Experts on Saturday welcomed UN secretary general’s advice to India to phase out fossil fuel to combat climate change, saying it’s possible to shift to renewable energy but the government needs an inclusive and comprehensive action plan to ensure a just energy transition and livelihood of workers. The experts felt that Antonio Guterres’ remarks come timely and it can be a moment for India to create its global climate ambition but at the same time they raised concern over the country’s need for financial and technological support.
The UN SG had on Friday called on India to be at the “helm” of an ambitious global leadership on clean energy and climate action, saying the country can become a “true global superpower” in the fight against climate change if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Greenpeace India’s climate campaigner Avinash Chanchal said, “It’s a known fact that burning coal is one of the major reasons for air pollution and the increasing climate crisis. The UN chief rightly mentioned that burning coal in power generation is not only impacting public health and climate but also the economy.” Kamal Narayan Omer, CEO, Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council, said the UN chief has complete support from advocates of clean air as fossil fuel has been found to cause various health problems in India.
“Phasing out of fossil fuel from our life is no more an option, for the damage it causes is evident and scientifically proven. Fossil fuel still comprises a major chunk of thermal power provided through grids to light up our homes, cities. They are still a prevalent choice of fuels to propel our vehicles. “We can already see the ill-effects of air pollution caused by fossil fuel has been found to cause 30 per cent premature deaths, cancer and mental diseases in the country. A recent study found that emissions caused by diesel vehicles are responsible for 66 per cent of air pollution-related deaths in India. It’s important to progressively shift to cleaner fuel alternatives for a cleaner air,” Omer said. Environmentalist Vikrant Tongad, the founder of NGO Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE), welcomed Guterres’ statement but urged the UN to find ways to financially and technologically support a developing country like India.
“The Indian government will have to do this in future to deliver climate justice. Our leaders must consider it seriously. At the same time, the UN has to understand that we are a developing country and raising the living standards of our people is important to us. Often, renewable power sources are more expensive than coal, therefore the UN should look for ways to support India financially and technology wise in this segment,” Tongad said. Chanchal, who shared a similar view, said that the government needs a holistic and comprehensive action plan to ensure a just transition and livelihood of workers.
“Transition to renewable energy is possible and to an extent the process has started but the government needs an inclusive, holistic, and comprehensive action plan to ensure a just energy transition and livelihood of workers,” he said. Chanchal said that India is estimated to bear Rs 10.7 lakh crore annually because of air pollution from fossil fuels. “At the same time, the market is also unfavourable for coal power. The pre-construction pipeline continued to shrink In India and it fell by half from 2018 to 2019. Mostly because of financial reasons, at least 42 coal-fired power plant units under construction at 19 locations totalling 19,255 MW were on hold as of July 2020,” he said.
He said that according to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, India has the potential for 1,050 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity by 2030 but “there is a need to ensure the growing demand is fuelled by sustainable and cleaner sources of energy and that is possible in today’s world where renewable energy is not just environment and climate-friendly but is an economically cheaper option as well.” Suyash Gupta, Director General, Indian Auto LPG Coalition termed Guterres’ plea to India to invest in clean energy as important, saying it can create new job opportunities and help recover the economy. “Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning has, over the past century, been the main driver of global warming whose impact is clearly visible today in extreme weather events being witnessed around the world.
“UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ plea to India to invest in clean and environmentally sustainable fuels is therefore important at this time as we work towards a post COVID recovery. Investing in clean energy solutions and creating new jobs in the sector can drive economic growth and recovery,” he said. Gupta added that it was important to make well-informed decisions to bring about the transition and suggested replacing high carbon fuels like petrol and diesel in the transport sector with low carbon fuels like Auto LPG.
Aarti Khosla from Climate Trends gave examples of a few states which have said no to coal and said it reflected the sentiments of investors as well as industry. “Gujarat was the first state in India to announce a no new coal policy last year, Chattisgarh followed up soon after though didn’t make an official statement but has clearly hinted to move in that direction. Maharashtra just recently announced that it would also not build new coal plants. This shift coming from the ground, reflects the sentiments of investors, as well as industry,” she said.