Interview | This is What India Needs to Do to Deliver on its 2070 Climate Goals

Potential Big Challenges: The current electricity architecture & DISCOMs and the reaction of coal dominating states

5 min read

In his opening speech at COP 26 in Glasgow, Prime Minister Modi took the global forum by surprise by announcing 2070 as an ambitious and highly awaited net-zero target for India. Along with this he also announced five big targets for India.

Experts within the country and outside have been calling these targets very ambitious. The Quint spoke to Mr Chandra Bhushan who India's foremost environmentalist and climate expert to understand how will a heavily coal reliant country like India make this switch to renewable energy and achieve net zero by 2030 and what he fears might keep us from getting there.

"These are ambitious targets, they will require hard work at home for us to achieve."
Chandra Bhushan, environmentalist and climate expert

The net-zero target was announced as a part of five goals or 'panchamrit' by Modi. These goals largely emphasised on phasing out coal and transitioning to renewable energy.

Potential Big Challenges: The current electricity architecture & DISCOMs and the reaction of coal dominating states

PM Modi's 5 big goals for India.

Photo: The Quint


Can India Achieve Net-Zero By 2070?

Chandra Bhushan: Well, one that 2070 is about 50 years from now, which means that we have to break this 50 years target of net zero into decadal target. And that's what India has done, it has given a 2030 target as the first decade target, by the time we will be in 2025, we will give probably the target for 2035 and 2040.

So, while India has right now announced its target to become net zero by 2070, I am sure by the time we are in 2030s, we will find that many technologies which are expensive, and inaccessible now will be easily available profitable for India to deploy. So will it be for the rest of the world. So the 2070 target might be reformed, there's nothing written in stone as far as 2070 is concerned.

I believe these targets are moving targets. As we saw in 2015, India had agreed to install 175 GW (gigawatt) of renewable energy, it has now upped that target to 500 GW. So, as technology becomes available, as economics become becomes favourable, you will find that these technologies will be deployed more and more, and targets will become much more stringent.

Are The Top Five Goals India's Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)?

Chandra Bhushan: I am not very clear, ideally, India should have enshrined these targets in NDC. That is what most countries are doing and that is what was expected from India. But there are some legal issues in this. India has said that it does not have to revise this target, whereas rest of the world thinks it has to and therefore, a large majority of countries have submitted a revised NDC and my my hope is that these targets will get converted into NDC and become India's commitment to the to the Paris Agreement. But there is a little bit of lack of clarity on this issue right now.

Will These Goals Push India Further On A Low Carbon Pathway?

Chandra Bhushan: India is already on a low low carbon pathway, now we are accelerating the speed of that pathway.For example, 500 GW renewable energy and 50% of electricity supply through renewable in 2050 means that our coal power will peak much before 2030. It is in the interest of India and, and in the interest of Indian consumers that we move to renewables and quicker the better.

Can India's Electricity be 50% Renewable by 2030?

Chandra Bhushan: The first is how do we get investment for it? If we are talking about 500 gigawatts of renewable energy, we are talking about $500 billion. Assuming that we have already have 100 gigawatt, another 400 gigawatt will mean $400 billion.

On top of it, you will require investment in storage technology and a smart grid. So, my ballpark estimate is that India will need anywhere between 500 to $600 billion investment, at least to get to this target.

So, the first goal for us is to create an environment to attract that investment. Investment is not going to come to India just because there is a demand and India has set a target, we will also have to create investor friendly atmosphere in the country.

The second thing is these targets will not be met with current DISCOMs (electricity distribution companies). The way distribution companies are designed. Which means that we will have to have massive reforms in distribution companies for these kinds of goals to be met.

Third, we will require manpower. When your entire electricity sector is going to become renewable with new storage and a smart grid, you will require new kind of people to work in these industries. So Skilling and re-skilling is going to be a major agenda for India.

The next important issue is just transition. All these things will only happen when people in coal producing areas are on board with this transition. We will have to make sure that there is restructuring of industries when we close these coal coal mines. We have to make sure that there are investments in green industries in those areas. So the fourth target is going to be 'just transition.

These are the minimum requirements that will have to be in place for us in next few years. For these targets to be met.


What Can Stall Us From Achieving These Targets?

Chandra Bhushan: I think the biggest fear is how we are going to deal with distribution companies. The current electricity architecture itself is the biggest fear inside my head. If we are not able to reform this sector itself, many of the things that that we are promising will not be fulfilled.

My second fear is the reaction of the coal dominating states. If they are not on board, many of these things will not happen. Then we will have two India-- one India, which is a coal dominant India, the other India which is a green India.

The green India will be the western and southern part of India from where the renewable energy is coming, new manufacturing plants are being put up , where electric vehicle will get manufactured.

An and the other part of India is the eastern India, which will remain a coal dependent India. So, my second fear is how do we deal with this federal issues? How do we make sure that these coal coal dependent states are on board supporting and demanding new green investment in their states?

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