In India, “phase down” of coal means far more mining with no end in sight

India’s Accelerating Coal Production Despite COP26 Pledge to “Phase Down”

India has been making bold pledges on climate change in recent years, but its plans for coal production show it’s not yet ready to give it up, despite the urgent concerns about the toll its use is taking on the environment. At the global climate forum, COP26, in 2021, India publicly promised a “phase down” of coal. However, it does not mean India will reduce the use of coal, only that it will gradually generate a smaller proportion of its overall energy with coal. As a result, India’s coal production is rapidly accelerating.

The fastest-growing coal mine in India, Bhubaneswari, is a testament to India’s vast coal reserves, which are among the largest in the world. The mine’s rapid expansion is a sign that the country is not yet ready to give up coal, despite the urgent concerns about its impact on the environment. In recent years, the Indian government has reopened old coal mines, created new ones, and extended contracts to private mining companies for longer periods. This shows that the country’s leaders will not be ready to give up coal for at least 25 years, according to government officials and coal industry executives.

India’s Energy Demands and Dependence on Coal

The Indian government is urging mining companies to excavate coal as quickly as possible to meet the country’s projected surge in electricity demand. India is still connecting millions of remote homes to the power grid and expects to add as much new power generation as the amount now used by the entire European Union over the next two decades. Therefore, India’s dependence on coal is well-established.

The share of electricity generated using sources other than fossil fuels has not increased for more than a decade and remains below a fifth of total power generation. Despite the Indian government’s target to produce 1 billion tons of coal in fiscal 2024, which ends in March 2024, up from 700 million tons produced so far, the share of other sectors like renewable energy is not keeping up with the country’s energy demand.

The Future of Coal in India

According to the author of the book “The Future of Coal in India,” Rahul Tongia, “when you take a step back and ask, ‘Is renewable energy [hitting] the targets?’ The answer is, unfortunately, no. The backstop remains coal, even more so.” Therefore, new renewable energy can only supply part of this growth for now. The country’s energy needs are the first and foremost priority, and coal will continue to play a significant role in India’s power system for decades to come.

Pressure to Accelerate Mining

The Bhubaneswari mining site is estimated to contain 1 billion tons of relatively shallow coal, beyond the 300 million tons being excavated. The government plans to triple the size of the mine to 3,700 acres over the next 25 years, swallowing up 17 adjacent villages in the process. The government awarded a 15-year extraction contract to Essel Mining, part of the Aditya Birla conglomerate, in 2011. Since then, the government has turned operations at publicly owned mines over to private companies, mostly under 25-year contracts, to hasten coal production. Companies have also been given permission to own mines themselves, furthering the privatization of the sector.

India has been making bold promises to fight climate change, but the country’s plans for coal production show that it still has a long way to go. The country’s dependence on coal is unlikely to change soon, with the government urging mining companies to excavate coal as quickly as possible to meet the projected surge in electricity demand. India’s energy needs are the first and foremost priority, and coal will continue to play a major role in meeting those needs in the near future. However, India must also prioritize sustainable energy alternatives such as solar, wind, and hydropower to reduce its carbon footprint and combat climate change.

While navigating the roadblocks to sustainable energy adoption may not be easy, it is crucial for India to achieve its climate goals and ensure a cleaner, healthier future for its citizens. The government, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play in making the transition to sustainable energy sources, and it is up to them to work together towards a greener future.

For those interested in learning more about sustainable energy and the challenges that come with implementing it on a large scale, I recommend reading the article titled “Sustainable Energy: Navigating the Roadblocks“. The article discusses the obstacles that have prevented a faster transition to sustainable energy sources, such as lack of political will, insufficient funding, and technological limitations. It also highlights the progress that has been made in the field and the potential benefits of sustainable energy for both the environment and the economy. Reading this article can provide valuable insights into the current state and future of sustainable energy, and may inspire individuals and organizations to take action towards a more sustainable future.