By Sohrab Darabshaw
Energy experts, the domestic media, research organizations and even representatives of other governments seem pretty sure that India is the next green-energy giant in the making (U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent assertions notwithstanding).
Trump, while announcing his country’s intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, justified it on the grounds that the agreement was unfair to the U.S., and that it was skewed unfairly in favour of developing countries, such as India.
In the wake of that move, many in the Indian media have pointed out that a fact that the Trump administration seemed to have missed was that while India was the third-largest contributor to carbon emissions today, the U.S. was the second.
The U.S.’s per capita carbon emission was still significantly higher than other large countries, according to data from the World Bank, and far higher than that of both India and China, according to a report in the online publication Scroll.
Not many within or outside the country are doubting India’s stated aim of ensuring that 40% of energy used would come from non-fossil fuels and rapidly developing renewable energy sources by 2030.
He added the way India was moving towards the generation of solar and wind energy could be an example for the developing world and the concept of “circular economy” that promotes reusing and recycling resources was fit for India.
MetalMiner reported just a few days ago that India had overtaken the U.S. to become the second-most attractive country after China for renewable energy investment, according to a report by UK accountancy firm Ernst & Young.
One of India’s own central government ministers, Harsh Vardhan, denied Trump’s allegation that India would double coal production till 2020.
Speaking at the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial in Beijing, he added the country was hoping to achieve climate targets “well before time.” He was speaking at the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial in Beijing.
The minister pointed out to the fact that India was working incessantly to increase its share of renewable energy, even to the extent of announcing the cancellation of new coal mines.
Some experts in India felt that Trump’s recent allegations could put a damper on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to the U.S. Trump’s message — India is a big polluter and is not doing and is expected to do much on climate change — may not go down well with the Indian administration.
The CEO of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, Arunabha Ghosh, cautioned that rather than impulsively reacting to Trump’s provocation, India must clinically examine the breadth and depth of its energy and climate relationship with the U.S. to decide which areas of cooperation, if any, still hold promise.
India saw nearly $10 billion invested, both in 2015 and in 2016, in renewable energy projects. Last year, $1.9 billion of green bonds were issued. India’s solar targets alone need $100 billion of debt.
Posting in the Bloomberg View opinion section, columnist Mihir Sharma, however, struck a slightly skeptical note.
“India is not like China, or the U.S., or Australia or Germany when it comes to meeting its Paris pledges,” he wrote. “In India, hundreds of millions of people still live without electricity – a big part of what keeps them desperately poor.
India also has a shrunken manufacturing sector, partly because electricity is so expensive (relatively) and its supply so variable.
No democratically accountable Indian government can ever favor an international agreement over fixing these two problems.”
Sharma added coal “looks bad” in India at the moment because “its economy is struggling and because it is so services-intensive.
Over the past few years, coal plants have used less and less of their capacity as growth has slowed.”
But, if India’s economy does take off, Prime Minister Narendra Modi might indeed be faced with such a choice.
Modi – who as a chief minister decried climate deals as infringing on Indian sovereignty – has already gone out on a limb and reversed decades of Indian climate policy in signing the Paris agreement.
If he’s ever actually confronted with that choice – one that’s much more real than the one Donald Trump faced – I wouldn’t be as sure as all the headline-writers that he won’t follow Trump’s lead.
Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, while speaking to Times of India blogger Rohit E. David, opined India must move ahead on energy security, not because it needed to make up for Washington’s withdrawal, but because low carbon growth could lift millions out of poverty and improve public health.
Modi said it would be a morally criminal act for the world not to do its part on climate change – a very strong signal of support, Solheim told the interviewer.