A success for India – is how Union environment, forest & climate change minister Bhupender Yadav described the UN global climate summit as it ended. And yet, India is facing a lot of criticism for pushing through a late revision in the Glasgow Climate Pact, which now has countries agreeing to “phase down” unabated coal, instead of “phase out”. No doubt this is momentous language, as this is the first time coal and fossil fuels are being mentioned in a COP deal. But overall COP26 has failed to live up to its billing as the “last, best hope” to limit this century’s global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The blame games being played against this backdrop are poor in climate finance and rich in hypocrisies.

As their lion’s share of cumulative emissions indicates, rich countries grew rich on fossil fuels and now they are also more comfortably placed to transition to renewables at scale. In the US stagnant electricity demand plus lower prices of natural gas and renewables have been shutting down the coal plants, and yet it hasn’t presented any details to end coal, as if leaving the transition timeline all to the market. Contrast its situation to India, where IEA forecasts the largest increase in energy demand of any country over the next 20 years, where coal is plentiful, its mining employs over 2 million people, and sensitivity to the cost of capital for energy transitions is very high.

That rich countries continue to go slow on the Paris finance commitment bodes ill for the bigger ask being put up by developing countries now. But as climate change manifests around us from the seas to the sky, we don’t really have the luxury of waiting around for outside help. India’s Glasgow commitments, including meeting 50% of the electricity requirement through renewable sources by 2030, already reflect one of the most rapid decarbonisations of the sector in the world, but we can and should do much more, for our own sake.

Nuclear energy is one cost-effective alternative that we should optimise. It forms only 2% of the share of energy in electricity production in India as compared to 4% in China, 18% in Russia, 19% in the US and 72% in France. As for how much COP26 finally delivers, it completely depends on how different governments finally finesse their pledges. The goal of ending coal will depend on sincerity in phasing it down first.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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