Depending on what data you’re looking at, India is either leading the way in embracing renewable energy, or putting the planet at risk with its fossil fuel dependence. Given the country’s current blueprint for coal, the latter seems more likely.
Researchers at the University of California Irvine and CoalSwarm, a research platform that tracks coal, looked at India’s plans to construct 370 coal-fired power plants in coming years. Their study, in the journal Earth’s Future, determined that these projects would not only increase India’s fossil fuel output by 123 percent, but also threaten its place in the Paris Climate Agreement, a global treaty to reduce carbon emissions. (These plants were in the works before the Paris Agreement was signed.)
India, which consistently ranks in the top-ten most polluted countries in the world, had pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 35 percent by 2030. But unless it decides not to build the coal plants currently in the works, or does not plan to use them to full capacity, that will be impossible.
“In looking closely at all of India’s active coal plant proposals, we found they are already incompatible with the country’s international climate commitments and are simply unneeded,” said the study’s lead author, Christine Shearer, a senior researcher with CoalSwarm, in a statement.
India is in a difficult position when it comes to energy. As the second-most populated country in the world, and one of the fastest-growing economies, it has struggled to develop without overusing fossil fuels. Some of the $50 billion invested in the coal plants is geared toward ending “energy poverty”: an estimated 240 million people, or 20 percent of the population, remain without access to electricity, according to the World Coal Association.
But India has also made huge strides in solar and wind power. Solar energy could soon be even cheaper than coal, and the government-run Solar Energy Corporation of India has been instrumental in lowering tariffs on solar power. Even the private sector is now on board, as Indian news website Scroll reported, since India has made renewable energy more accessible and cost-effective than many of its counterparts in Asia.
If India goes through with its coal plans, it will unleash unprecedented carbon emissions from the country, and no amount of clean energy will be able to counteract the impact.
Since carbon emissions have no borders, this will be a big step back for the 195 countries that backed the Paris Climate Agreement in hopes of finally combatting anthropogenic climate change on a global scale.