India can manage without Coal – UPSC GS3

Context:
  • In the backdrop of COP26, India’s dependence on coal has remained a much talked about issue. Fossil fuel sources like coal have contributed significantly to global carbon emissions.
  • But, neither India’s historical nor its current emissions come anywhere near to those by developed countries.
  • And as India needs energy for development, some experts have therefore argued for a fair share of the carbon budget framework for India.
Why India doesn’t need to depend on coal for its future energy requirements?
  • Alternative forms of energy: Normally the argument in favour of coal is on account of its costreliability, and domestic availability. But a deeper analysis reveals the truth.
    • Cost: The recent data shows that the levelized cost of electricity from renewable energy sources like the solar (photovoltaic), hydro and onshore wind has been declining sharply over the last decade. It is already less than fossil fuel-based electricity generation.
    • Reliability: With technological progress, the reliability issues are being addressed by the frontier renewable tech.
    • Domestic availability: As for the easy domestic availability of coal, it is a myth. According to the Ministry of Coal, India’s net coal import went up from ₹782.6 billion in 2011-12 to ₹1,155.0 billion in 2020-21. India is among the largest importers of coal in the world.
  • The abundance of renewable natural resources in the tropical climate can give India a head start in this competitive world of technology.
  • South-South collaboration: This type of collaboration can help India avoid the usual patterns of trade between the North and the South, where the former controls technology and the latter merely provides inputs.
  • Benefits of a greener development path: The high-employment trajectory that the green path entails vis-à-vis the fossil fuel sector may help address the issue of surplus labour, even if partially. Such a path could provide decentralised access to clean energy to the poor and the marginalised, including in remote regions of India. So, it simultaneously addresses the issues of employment, technology, energy poverty, and self-reliance.
  • Arguing for burning more coal will make the situation worse for developing countries like India. Due to its tropical climate and high population density along the coastal lines, India remains vulnerable to climate change. Hence, burning more coal is not the solution.
  • Moral high ground: If the global south including India takes an independent and greener approach to development, then it affords it a moral high ground. This will allow developing countries to push for a more inclusive carbon budget framework, like South Africa at Glasgow. It’ll force the global north to come to the table for negotiations on climate finance.