a party to a pledge that has asked for a phase down of unabated coal power, ending of continued investment in new coal-fired power plants, or cut down of unabated fossil fuels by mid-century at the latest.

“India’s position on coal has been always clear and it played a key role in changing the term ‘phase-out’ in the cover text of Glasgow COP26 to phase-down. Developed countries tried to link expansion of renewables with cutting down of coal in the pledge, a position India can not agree to,” said Sanjay Vashist, director of civil society platform Climate Action Network South Asia.

India has, in fact, indicated in the lead-up to COP28 that it plans to add coal-based power plants soon to meet its rise in power demand. The country has added an average five gigawatts of coal-based electricity generation capacity annually over the last five years, apart from aggressively pushing up renewable energy.

Union Power Minister R K Singh told power generators in a recent internal meeting that India would require ramping up its coal-based thermal capacity.

“This is nothing new. Our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) clearly talks about the importance of coal in the energy mix and we need to pursue that alongside ramping up renewable energy to meet the demand of a large section of population,” said an Indian expert in Dubai.

Mechanism to decarbonise proposed

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber unveiled a new mechanism called ‘Global Decarbonization Accelerator (GDA)’ to get the pledge up and moving at the World Climate Action Summit.

GDA is a set of initiatives designed to speed up the energy transition and sharply reduce global emissions. It is focused on three key pillars: rapidly scaling the energy system of tomorrow; decarbonising the energy system of today; and targeting methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases.

“The world does not work without energy. Yet, the world will break down if we do not fix energies we use today, mitigate their emissions at a gigaton scale, and rapidly transition to zero carbon alternatives. That is why the COP28 presidency has launched the Global Decarbonization Accelerator,” said Jaber at the launch of the GDA.

Under the GDA, 50 companies representing over 40 per cent of global oil production have signed on to the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter (OGDC). They have thus committed to zero methane emissions and ending routine flaring by 2030 and to total net-zero operations by 2050 at the latest, said the presidency.

Over 29 national oil companies (NOCs) have committed to the Charter, claimed to be the highest-ever number of NOCs to sign up to a decarbonisation pledge. The step is considered critical to realise the target being set in the Paris Agreement.

“Signatories to the Charter agree to target a number of key actions, including investing in the energy system of the future including renewables, low-carbon fuels and negative emissions technologies; increasing transparency, including enhancing measurement, monitoring, reporting and independent verification of GHG emissions and their performance and progress in reducing emissions,” read the UN release issued on the pledge.

It further talked about “increasing alignment with broader industry best practices to accelerate decarbonisation of operations and aspire to implement current best practices by 2030 to collectively reduce emission intensity, (and) reducing energy poverty and providing secure and affordable energy to support the development of all economies”.

The GDA also proposes to have a formal mechanism to track mode of decarbonisation across key heavy-emitting sectors and encourage policymakers, technical experts and financial backers to work hand-in-hand with industries to unlock investment and rapidly scale the implementation and delivery of emissions-reduction projects.

The statement said the third pillar of the GDA will address “methane and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases through economy-wide methane-emission reduction”. It proposed that more than $1 billion would be mobilised for methane abatement projects. 

According to experts not wanting to be quoted, stress on all round methane reduction is another red line for India as it has always countered the proposal to minimise methane production in the agricultural sector, stressing on adaptation rather than mitigation on that sector. 

“Under the Paris Agreement, India has submitted its NDC, which does not bind it to any sector specific mitigation obligation or action. The goal is to reduce overall emission intensity of its GDP and improve energy efficiency of its economy over time and at the same time protect the vulnerable sectors of the economy and segments of our society,” India declared last July, countering efforts to single out methane reduction.

Divided opinions on Indian stand

“There is a thought that the tripling of renewable energy must necessarily go together with the phasing out of coal. India has always defended its stance on coal and does not feel that major users of oil and gas have the moral leverage to ask it to wind down on coal. It is noteworthy that China has also not signed on the pledge,” reasoned Aarti Khosla, director, Climate Trends.

“It’s disheartening that India has not signed onto the global pledge to triple renewable and double energy efficiency by 2030. These were landmark decisions that were championed under the Indian G20 presidency and agreed to by G20 leaders in September 2023,” pointed out Madhura Joshi, senior associate, India Energy Transition Lead, E3G.

“While India has laid out serious ambitions for renewable energy, it is silent on coal phase down,” reminded Vibhuti Garg, director (South Asia) for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Prime Minister Modi had claimed high ground in his address at Dubai and claimed India to be a model in emission reduction and climate action.

“I am delighted that the world is looking at a tripling of renewable capacity by 2030. This will help both development and climate change mitigation. A fast acceleration of renewables growth is essential for humanity to be able to make the transition towards clean energy,” said Ajay Mathur, director general, International Solar Alliance, choosing not to respond on India’s reported non-signing.

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