India, with China's support, is attempting to establish agreement within the G20 group that would allow countries to choose their own roadmap for reducing carbon emissions instead of imposing a deadline for ending the use of fossil fuels. This is according to three unnamed government officials who spoke with Reuters.
Indeed India, the current G20 president, wishes to include the phrase "multiple energy pathways" in a statement to be issued at a group summit in September in New Delhi. It has received backing from China and South Africa, among others. This strategy would allow countries to select their resources, even coal, while moving towards net-zero emissions objectives.
The G20 includes India, China, Russia, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, among other nations, plus G7 countries, which are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has urged UN members to stop constructing new coal plants and end consumption from existing plants by 2040 to adhere to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.
Developing countries, with surging power demand, have typically said they should have more leeway than the developed world, which they say has already benefited economically from fossil fuel use and has created the vast majority of emissions since the industrial revolution. Developing countries have also cited their need for inexpensive power as well as their rapidly growing renewable energy use.
During the G20 Energy Transitions Working Group meeting in Gujarat in April, India opposed a deadline for ending coal use proposed by wealthy nations, and China supported India's position, citing a desire to make the best use of all available resources.
Coal accounts for nearly 75% of India's annual electricity generation, and India has long defended its use of the fuel, citing what it says are lower emissions per capita compared with other countries. India has an estimated 28.2 GW of coal-based power plants under construction.
India's power ministry declined to comment to Reuters, nor have China's foreign affairs and environment ministries said anything.
In late April, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) published a report recommending that the continent must rapidly slash fossil fuel subsidies and invest more money in clean energy transition if it is to avoid severe climate change that risks its own progress.
According to the report, Asia accounts for 94% of the world’s pipeline of coal-fired power plants announced, planned or under construction. Asia’s economic development is being fuelled in a carbon-intensive way well above the global average, ADB economist David Raitzer, one of the report’s authors, told Associated Press.
India's decision to employ the term "multiple pathways" in global climate negotiations marks the first time it has done so in opposition to Western countries' repeated demands to end coal usage. The G7’s climate ministers agreed in April to speed up the phase-out of ‘unabated’ fossil fuels to achieve net-zero energy systems by 2050.
The phrase aligns with the 2015 Paris Agreement's stance on "common but differentiated responsibilities under different national circumstances," an official told Reuters, who claims that wealthy nations ignore this principle while urging the elimination of coal. At the meeting, a third official stated that a consensus appeared to be developing in favour of countries' individual pathways to fulfil their national commitments and endowments.
India and China, the world's two most populous countries, frequently adopt common positions at global climate change talks.
At the last climate change deliberations in Egypt in November 2022, India stated that all fossil fuels, including natural gas, should be phased out in response to calls to reduce coal usage. The developed world uses a great deal of natural gas. However, at the G20 meeting in April, India maintained its focus on fossil fuels in general, rather than singling out coal.
In September, Delhi will host a summit of G20 leaders, including the presidents of the United States and China, to finalise the group's position on global issues such as climate change.
Yet India’s “multiple energy pathways” tack at the G20 comes as the country has amended the final draft of the 10-year plan for its National Electricity Policy. The draft now says that it intends to halt the building of new coal-fired power plants, unless they are already in the pipeline, sources told Reuters in an article published on May 4.
The draft also calls for delaying the retirement of old coal plants until energy storage for renewables has become widely financially viable, which has not yet occurred.
"After months of deliberations, we have arrived at a conclusion that we would not need new coal additions apart from the ones already in pipeline," a government sources told the news agency.
The draft must be approved by the federal cabinet.
The news is highly significant. If the new draft is approved, that would leave China as the only major economy in Asia to be adding new coal plants. China reportedly accounts for two-thirds of planned new coal power plants globally, said a report issued in April by think-tanks such as US-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM).
Indeed, China plans to build 100 new coal plants to provide baseload power for wind and solar plants, it said in 2022. At least 50 GW of that capacity began construction that year, said a report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and GEM.
China’s commitment to renewable energy – and reluctance to quit coal – was dented last year by a drought that took hydro power plants (HPPs) offline forcing factories to close even as it tried to boost its economy post-COVID.