Glory coal

India is at least 99 new coal projects away from net zero

The Indian government believes coal will be back in demand as gas becomes unaffordable.
Fighting for light. 
Fighting for light. 
Image: Reuters (Reuters)
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India, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US, will reportedly develop 99 new coal mines.

These projects are being developed amid the country’s professed efforts to cut down carbon emissions by a billion tonnes by 2030. India has also set 2070 as the deadline to become a net-zero, or carbon-neutral, nation.

More than half of India’s energy needs are already dependent on coal. These new projects are now likely to jeopardise India’s ambitious plans.

Experts, too, have warned that a “lack of strategy” will slow down India’s progress on this front.

“The biggest hurdle for India towards achieving net zero right now is the lack of a clear direction of moving away from fossil fuels...Which results in wrong investments in polluting technologies and would slow down the progress towards net zero as well as lead to stranded and non-performing assets,” Sunil Dahiya, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air analyst, had told Quartz in September.

Does India really need new coal projects?

In April and May this year, India witnessed a temporary but massive shortage of coal amid high demand for power. This triggered prime minister Narendra Modi’s government into planning new projects.

The demand for coal, in any case, is expected to rise to 784.6 million tonnes for the financial year ending March 2023, according to research by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a San Francisco-based NGO studying the global energy landscape.

Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, too, was explicit in her assessment yesterday (Oct. 16) about rising coal demand. She said, “’s not just India. Many countries have gone back. And coal is now going to be back again because I think gas cannot be afforded. Or it is not available as much as you want.”

The price India will pay for its coal needs

India’s 99 new coal projects will potentially put 165 villages and 87,630 families at risk of displacement. More than 41,000 of these families belong to the scheduled tribe category, noted GEM’s research.

There’s also been criticism around India’s rush while existing coal projects remain underutilised.

“On average, India’s coal mines use only two-thirds of the capacity with some large ones using only 1%,” GEM noted.