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COP28 Climate Summit | India will not be bound by curbs on energy use: Environment Secretary

At COP28, India was conspicuously absent from a list of 118 countries signed on to a pledge to triple installed renewable energy capacity by 2030

India, while being committed to expanding renewable energy, would not be bound by “restrictions” on what kind of energy sources it could or could not use, Leena Nandan, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, told The Hindu.

On December 2, at COP28, India was conspicuously absent from a list of 118 countries signed on to a pledge to triple installed renewable energy capacity by 2030. The elision was odd as India was a proponent of tripling energy capacity, beginning with a mention in the G-20 declaration text this September

.India, so far, has also not signed on to another major pledge signed by 123 countries on December 3, namely, the ‘Declaration on Climate and Health’. The latter was a precursor to the first ever ‘health day’ organised at a climate summit. The declaration enjoins governments to protect communities and prepare healthcare systems to cope with climate-related health impacts such as extreme heat, air pollution and infectious diseases.

Both of these texts, though still drafts and far from having legal sanctity, link climate and health goals to restricting fossil fuel emissions. The draft of the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge as of today, says: “...renewables deployment must be accompanied in this decade by a rapid increase of energy efficiency improvements and the phase down of unabated coal power, in particular ending the continued investment in unabated new coal-fired power plants.” Unabated coal power refers to running coal plants without technology that stores and captures carbon.

Negligible contribution

Nudges to shun coal power runs contrary to India’s long-standing position that it needs to rely on its largest source of energy, coal power, to rapidly improve living standards for the mass of its population. India has also reiterated its right to use coal on the grounds that its historical contribution to the carbon crisis has been negligible, as below-global-average per-capita emissions of 4%.

The climate health declaration, according to an accompanying press statement from the COP Presidency, mentions the “...need to reduce the health impacts of climate change beyond the health sector and include new initiatives to drive rapid de-carbonisation to reduce emissions...”

India’s discomfort lies in linking the objectives of these declarations to cutting specific categories of emissions. “We need cold storages for storing vaccines and medicines and these are linked to making our healthcare systems resilient. However, suggestions that using these are contributing to climate emissions and that we must choose some fuels over the other are not acceptable,” said Ms. Nandan. Though it is still early days in COP-28 negotiations, which is expected to last at least until the 12th of this month, India would be “constructive” but not at the cost of denying energy access to those at the margins of development, she added.

According to India’s latest communications to the United Nations, its greenhouse gas emissions increased 4% from 2016-2019 to 2.6 billion tonnes of C02. The energy sector contributed the most to the overall anthropogenic emissions (75.81%), followed by the agriculture sector (13.44%), Industrial Process and Product Use (IPPU) sector (8.41%), and Waste (2.34%).

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