UN chief urges India to quickly move to renewable energy

Antonio Guterres (file photo)

New Delhi (NVI): India must swiftly move away from coal and other fossil fuel-based economic growth and focus on renewable energy (RE), to aid the fight against climate change, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said today.

The UN Chief while delivering the 2020 Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture, said that new coal auctions, in a bid to kick-start a post-COVID economic recovery, would be unfavorable, since coal has no future economic viability.

“It would rather lead to greater pollution, add to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and place a burden on India’s healthcare system,” he added.

In his speech, Guterres spoke on India’s achievements in renewable energy investments and the country’s 2030 target of increasing its share of renewable energy capacity to 500 gigawatts.

On 18 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the auction of 41 coal blocks to the private sector. On 21 July, power and new and renewable energy minister RK Singh said that India’s RE capacity would reach 510 gigawatts by 2030, he added.

Guterres said, “In some cases, we are seeing countries doubling down on domestic coal and opening up coal auctions. This strategy will only lead to further economic contraction and damaging health consequences.”

He also said that we have never had more evidence that pollution from fossil fuels and coal emissions severely damages human health and leads to much higher healthcare system costs.

The UN Chief further stated that in India 50 per cent of coal would become uncompetitive by 2022, and this would rise to 85 per cent by 2025. “This is why the world’s largest investors are increasingly abandoning coal,” he added.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a global economic meltdown, and the UN Chief has been calling on countries use this for a clean energy transition.

“I have asked all G20 countries, including India, to invest in a clean, green transition as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “This means ending fossil fuel subsidies, placing a price on carbon pollution and committing to no new coal power plants after 2020.”

Guterres said that investments in RE, clean transport and energy efficiency could create 9 million jobs annually for the next three years.

“Investments in renewable energy generate three times more jobs than investments in polluting fossil fuels,” he said, adding that such job creation is vital since the pandemic’s economic impact could push many people back into poverty.

The UN chief stated he was inspired to learn about a promising trend in India. During the pandemic, the proportion of renewable energy rose from 17 per cent to 24 per cent, while coal-fired power declined from 76 per cent to 66 per cent. He underlined that renewable energy must continue to grow, and coal use progressively phased out.

“Today is the time for bold leadership on clean energy and climate action. I call on India to be at the helm of the ambitious leadership we need,” Guterres added.