India needs to update its climate targets

By Damandeep Singh The extreme heatwave that recently saw temperatures soar across India was a stark reminder that this region is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

As countries start to declare climate emergencies, following the urgent call for decarbonisation in last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, it is, more than ever, in the hands of companies and governments to find solutions.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge of his new term, he must renew his commitment to address this climate emergency. It is essential that the Indian economy provides an ambitious and viable pathway to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 at the latest.

Encouragingly, business in India, and globally, are taking action on the climate. By cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals, businesses are helping to fight climate change and reduce air pollution. India is moving into a strong position to lead globally as an early mover – having already overtaken the US to become the second largest solar power market in the world in terms of solar installations.

In 2017, new solar installations reached a record 9.6 GW during the year, increasing employment in solar PV by 36 per cent to 1,64,400 jobs, according to IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency). India had the world’s fifth-largest additions to wind capacity in 2017, employing some 60,500 people. India’s clean energy sector could create 300,000 new jobs by 2020, already matching current level of employment at Coal India Ltd.

Investments in renewables in India topped those of fossil fuels for the first time in 2018. For a country that still relies on coal for more than half of its power needs, this is a strong signal that investors are embracing the zero-carbon future.

India has set its sights high with ambitious renewable energy targets. Thanks to rapidly falling technology costs and supportive policies, the country is on track to achieve those goals years ahead of schedule. Moody’s forecasts that India will overachieve against its targets, with non-fossil fuel power generation capacity hitting 45 per cent (rather than 40 per cent) by 2022 along with a fall to 57 per cent of coal fired power generation by 2030.

India must tackle the legacy of fossil-fuel power production by committing to no new coal-fired power, and planning the phasing out existing coal in a way that takes care of workers and ensures energy access and reliability for all. This would both accelerate the transition to a clean energy future and avoid stranded assets in years to come. It’s notable that Carbon Tracker has warned that some $60 billion of coal-fired power generation assets may be stranded in South-East Asia in the next decade.

Business is signalling its support of a move away from coal. Tata Power’s’decision to not build new coal plants is one such signal – with the company’s Mundra coal-fired power plant, one of the biggest in India, experiencing losses reaching $191 million for the first three-quarters of 2018-19.

Tata Power’s’latest plan includes a goal for up to 70 per cent of new capacity to come from solar, wind
and hydro through to 2025. India’s’thermal power giant NTPC Ltd has also reportedly shelved 10.5 GW of its planned coal-fired power projects year-to-date and the national coal-fired pre-construction project pipeline has shrunk by a quarter in the last six months according to the Global Coal Plant Tracker (GCPT).

India is becoming a global leader in renewable energy. Now is the time for the Indian government to update its targets on climate and give business the clarity and confidence needed to continue to unlock innovation and drive investment in zero carbon products and solutions. This is India’s’moment to step up as a world leader, demonstrating how an economy can continue to grow and thrive with a clear pathway towards a cleaner, healthier zero-carbon future.

(Damandeep Singh is Director of the India office of the Britain-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) that supports companies and cities to disclose the environmental impact of major corporations)

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