Coal still ‘critical’ to India despite global calls to cut fossil fuels

National statement to Cop28 says country's development takes priority over wider green strategies

A coal-powered steel plant in Hehal village, Jharkhand, India, a nation where wide use of fossil fuels looks set to continue. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Cop28

India has maintained its stance that coal remains "critical to its energy security" despite calls for Cop28 to deliver a definitive action plan on the phasing-out or phasing-down of fossil fuels.

The country presented its national statement at the UN summit on Sunday, in which it said its emissions would rise in keeping with its development needs.

The declaration suggests India would resist attempts to eliminate or limit coal use.

The country's negotiating team said it remained committed to achieving its net-zero emissions target in 2070.

“It is very clear that India’s energy needs for development, which are substantial, cannot be deferred,” its message to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said.

“India’s reliance on coal is critical to its energy security in the background of the relative paucity of oil and natural gas of domestic origin.”

Between 2016 and 2019, India’s greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 4 per cent to 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

In its latest communication to the UN, the country said it was committed to expanding renewable energy, was focused “on growth which is both responsible and sustainable”.

Coal reliance a long-time sticking point

India’s long-held position has been that it will continue to rely on coal power to improve the living standards of its 1.48 billion population.

“The average global temperature has already risen to more than two thirds of the way to 1.5°C to 1.1°C,” said Bhupender Yadav, India’s Environment Minister, in the submission to the UN.

"The burden of adaptation is an immense one, falling disproportionately on the vast majority in our country and on the developing world who have contributed far less to the problem than the developed nations."

China, another major power at the table, acknowledged that talks have been tough at this year's Cop.

Its senior climate envoy Xie Zhenhue described the climate summit in Dubai as the hardest of his career.

"I have participated in these climate negotiations for 16 years," he said on Saturday night.

"The hardest meeting is this year's. There are so many issues to settle."

He said there was little chance the summit would be called a success if nations could not agree to language on the future of fossil fuels.

Countries such as India and China have not explicitly endorsed a fossil fuel phase-out at Cop28 but have backed a call for increasing renewable energy.

Opec members have been advised by the oil-producing group's secretary general Haitham Al Ghais to reject explicit mention of fossil fuels in the final summit deal.

EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra criticised the Opec missive as "out of whack" with global climate efforts.

New coal-fired power plants

India's rising electricity demands and recent official announcements of new coal-fired projects indicate any agreement to phase-down is unlikely.

In fact, the country is set to boost its coal-generating capacity following an announcement in November by India's Power Ministry that it planned to add at least 80 gigawatts by 2031-32.

Vibhuti Garg, South Asia director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said phasing-down coal would have a target of 2045.

“Phase-down was something that was acceptable to India before but this year we have seen huge demand growth and manufacturing activity, not only for energy but in other sectors as well,” she said.

“The government has said they are going to come up with more coal-based capacity.

“So at this Cop, even a phase-down may not be something that may look acceptable – maybe with a 2045 or 2050 timeline since until 2030 India is not even going to look at phase-down.”

Ms Garg said while per capita electricity consumption in India was low, it was expected to grow and demand could not be served by renewable energy alone.

“Because India has its own domestic coal they are still betting big on coal in the future, for the next few years at least,” she said.

“Also where India is coming from is that when the developed world is not committing to a phase-out of all fossil fuel, then why is this commitment being asked from developing nations?

“The developed world has the technology and the financial resources but they want to grow and still continue using fossil fuel, so why so much pressure on the developing world?”

Updated: December 10, 2023, 12:40 PM