India will not be able to meet its Paris climate agreement commitments in the coming years if the country goes ahead with its plans to build nearly 370 coal-fired power plants, US researchers warn. India has pledged to the international community to reduce its emissions intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide released per unit of gross domestic product — by as much as 35% from 2005 levels by 2030, and to increase the percentage of renewable energy in its power grids. The construction of 65 gigawatts worth of coal-burning generation with an additional 178 gigawatts in the planning stages would make it nearly impossible for India to meet those climate promises, the researchers said.
“The country has vowed to curtail its use of fossil fuels in electricity generation, but it has also put itself on a path to building hundreds of coal-burning power plants to feed its growing industrial economy,” said Steve Davis, professor at the University of California Irvine in the US. By developing all of the planned coal-fired capacity, India would increase the share of fossil fuels in its energy budget by 123%, researchers said. If the country also met its goal to produce at least 40% of their power from non-fossil sources in 2030, the total power being generated would greatly exceed its own projected future electricity demand, according to the new study. “Looking closely at all of India’s active coal plant proposals, we found they are already incompatible with the country’s international climate commitments and are simply unneeded,” said Christine Shearer, senior researcher at CoalSwarm, a research institute in the US.
“These plants therefore risk either locking out the country’s renewable electricity goals or becoming stranded assets operating well below optimal rates and leading to financial losses,” said Shearer. “India’s Paris pledges might be met if they built these plants and only ran them 40 per cent of the time, but that would be a colossal waste of money, and once built there would be huge incentives to run the plants more despite their contrary climate goals,” Davis said. India relies heavily on coal; 70% of the country’s power comes from plants burning the fuel. Due to its low cost and accessibility of large domestic coal reserves, it is seen by the country as an aid in its quest to become a manufacturing and economic power and a way to provide electricity to the roughly 300 million people in the country who do not have it.
However, researchers stress there is significant downside to the fossil fuel habit. In addition to spewing harmful soot and other types of air pollution into the atmosphere, coal-burning power plants are the largest carbon dioxide source on the planet, making up 41% of all carbon dioxide emissions in 2015. Choices individual countries make with regard to their energy mix have a global impact, researchers said. “India’s proposed coal plants will almost single-handedly jeopardise the internationally agreed-upon climate target of avoiding 1.5 degrees Celsius of mean global warming,” Davis said.