Cop26: Why Modi’s climate pledges have sparked confusion in India

By Paul Homewood 


Talking of India, Modi’s new pledges at COP26 have sown confusion!






Narendra Modi’s promise of a net zero future and increased renewable energy came as a welcome surprise at the Cop26 summit and helped set the world on a path towards keeping global warming within the Paris Agreement’s goals for the first time. However, the Indian prime minister’s speech also left room for a lot of confusion, and lacked crucial technical details. Since his announcement earlier this week, conflicting statements from Mr Modi and the country’s Ministry of External Affairs have triggered widespread confusion around the promises, especially those related to energy consumption, since India fulfils 70 per cent of its requirements using coal, which the PM said the country could be looking at phasing out within years.

  • Addressing the gathering of world leaders at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, Mr Modi announced: “India will [increase] its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030,” and said that it would meet “50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030”.

    This was a landmark announcement coming alongside an emissions-reduction goal of 1 billion tonnes, which would represent a 2.5-3 per cent reduction in absolute emissions over the next nine years. Some experts have referred to these other pledges as even more important in tackling the climate crisis than India’s net zero emissions target of 2070.

    But analysts have been grappling to find answers to a series of questions raised by Mr Modi’s speech. Is India’s 50 per cent renewable target for its total consumption of installed capacity? Is the emissions-reduction target referring to carbon or total greenhouse gases? Are these commitments conditional based on the availability of climate finance like its previous targets? There is no clarity on any of these aspects; there are only conflicting statements.

    Mr Modi’s announcement of 50 per cent energy consumption from renewables was soon contradicted by the country’s Ministry of External Affairs, which said India’s touted new pledge was actually an expansion of its previous goal – one of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – of increasing the capacity of renewables, not energy consumption, to 50 per cent.

    “You would be aware also that in Paris our NDC said that 40 per cent of our installed electricity capacity would come from non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources,” India’s foreign secretary Harshvardhan Shringla said at a press briefing. “The prime minister announced today that in fact 50 per cent would be met from renewable energy sources.”

    Those two metrics – installed capacity, as cited by the ministry official, and energy consumption, to which Mr Modi referred – are different and change the way India’s pledges to reduce fossil dependence are interpreted.

    Installed capacity refers to the total capacity electricity plants can produce. However, it isn’t the same as the output, especially in the case of renewables such as solar and wind, which depend on natural factors including time of day and speed of winds and therefore do not have a full capacity output.

    Coal, on the other hand, constitutes a little over half of India’s installed capacity, but has a larger share of overall output.

    With Mr Modi’s announcement referring to energy requirements, a broad term that refers not just to electricity production but also to uses of fossil fuel in, for example, the cement and steel industries, India’s pledge appeared far more ambitious, perhaps even unrealistic, to experts in the country.

    But the installed capacity target for renewables is something India has achieved faster than any other target. India has already attained 39 per cent of installed capacity producing about 92.54 GW till January 2021, according to government data, reaching its NDC pledge nine years ahead of the intended deadline.

    However, Mr Modi did not make any commitments for phasing out coal, or not building new coal-fired power plants, in Glasgow this week, leaving uncertainty over India’s plans for its coal usage. Despite the country’s expanded renewable capacity, it has also been increasing its coal production, especially under the energy crunch reported last month that threatened a blackout in Asia’s third-biggest economy.image .

  • There may have been some sort of breakdown in translation here. The claim of  50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030 was obviously absurd, given that only 4% of energy consumption comes from renewables.

    Neither is it remotely possible either that 50% of electricity could come from renewables by 2030.

    As highlighted, renewable capacity, including hydro, already accounts for 38% of total power capacity. So reaching 50% is not a tall order, needing only annual additions of 5 GW pa.

    But reaching that 50% milestone will only increase renewable generation by about 60 TWh a year. In other words, increasing the share of wind/solar from 8% to 11%.

    There is also confusion over his promise of an emissions-reduction goal of 1 billion tonnes, which would represent a 2.5-3 per cent reduction in absolute emissions over the next nine years.

    This is equally absurd, given that India’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide are only 2.2 billion tonnes. The article suggests 2.5 to 3% reduction over nine years, which implies a cut of 66 tonnes each year. So the figure of 1 billion may be the cumulative total, probably inflated by LULUCF (land use changes etc).

    Given the investment in more efficient, ultra super-critical coal plants, it may just be possible for India to use this greater coal burning efficiency to cut emissions, along with some savings on planting more trees.

    Finally there is the little matter of money!

    On the matter of climate finance, India’s stand has remained clear – it wants developed countries to take responsibility for their historic emissions and work towards financing the transition in countries that haven’t contributed as much to global warming.

    In Glasgow Mr Modi did demand a massive $1 trillion in climate finance, but he did not specify whether India’s new plans depended on its availability. Some of India’s previous NDCs were conditional on funding.

    It is not clear whether India’ promises are conditional on that $1 trillion. Or what period of time that would cover.

    Even over thirty years, however, this is a lot more than India would get from the currently promised $100bn a year fund.

    All in all, India’s offer comes down to a reduction in emissions of 3% by 2030, mostly achieved by reforestation.


    November 4, 2021 at 12:30PM

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