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Climate Experts Laud India’s Balancing Act In The Face Of Fossil Fuel Debate

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New Delhi, Sept 11: Climate experts on Monday lauded India for its fine balancing act on the language on coal and other fossil fuels and getting the G20 countries to agree to the tripling of renewable energy capacity by 2030 under its presidency.

The New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration released after the G20 Summit here on Saturday said the bloc will aim to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030 and expedite efforts to phase down coal power in line with national circumstances, but did not commit to a phase-out of all polluting fossil fuels, including oil and gas.

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The language on coal aligns with what was agreed upon in the previous G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

According to a key technical report on the first-ever Global Stocktake published on Friday, scaling up renewable energy and phasing out unabated fossil fuels are indispensable elements of just energy transitions to net-zero emissions.

The leaders’ declaration reflected significant progress considering the G20 climate and energy ministers in July failed to agree to tripling RE capacity by 2030 and peaking of global emissions by 2025.

However, some experts viewed the RE capacity tripling deal without the backing of fossil-fuel phase-out as a disappointment for India, which relies heavily on coal for power generation and has been calling for a phase-out of all fossil fuels since COP27 last year.

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“Reiterating language from the last G20 on efforts to phase down coal just maintains the status quo. Increasing renewables must be backed by phasing down fossil fuels as both are indispensable for just transitions and a net-zero world,” said Madhura Joshi, India Lead at climate think tank E3G.

RR Rashmi, distinguished fellow and programme director at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), said: “The absence in the G20 Declaration of language on expansion of the phrase ‘phaseout or phasedown of coal’ to all fossil fuels is understandable because this needs consensus among all oil, gas and coal producing countries, both of the Global North and the Global South. Moreover, this was the agreed position at Bali (the 2022 G20 Summit) and it would not have been possible to deviate from this in view of the discussions held and positions already taken in the clean energy ministerial.”

“India will be happy with the global target of tripling of renewable energy capacity because it has already taken steps in this direction. Transition away from coal is possible only if RE is scaled up. India will also be pleased with the emphasis on energy efficiency, as it means financing can be directed towards these specific targets,” the former negotiator said.

Reportedly, some countries emphasized on the role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for stabilization of emissions from oil and coal industry. This has been balanced with reference to all future technologies relating to both abatement as well as removal.

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There are no immediate implications for CCS because these are long-term technologies, he said.

The immediate takeaway is that more financing should be allocated to renewable energy. It is possible that having developed a consensus on RE and energy efficiency targets at G20, a consensus may also emerge at the COP about these goals as part of the future nationally determined contributions, the climate policy expert said.

“On the financing side, the G20 discussed greater involvement of multilateral developmental banks (MDBs). There could be some progress in this regard in future at the G20 level. It is a positive development that the MDBs have taken cue from the G20 declaration. World Bank President Ajay Banga has already expressed optimism with the emphasis on MDB involvement,” he said.

The G20 Summit in New Delhi committed to making multilateral lending more effective in the fight against poverty and recognized the enhanced role of MDBs in mobilizing climate finance.

Some experts have also argued that governments in developing countries should avoid linking MDB reform with climate change because this would essentially mean MDBs reserving developmental finance for coal phasedown.

On the absence of the fossil fuel phaseout/phasedown language in the G20 declaration, Chandra Bhushan, president and CEO of independent think tank International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iFOREST), said, “G20 is also about continuity. Unabated coal has figured in communiqués of many previous G20 Summits. India would have certainly tried (bringing in all fossil fuels in the text). Since it’s a give and take, they thought it was right to continue with the language from the Bali Summit.”

There has been no backsliding on commitments and it’s a very positive result considering the circumstances made in previous G20 Summits. The declaration talks about efforts to triple renewable energy capacity, doubling energy efficiency by 2030 and peaking of global emissions by 2025. It also includes Mission Life (Lifestyle for Environment) an initiative India has been championing, the climate policy exert said.

The G20 declaration noted the findings from the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to which, global greenhouse gas emissions should reach their highest point, or “peak”, somewhere between 2020 and no later than 2025 to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

However, they said, it doesn’t mean that every individual country must reach its emissions peak within this timeframe.

“Timeframes for peaking may be shaped by sustainable development, poverty eradication needs, equity, and in line with different national circumstances,” the declaration read.

Chandra Bhushan said India has been able to push its agenda. The declaration reflects all commitments made during the previous conference of parties and what the COP28 wants to achieve. G20 countries, under India’s presidency, have laid a good foundation for COP28. It’s a very positive outcome from the perspective of climate and just energy transition.

On the G20 deciding to demonstrate ambition with respect to “other zero and low-emission technologies, including abatement and removal technologies,” Chandra Bhushan said: “G20 is also about what different economies want to do for climate. Some G20 countries like Saudi Arabia are interested in technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). While ambition is important, the option of CCS completely depends on economics. It (CCS) is very expensive at the moment. We expect it to become cost-effective in the next one-two decades. Green hydrogen and renewables would have also become much cheaper by then.”

Asked whether a deal on phaseout of fossil fuels is possible at COP28, he said, “G20 has provided a direction to the UN Climate talks which generally try to achieve more. So, I hope that the Dubai COP will be able to enhance the agenda.”

Sultan Al Jaber, the president of the next UN climate talks, has stressed that the phase-down of fossil fuels is “inevitable” but contingent upon a substantial increase in renewable energy capacity worldwide.

Labanya Prakash Jena, Senior Manager and Head, Centre for Sustainable Finance, Climate Policy Initiative, said, “India has been able to bring everybody to the table. It’s a massive achievement. Announcing that the world will make efforts to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 and acknowledging that global emissions should peak by 2025 is a positive news…  There is reiteration about the need for low-cost capital for developing countries to help them implement their climate plans.”

India has been able to bring countries together at a time when they are not talking to each other very positively and have a fractured opinion on climate issues. Russia-China are going in a different direction, the West is going the other way. The Global South has its own issues, he said.

On the G20’s reiteration to accelerate efforts to phasedown coal power in line with national circumstances, Jena said coal will remain the mainstay for power generation and the manufacturing industry in countries like India for at least two more decades despite rapid addition of renewable energy. (PTI)

 

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