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Doubts remain over India’s possible carbon neutral 2050 goal

(ATF) India may be about to bite off more than it can chew in its climate change ambitions. New Delhi is considering making a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050, or even three years earlier, to mark its 100-year independence from British rule.

Officials close to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi are huddling with senior bureaucrats and select foreign advisers to draw up the possible deadline for transitioning to net zero emissions, unnamed people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News on Thursday.

The decision could hinge on what happens in a much-heralded April 22 Earth Day summit when US President Joe Biden is reportedly set to gather world leaders in an effort to secure fresh commitments from attendees, including China and India, the world’s largest and third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters. The US, for its part, is the world’s second largest GHG emitter.

US special climate envoy John Kerry could pressure countries to do more to offset their carbon footprints during the summit, particularly China and India.

“Every single country has to step up ambition,” Kerry said during a visit to the UK earlier this month, while calling out India along with what he said are “the 20 countries that are the equivalent of 81% of global emissions.”

Bypassing China

If New Delhi does go ahead and set a carbon neutral by 2050 goal it will come some 10 years before China which recently pledged carbon neutrality by 2060 with marked reductions in its carbon footprint by 2030 – putting Xi Jinping at odds with some in the government, including the country’s powerful National Energy Administration (NAE) which recently had to answer for its plan to ramp up approval of new coal power plants seemingly in contradiction of Xi’s climate agenda.

The quandary for India is not dissimilar to China – over reliance on coal needed mostly for thermal power production. However, India has a twin coal problem, not only does coal provide power for some 70% of the country’s electricity, but it has also recently announced major plans to increase its coal production for export – also a major polluter. 

Last year, New Delhi passed a bill that removed end-use restrictions for participating in the country’s coal mine auctions and fully opened up the sector for both private domestic and global companies in efforts to ramp up production.

Pralhad Joshi, India’s Minister of Coal, Parliamentary Affairs and Mines, said at the time that the new law would help bring in much-needed FDI to its coal and mining sector and help boost the economy. He added that the bill was important as India should be using its own natural reserves, instead of importing expensive coal. 

“We have to produce coal and reduce imports,” he said, adding that more domestic output would lead to more electricity generation and also cut the oil import bill. India has one of the largest reserves of coal in the world and if it is not mined, it would turn into “mud,” he said.

In November, New Delhi announced that 19 coal mines were successfully auctioned to private investors, highlighting that it would bring around Rs 7,000 crore (over $1 billion) for state coffers.

As such, India’s coal build-out ambitions as much as its continued over reliance on the dirtiest of all hydrocarbons casts doubts over its possible carbon neutral 2050 ambitions.

Conflicting forecasts

Adding confusion to the mix, the Paris-based International Energy Agency has placed the earliest date for India to become carbon neutral some 15 years later, in 2065.

Albeit, to have a fighting chance of meeting a 2050 carbon neutral goal, India would not only have to start trimming its coal over-reliance soon, it would have to also continue its solar and wind investment push in addition to pledging more support from both domestic and foreign investors to build green and blue hydrogen infrastructure and also possible clean hydrogen imports.

India has already announced plans to turn into a so-called natural-gas based economy.

Natural gas, the cleanest of hydrocarbons, currently makes up 6.2% of the country’s energy mix. New Delhi wants that amount to increase to at least 15% as soon as 2030.

Natural gas when used for power generation emits 50% less CO2 than thermal coal-fired production.

As such, even natural gas and imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) could have to be pared back to help the country of some 1.1 billion reach its climate change agenda.


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Tim Daiss

Tim has been working in energy (LNG, solar, wind) markets in the Asia-Pacific for more than 10 years, based in Taiwan, the Philippines and now Vietnam. He has performed project risk analysis and consulting for US, UK and Singapore energy consultancies and media outlets such as Forbes, S&P Global Platts, Nasdaq and others. He is also founder of an energy project capital raising firm, APAC Energy Consultancy.

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