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Violation of India's global obligation? 107 coal blocks 'offered' for commercial mining

Counterview Desk 

In a letter emailed to Dr S Jaishankar, Minister for External Affairs, Government of India, well-known power and climate policy analyst Shankar Sharma has posed a question as to what stance would India take at the Climate Summit in US proposed by President Joe Biden in US next month, at a time when the Government of India has already announced its decision to offer “40 plus 67 coal blocks for commercial mining.”
Asking Jaishankar whether this is “consistent with the global need”, the letter said, it is necessary to “keep in mind that India must not ignore the fact that as per global scientific community a third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves would need to remain in the ground for the international community to reach its goal of staying below a maximum two degrees Celsius global average temperature rise.”
The letter regretted, despite this “India has not deemed it necessary to declare a climate emergency” , wondering, “Does this indicate that the Union government does not see any serious threats to its communities, especially the poor and the vulnerable sections, from the looming consequences of Climate Change?”
Asks Sharma, “Will India be spared from the global pressure to reduce its GHG emissions, and hence it can continue indefinitely to burn increasingly more fossil fuels, including coal?”

Text:

Greetings from Sagar, Western Ghats, Karnataka to you, your family and all in the Union govt. on the occasion of Holi festival.
I hope you have had time to deliberate on the issues raised in my recent emails, including the two forwarded below (click here to read), on the topic whether the year 2021 will be a climate test for Indian diplomacy. The recent development, as in the news link below, that India is invited for a Climate Summit in US in April 2021 to underscore the urgency and the economic benefits of stronger climate action, will be another occasion for India's external affairs ministry to concern itself as to the potential embarrassment India may face in that summit due to its unenviable stand on climate performance at a country level (Biden invites 40 leaders including PM Modi, Xinping to climate summit).
It is a moot point as to what India will have to say in that summit which will not lead a major embarrassment, since the recent policy statements/practices one can see on the ground are all totally against the global need to reduce by half the GHG emissions by 2030, and to become carbon neutral by 2050.
The news item, as in the news link below, reported widely in the national media that the Coal Ministry offers 67 more blocks under a new set of commercial auctions should be a matter of great concern for India's image at the global arena; even if the government does not care for the credible domestic opinion on coal power (Coal ministry offers 67 more blocks under new set of commercial auctions).
When we consider such a decision by the coal ministry along with an earlier decision in June 2020 to offer 40 coal blocks for auction, the enormity of the global image issue for India should become obvious.
In this context, it will not be out of place to put a few records straight. I am sure you would know that the coal power sector is the major contributor of GHG emissions at the global level, and the UN efforts are getting very serious with the passage of each month to reduce such total GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 (as compared to the 2005 level), and to make it net-zero by 2050.
But sadly Pralhad Joshi, Union Minister for Coal, recently said: “… country should make maximum use of its coal reserves while shifting to cleaner forms of energy.” What does he mean by the maximum use of its coal and by what period? Does he mean to say that India has no obligation to reduce its total GHG emissions by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050 as has been recommended by various UN agencies?
The first Production Gap Report, 2019 in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has said: “… production of coal, oil and gas must fall by 6% a year until 2030 to keep global heating under the 1.5C target agreed in the Paris accord and avoid “severe climate disruption”.
Have other UN agencies such as IPCCC and UNFCC not come to the same conclusion? Does not the Paris Agreement amount to similar policy perspective? Does the hon’ble minister know that the UN is ramping up pressure on countries to end their reliance on coal, with Secretary-General António Guterres unambiguously spelling out the organization’s position in his recent declarations?
The UN chief has called for taxes to be placed on carbon emissions, an end to the trillions of dollars’ worth of estimated subsidies for fossil fuels, and for the construction of coal-fired power stations to be halted by 2020, if we are to stand a chance of ending the climate crisis.
It will be highly unfortunate if the country's coal minister has not been made aware of the fact that in 2018 UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said unambiguously that coal-fired electricity must end by 2050 if we are to limit global warming rises to 1.5C, and it had also warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
It is necessary for the country's coal minister to keep in mind that India must not ignore the fact that as per global scientific community a third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves would need to remain in the ground for the international community to reach its goal of staying below a maximum two degrees Celsius global average temperature rise.
Can we call India's recent decisions, twice in one year, to offer 40 plus 67 coal blocks for commercial mining as consistent with the global need? I would like to highlight that in his invitation, the US president Biden is reported to have urged the invited leaders to use the summit as an opportunity to outline how their countries also will contribute to stronger climate ambition.
What can India offer as its commitment to this climate summit; other than the vague target of reducing its energy intensity per GDP by 2030 (which may not mean much in reducing its total GHG emissions, because India's GDP itself is projected to get more than doubled by then), and the unsubstantiated but much-repeated target of 450 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030? 
India has no obligation to reduce GHG emissions by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050, as has recommended by various UN agencies?
