Greenpeace India urges power sector to think beyond coal: Renewable Energy holds solutions for the future

 

(FILES) In this photograph taken on July 27, 2007, Indian workers use heavy machinery to shift a pile of coal at an open cast mine owned by The Sinagareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) at Godavarikhani, some 250 kilometers east of Hyderabad.  Human Rights Watch has blasted the Indian government on June 14, 2012, for failing to regulate the country's "out of control" mining industry which it said fuelled corruption and damaged local communities. The report from New York-based group said it was "hard to overstate" the scale of lawlessness in the multi-billion-dollar mining sector, with grave consequences for human rights and the environment.   AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM/FILES
(FILES) In this photograph taken on July 27, 2007, Indian workers use heavy machinery to shift a pile of coal at an open cast mine owned by The Sinagareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) at Godavarikhani, some 250 kilometers east of Hyderabad. Human Rights Watch has blasted the Indian government on June 14, 2012, for failing to regulate the country’s “out of control” mining industry which it said fuelled corruption and damaged local communities. The report from New York-based group said it was “hard to overstate” the scale of lawlessness in the multi-billion-dollar mining sector, with grave consequences for human rights and the environment. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM/FILES

New Delhi: As the who’s who of the coal and power ministry attended a conference themed ‘Indian Coal: Sustaining the Momentum’ in the Capital, Greenpeace India hosted a parallel press conference at the same venue, questioning the wisdom behind sustaining an obsolete polluting industry that plays such a large role in worsening global climate change. Instead, as Greenpeace sought to remind Power Ministry officials, Renewable Energy holds the key to the future, with the potential to meet the energy needs of the country through clean and sustainable options.

“It’s time we create new momentum for the future, instead of ‘sustaining the momentum’ to prop up a dying industry,” said Sunil Dahiya, Greenpeace India campaigner, “The sector needs to evolve if we are to keep pace with development. The PM has committed the country to ambitious RE targets through the INDCs leading up to the Paris Agreement, and we should be focusing energy on how to meet these: that is future-friendly thinking, not this blinkered approach to continuing the coal glut at all costs.”

In December 2015, Greenpeace India had welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s announcement in the lead up to the Paris Climate Change conference, setting an ambitious target for Renewable Energy: 175 GW by 2022. Prior to the INDC announcements too, official releases from the Press Information Bureau [1] had reported on the enthusiasm for renewable energy in various government bodies. But strangely, in clear contradiction of these commitments towards renewable energy, the government has continued to push for further investments in coal in parallel, including the setup of coal-based power plants well in excess of country’s required capacity.

“According to Power Minister Goyal, we are already coal and power surplus.[2] The government must therefore channelise their efforts into developing India’s renewable energy potential instead of furthering new coal-based power,” said Dahiya, “This is the only way to ensure a clean and constant supply of power without damaging public health, and destroying forests, community livelihoods and wildlife. This is also critical in order to meet India’s commitments on combating global climate change.”

Time and again Greenpeace India has pointed out the importance of moving away from a coal-based economy, as well as flagging the many concerns around the coal sector. For instance, the government is yet to come out with a transparent inviolate policy to protect rich forest areas from being butchered for mining coal. Through an analysis of information [3] obtained through a Right to Information request, Greenpeace India discovered that 417 out of 825 coal blocks fall on rivers; mining these is sure to endanger the country’s fresh water sources and supply.

Greenpeace India’s report ‘Trashing Tigerland’ highlighted the threat posed by coal mining to more than a million hectares of forests, which include habitats of tigers, elephants and a whole host of other endangered species. Another report ‘Out of Sight’ [4] highlighted the hazardous levels of air pollution caused by thermal power plants in Delhi  and other parts of northern India. Air pollution emitted by coal based thermal power plants, the largest overlooked source of air pollution, is responsible for 80,000 to 1.15 lakh premature deaths in India in 2012. [5]

A Greenpeace India finance briefing [6] for investors released in June this year highlighted the financial risks of investing in coal: coal companies have already incurred losses to the tune of Rs 2,400 crore due to shortage of water.

“Expanding the coal sector in India is an exercise in futility and will have massive detrimental effects on a huge cross section of society: from forest communities and farmers, to urban dwellers and power brokers in boardrooms,” cautioned Dahiya.

Greenpeace India urged the Ministry of Power to focus instead on achieving the renewable energy targets and work towards fulfilling India’s commitment towards the Paris Agreement. The organisation also called on the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to take swift action: stop giving more clearances to coal mines and thermal power plants; identify inviolate forests; and implement strict emission standards for air pollution by existing power plants.

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