India’s New Paris Pledge: We’ll Cut Back On Coal If We Get Help With Renewables Now

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michel Euler

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses world leaders at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015.

PARIS, FRANCE — Until now, India’s position at the Paris climate talks had been that it will massively increase coal production and use without limit. As a result, the country has not been willing to embrace a peak in carbon pollution, even though that will ultimately be crucial if India and the world are going to avoid simultaneous, catastrophic impacts.

But now, senior Indian negotiator Ajay Mathur “says his country will cut back its use of coal, if sufficient cash for renewables emerges from a Paris deal,” the BBC has reported.

Mathur said, “We look forward to an agreement that enables financial support from the countries that have developed on the backs of cheap energy, to those who have to meet their energy with more expensive but low carbon energy.”

India’s original Paris pledge announced in October — its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) — had no absolute CO2 target in at all, no cap on total emissions. The country did pledge to boost non-carbon power sources (renewables and nuclear) to 40 percent, up from 30 percent today. That would require some 200 gigawatts of new non-fossil-based power by 2030.

This is a big step in the right direction, but remember that a year ago, China pledged “to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar, and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.” And as I learned from my trip to China in June, the world’s biggest carbon polluter is already exceeding all of its renewable energy targets.

India itself had previously set a goal of 175 GW of power renewable power by 2022. A report this year from their Ministry of New and Renewable Energy concluded, “India has an estimated renewable energy potential of about 900 GW from commercially exploitable sources.” That is compared to 34 GW of solar, wind, biomass and small hydropower installed capacity at the end of 2014.

So India can do much more, and it’s clear that it will — with financial assistance. Mathur said it was “absolutely” the case that India would replace coal with any additional renewables it was able deploy following a Paris deal:

“We are very clear that solar and wind is our first commitment, hydro and nuclear all of these non-carbon sources are what we will develop to the largest extent we can. What cannot be met by these will be met by coal,” he said.

And with rapidly falling prices for key renewable and enabling technologies, the extra money needed is certainly within reach.

Consider that a 2014 solar auction revealed “solar PV is cheaper for Indian users than the electricity price needed to pay for imports of coal from Australia” for new thermal coal-fired power plants. No wonder India’s Minister of Energy Piyush Goyal said back in May, “We are confident that in the next year or two, we will be able to stop imports of thermal coal.”

Before Paris, the developed countries had promised to put together a $100-billion-a-year pool of money by 2020. Now is the time to go far beyond that. It’s time for the public and private sectors to work together to create a massive pool of money to finance trillions of dollars of renewable energy deployment in India and other developing countries.