Behind the Scenes of Achieving “Net Zero Emissions” in India

“In five years we can say no new coal production, in five others no use”

While a number of governments have announced major commitments to reduce their national carbon emissions, these efforts will not be enough to bring global energy-related emissions to net zero by 2050, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental body of the OECD headquartered in Paris. .

Announcing the Net Zero commitments has become a talkative part of the global discourse on the ongoing environmental disaster. In addition to the IEA, institutions such as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argue that any effort to stop and reverse global warming must address emissions from the energy sector, estimated to contribute more than two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In its report released last month, the IEA recommends a path for countries to embark on a “cost-effective and economically productive” transition to net zero energy emissions within 30 years. “Along this path, two-thirds of the total energy supply in 2050 comes from wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydropower. Solar becomes the largest source, accounting for a fifth of energy supplies, ”imagines the report.

Acknowledging some key uncertainties, he said not all countries should be expected to achieve net zero emissions at the same time. For example, a recent analysis shows that if the United States were to wait until 2050 to become carbon neutral, it would consume 22% of the remaining carbon budget for the whole world, if the average temperature increase is to be kept below 1 , 5 ° C of the pre-industrial level.

“In many places in the IEA report it is clearly stated that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work,” said Dr Vaibhav Chaturvedi, member of the Council for Energy, Environment and eau and author of a CEEW study describing several routes for India. achieve zero net emissions.

Chaturvedi agrees that different countries should set different deadlines and targets. “This is what it means to have equitable and just climate mitigation. “

The IEA’s path to net zero provides that beyond the projects already initiated in 2021, no new oil and gas fields will be approved for development, and that “no new coal mines or extension of mine is needed “to meet global energy needs.

The roadmap also recommends halting any further investment in coal-fired power plants, saying advanced economies should phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030 and developing economies by 2040. Although the reduction Coal relies on many unproven and untested technologies, demand has already caused a stir, with the governments of Japan and Australia announcing their disagreements with the report.

The IEA also released an India Energy Outlook report in February. When asked if India would be able to move away from fossil fuels quickly, Chaturvedi said it would depend on the Indian government adopting a Net Zero commitment, which he did not done yet. This would imply committing to a peak year, when domestic emissions start to fall, as well as a deadline for achieving carbon neutrality.

Despite the noise about India’s ambitious commitment to renewables, Chaturvedi points out that “of course renewables are developing rapidly, but that doesn’t mean fossil fuels are in decline. We see all these multiple parallel investment projects underway in the coal sector and in fossil fuels. “

In India, according to OECD data, fossil fuels accounted for 54% of total energy consumption in 1990. By 2014, their share had risen rapidly to 74%, from a global average of 80% and declining .

The media recently reported that state-owned Coal India Ltd had approved an investment of around $ 6.4 billion or 47,000 crore in mining projects to replace imported fuel. This will include expansion plans for 24 existing mines and eight new projects which he says will produce 81 million tonnes of coal from April 2023.

The Indian government also launched the second round of auction for commercial coal mining in March, offering 67 mines for sale in a bid to end Coal India’s monopoly.

“We have no alternative. Even if we add 450 gigawatts [of renewable energy] by 2030 for our system, it will still not meet our energy needs, ”said Samrat Sengupta, program director for climate change and renewable energy at the Center for Science and Environment.

The pandemic has led to a downward revision of estimates of future energy demand. The IEA believes that India’s energy demand will increase by 35% over the next decade, whereas it previously reported 50% growth during the same period.

Regarding generation capacity, a pre-pandemic estimate from the International Renewable Energy Agency indicates that India’s installed electricity capacity could nearly triple over the next decade to reach 670 gigawatts, from 284 gigawatts. in 2015.

Much of this growth involves the transfer of public funds through government investments or tax subsidies to ecologically destructive coal mines, oil and gas drilling, thermal power plants or hydroelectric dams.

“Subsidies are important because they are used by governments around the world to influence energy producers and consumers,” says a CEEW study last year that mapped energy subsidies in India.

He revealed that the Indian public was subsidizing renewable energy (including hydropower) to the tune of INR 9,930 crore in 2019, three times more than in 2014. Yet government subsidies for oil, gas and electricity coal were nearly nine times higher, at 83,134 crore INR in 2019. These, he says, are mainly due to rising crude oil prices and growing consumption of LPG.

Saying no to coal is “half a decade earlier for us,” says Samrat Sengupta. He stresses that it is not possible to abruptly close the coal mines because they employ a large number of people and that there must be a real movement of transition.

He thinks that the “first target should be coal-fired power plants that are beyond their technical lifespan. It should be shut down immediately and in five years we will be able to say no new coal production and in five others no new use of the coal base. “

Still, data available on the Union’s Ministry of Coal website shows that coal mining in India is growing, having increased by 34% in the past decade alone. In 2011, miners mined 533 million tonnes of coal, while last year extraction amounted to 716 million tonnes.

At the same time, the renewable energy sector is also developing. Over the past five years, the installed capacity in renewables has increased by 226% according to the Union’s Renewable Energy Ministry. However, the share of renewables in final energy consumption decreased from 59% in 1990 to 32% in 2017.

These numbers include hydropower and, as The Citizen reported, people are now also being displaced from their lands without their consent by solar power producers working with the government.

Regarding the government’s target of producing 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, Sengupta believes that “the current path shows that India can reach the target of 450 GW if we effectively tackle the problem of storage and security of technology supply ”.

He stressed the need to invest in R&D in energy storage technology, which will be a crucial part of the energy mix. Energy storage systems can play an important role in grid integration and can help power systems become flexible, for example by storing electricity produced during sunny periods and feeding it back into the grid later.

According to Vaibhav Chaturvedi, the Indian government has defined its climate leadership in terms of renewable energy penetration. He says this framework will guide government actions and that good results in renewable energy will help it be recognized as a global climate leader.

“This is why you see so many ambitions on renewables, be it the 2022 target or 450 GW for 2030. These targets are very bold and every time you see Indian leaders speaking out at summits on climate, you will see them repeat those goals, ”he said. tells The Citizen.

With the government mom on a peak year for emissions or a deadline for achieving carbon neutrality, Chaturvedi points out that none of her stated goals talk about Net Zero either, as of yet. Some 110 governments have already made such commitments, including big polluters like the US, UK, China, Japan and the EU.

Carbon emissions per person remain low in India, at 1.82 tonnes in 2016 against a global average of 4.55 tonnes. As a result, despite its large population, India’s share of global energy-related carbon emissions is only 4.4% of the total, according to NITI Aayog.

But while India is expected to become the third largest energy consumer in the world by 2030, due to rising living standards and increasing industrial activity, there are compelling arguments in favor of less harmful forms of energy.

Among the challenges of the transition to clean energy, Sengupta highlights the need to locally produce clean energy technology. “80% of solar cells and modules [panels] are imported across the border. We must shift this additional burden onto the shoulders of our consumers and promote the development of security of supply.

As we wait for international commitments to be backed up by effective action, in India Chaturvedi believes people should understand Net Zero better. He stresses that a rigorous analysis is lacking, which makes it difficult for an informed consensus to emerge.

“It is extremely important to start the process. After doing an analysis and engaging with all relevant decision makers, the government should take a call. Net Zero by 2050 is very tight, of course, due to many challenges, but it is not irreversible. “

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