 Both these targets will be more than negated if the country continues to open more and more coal mines and build more and more coal power plants, which are against all the sane advices given both by domestic as well as global domain experts.
Pralhad Joshi, S Jaishankar
It is also worth mentioning here that in the context of the unacceptably high GHG emissions in the atmosphere, and keeping in view the calamitous threats from Climate Change at least 38 countries have already declared a state of emergency.
The UN Secretary General has asked for such a declaration of Climate Emergency across the globe. Recently, the UK announced that it would seek to cut emissions by 68% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030, and earlier this year, China announced that its emissions would peak by 2030, and reach net zero by about 2060. But it is sad that India has not deemed it necessary to declare a climate emergency.
Does this indicate that the Union government does not see any serious threats to its communities, especially the poor and the vulnerable sections, from the looming consequences of Climate Change? Will India be spared from the global pressure to reduce its GHG emissions, and hence it can continue indefinitely to burn increasingly more fossil fuels, including coal?
What is even more worrisome is the fact that none of the concerned authorities either in the Union government or state governments have deemed it necessary to clarify to the seriously concerned public and the domain experts, as to how the continuation of the BAU scenario in the energy sector is essential and beneficial to every section of our society without compromising on social and environmental issues; and also as a corollary, to elucidate as to how the various techno-economically credible options available to our country to adopt a green energy scenario are unacceptable socially and environmentally.
It is a matter of very serious concern to the country as a whole that none of the authorities in responsible positions have considered it necessary to explain any of these issues satisfactorily, even though there have been numerous representations/ credible reports/ queries by the CSOs, individuals, domain experts and academics. It will be highly appropriate here to emphasise that the country has no credible energy policy, even though a draft National Energy Policy was issued in 2017.
Without a credible energy policy, various authorities, including the ministers and Secretaries, are issuing ad-hoc statements on our energy sector, which are only leading to more questions than they answer. No doubt, that our energy sector can be said to be in a mess without credible policies for the next 10, 20 or 50 years. The scenario is like various Secretaries in EAM working with different paradigms without any coherent long term policies.
There are many credible study reports, both by global agencies and local agencies, to support the techno-economic feasibility of transitioning Indian energy scenario to become more or less completely green by 2050.
A joint study by WWF-India and TERI, “The Energy Report – India: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050”, has highlighted that aggressive efficiency improvements across the energy demand and supply sides have tremendous potential to reduce overall energy demand by about 59 per cent at the national level. The remaining demand can then be met by renewable energy sources. What is critically essential in this regard is the political will, enabling policies, and concerted efforts by various sections of the society.
Keeping all these worrisome issues in an objective consideration, I would like to reiterate that many of the domestic policies, such as national energy policy, can no longer be treated as relevant to domestic audiences alone; more and more of such policies have become truly global in nature in a growingly intricate and complex world.
Hence, there is an urgent and critical need for the External Affairs Ministry to diligently participate in formulating the national energy policy so as to make it compliant not only with the needs of our own communities, but also with the needs/expectations of the global communities.
It can be disastrous for India at the global arena not to have finalised a diligently prepared national action plan on energy and environment before this climate summit in US, since it is essential for the country to assure the global community at the earliest that India is serious in meeting its global obligations, and that it will target to reduce its GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 (as compared to 2005 level), and ultimately to become carbon neutral by 2050.
The first step for India in these associated efforts should be to cancel all plans to open more coal mines and to build more coal power plants; and instead embark on a massive scale to add to the renewable energy capacity through small, medium and large scale solar, wind and biomass power plants in a distributed mode across the length and breadth of the country, preferably with the active participation of consumers and local stakeholders in all decision-making processes.
At the same time, there should be concerted efforts to minimise the pollution/contamination of air, water and soil from the operating coal power plants by gradually decommissioning the oldest or most polluting coal power plants so as to have only the most efficient and least polluting coal power plants in operation and to have only about 20-30% of the total power capacity in the country through coal power plants by 2030.
May I hope your ministry will take the necessary initiatives in this regard to work effectively with the PMO, NITI Aayog, Ministry of Power & New and Renewable Energy Sources, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), and persuade all the concerned authorities to finalise early a credible energy policy, and a revised National Action Plan on Climate Change?
The associated measures are critical for the overall welfare of our society, because they are needed not only from the social and environmental perspectives, but also from the larger economic and security perspectives too.
---
Copy of the letter sent to Pralhad Joshi, Minister of Coal & Mines; Prakash Javadekar, MoEF&CC, RK Singh, Minister for Power & NRE; Nirmala Seetharaman, Minister for Finance; Dr Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog; and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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