Video Editor: Pawan Kumar
'How India Became the Most Important Country For The Climate's Future.'
This is the cover story of TIME magazine's February 2023 issue, the story is authored by Justin Worland from Jharkhand in India and the photos are by Sarker Protick, a photographer from Bangladesh.
The story speaks of India's rapidly growing energy demand, its energy transition, the push for renewable energy, and need for coal; and why are all of these choices that India makes in the future, are important for the world.
The author travelled for ten days, "visiting coal communities, touring renewable-energy sites, and talking with leaders in the country’s political and financial hubs to understand India’s approach to the energy transition," focusing mostly on Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
Worland writes, "Whatever the reasoning, no one I spoke with in India, from academics to renewable-energy executives, would endorse a swift transition away from coal."
Industrialisation was originally supported heavily with fossil fuels from places like Jharkhand, says the story. However, with the growing need for decarbonisation due to climate change, experts have been calling for India to phase out coal and switch to more renewable sources of energy. This has led to more heads turning towards Rajasthan's green energy model, the author writes.
"Historically, fossil fuels from places like Jharkhand powered industrialization. But today, with climate concerns rising, many experts are calling for India to ditch coal as soon as possible and embrace the green-energy model so prevalent in Rajasthan."
Here are the key arguments that the story puts forth:
"India Is Growing So Rapidly That Its Energy Demand Is Effectively Insatiable"
As the discussion on emissions reductions gains global importance, Europe, the United States, and China have felt the growing stare of the international community to drastically cut their emissions. As green policies in these countries hedge towards success, India will be the next under the international spotlight.
Worland spoke with Suman Bery, Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, who argued that India will pursue clean energy while seeking a “balance between energy access and affordability, energy security, and environmental considerations.”
To which Worland writes: "Where that balance is struck could tip the climate scales worldwide."
He says India's faliure to ensure low-carbon developement could lead to a "retrenchment into fossil fuels across the Global South."
India is responsible for contributing 7 percent to the total global emissions, but in efforts to fully develop the country on an economic level, the rate of emissions is expected to rise drastically.
India's model of economic growth could play a vital role in helping the world meet its climate targets as decided by the Paris Agreement, Worland argues. Equally important in this equation is the Global North.
'Coal-Rich Jharkhand Cannot Provide Reliable Electricity Even to Hospitals, Schools'
Jharkhand can be called India's coal centre, and coal is what drove Worland to this state.
"India’s second poorest state may be an extreme example, but such problems pervade every corner of the country and are the crux of its energy and climate challenge," Worland writes.
He acknowledges that being a developing nation, India's leaders "do not want to write off any fuel source while energy demand continues its meteoric rise."
India's population growth is estimated to reach approximately 1.8 billion within the next 40 years, and this would rapidly increase the country's energy demands. To match these demands India will need a power system equivalent to that of the entire European Union, according to IEA.
Worland argues that India could follow China's path. China developed its industries primarily on coal, become the world's second largest economy and is now aggressively focused on expanding its renewable energy. "India, with its abundant coal resources, could simply do the same," writes Worland.
India’s Energy Future Remains India’s “Choice.”
Worland has tried to map India's energy future in detail and how difficult, easy or profitable it might be for us.
"A smooth transition matters not only for India but also for the rest of the world—it is a test case for how to implement an energy shift in developing countries while supporting their economic growth."
But this will need money, says Worland estimating that the energy transition globally will cost up to trillions of dollars.
For India to continue on it's path towards switching towards green technology, the country would need $1.4 trillion in investments to be able to meet global climate targets, as estimated by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
However, to attract this finance, "India must first convince the rest of the world that its model for low-carbon development can work."
(Our on-ground climate journalism needs your insights, ideas, and financial support - as we cover the biggest crisis of our times. Become a Q-Insider so we can bring more such stories to light.)