Sun's finally shining on India's climate change fight

Wind turbine blades at a Suzlon Energy plant in India. Renewables account for just 6 per cent of power-generation capacity in India.

In India, fighting climate change means turning to the sun.

In Baramati in the western state of Maharashtra, construction is under way on a solar power plant that will generate 50 megawatts (MW), enough to power a small town.

The first phase, which is being built by Welspun Energy in partnership with the state power authorities, is likely to be ready next month and will generate 36MW of power to feed into the state grid.

Once at full capacity by next year, it will mitigate 83,220 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually.

It is part of a much greater roll-out of renewable energy that the national government says is crucial to its plans to connect hundreds of millions of Indians to the grid.

India's Energy Minister, Mr Piyush Goyal, said he wants the nation's 2022 solar target enhanced fivefold to 100 gigawatts, but this will need huge investment and significant government support.

The push for renewables, the government says, is part of its response to tackling the country's growing greenhouse gas emissions. It is now the world's third-largest CO2 emitter.

But some nations and green groups say India must do more, particularly in curbing plans to ramp up coal mining for new power stations. The government wants to nearly double coal production, which could send India's CO2 emissions soaring.

India has come under pressure to adopt emissions caps after the surprise climate deal earlier this month by China and the United States. That pressure is set to grow ahead of major United Nations climate talks in the Peruvian capital Lima, from Dec 1 to 12. The talks are seen as crucial for a new global climate pact in Paris at the end of next year.

Scientists say nations need to agree on much tougher emission cuts to limit global warming to 2 deg C, or risk more extreme droughts, floods and sea level rise.

"India should and must come out with a clear emission target," said Mr Krishnan Pallassana, India director of The Climate Group, a non-profit organisation. "The current rationale that India needs fossil fuel-based energy supply is a misplaced notion. There is enough evidence coming out that investing in clean energy, clean technology and smart systems will usher unprecedented growth far better than conventional approaches."

China, which in the past has aligned with India in refusing to put a cap on emissions, agreed for the first time to cap emissions growth by 2030 or earlier, while the US agreed to cut emissions by between 26 per cent and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Last month, the European Union agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The Indian government feels that setting targets would hinder economic development and the goal of reducing poverty.

"There is no change in our position… We are doing much more than what we have to do. We are taking action on our own,"

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said. "There is no comparison (with China)... China is fourfold in income and pollution."

India's per capita emissions is about 1.9 tonnes while China's is around 7.2 tonnes. China's per capita gross domestic product is US$6,807 (S$8,850) while India's is US$1,498.

Renewables account for only 6 per cent of power generation capacity, despite the push for them. Coal is the largest source of energy for electricity.

While the government has announced its intention to slash coal imports over the next two to three years, it wants to pump up domestic production from 565 million tonnes last year to one billion tonnes by 2019. Coal quality in India is of poorer quality than imports, and environmentalists are fearful of worse pollution levels.

In May, the World Health Organisation called New Delhi the world's most polluted city, a claim heavily disputed by government officials. Ahead of the Lima climate talks, some argue that the US-China deal does not go far enough in curbing CO2 growth. Together, China, the US and the EU emit over half of mankind's carbon pollution.

"The only way to square this circle is to create conditions to deliver more emission restrictions than countries actually promise and push for tighter limits," said senior fellow Navroz K. Dubash at Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

This article was first published on Nov 24, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.