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For just transition from fossil fuels, India should focus on all sectors, not just coal: Reports at G20 event

Reports come amid pressure on India to join Just Transition Energy Partnership, an agreement to fund accelerated transition from coal. India has so far resisted proposition.

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New Delhi: India’s clean energy transition strategy should address all fossil fuel sectors (oil and gas), and not just coal, said the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST) — an independent non-profit environmental research organisation — in its reports. 

The two reports, titled ‘Just Transition Framework for India’  and ‘Just Transition Costs and Cost Factor’, were released Thursday during iFOREST’s Global Just Transition Dialogue. The dialogue was organised as part of the deliberations of the ‘Think 20’, an official Engagement Group of the G20. 

The reports present a roadmap with all the elements India should consider as it shapes policies to ensure an equitable and “just”  transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The reports note that India is highly dependent on imported fossil fuels, especially oil and gas, to meet its growing energy demands, while for its commercial energy needs, it is heavily dependent on coal. 

As part of the Glasgow Climate Pact 2021, India agreed to “phase down” coal usage and achieve net zero emissions by 2070. 

Speaking at the event, Chandra Bhushan, iFOREST’s CEO and president, said: “While our strategy for just transition should be guided by the country’s net zero target and energy independence goals, our actions should be to build green energy and industries and develop a skilled workforce. Therefore, just transition should be viewed as an opportunity for India to support green growth in the country’s fossil fuel dependent states and districts, create good quality green jobs, and provide a better life for all”.

The reports’ release comes amid pressure by the G7 group of countries on India to join a Just Transition Energy Partnership (JETP) — an agreement to fund the accelerated transition away from coal. South Africa, Vietnam, and Indonesia have signed such agreements.

The G7 group of countries consists of Germany, Italy, Canada, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

India, however, has so far resisted the proposition, given its heavily coal-dependent economy and the fact that a majority of funding is likely to come in the form of loans and not grants. 

Also Read: India’s subsidies for renewable energy nearly doubled in 2021 fiscal after 4-yr lull, report finds

$900 billion needed for energy transition

India’s energy transition will require at least $900 billion for coal mines and thermal power plants alone, the reports said. In addition to the $600 billion required for investments in new industries and infrastructure, $300 billion will be required for grants and subsidies to support the transition of the coal industry, its workers, and its communities, it added.

The reports recommend leveraging both domestic and international finance to help fund India’s transition away from fossil fuels. But the funding will need to be grant-based and concessional, the reports say. 

Amitabh Kant, the chief guest at the event and G20 sherpa during India’s presidency year,  said: “Private financing will be crucial for just transition. Our ability to push for just transition gets impacted by our ability to leverage private financing. We need new financial instruments and revision of how multilateral institutions work to improve financing”.

“Wind and solar energy combined with pumped storage will be the key to lower the cost of green hydrogen. These will pave the path towards an energy transition for India,” Kant added.

India’s just transition strategy should “take into consideration the multiple realities of the fossil fuel sector, the nature of the workforce, and the socio-economic context of the fossil fuel regions”, iFOREST’s reports say.

Though India will not phase down coal in absolute terms in the near future, speakers at the event emphasised the need to think about how India will make the transition while minimising the social impacts. 

“Transition of coal workers and local communities is the most challenging part of just transition. We need a clear resource and skill mapping to plan effective alternatives for livelihood,” said Kuldeep Chaudhary, deputy commissioner of Bokaro, Jharkhand, who was one of the speakers at the event.

“Fossil fuels, particularly coal mining and the associated transport sector, are human-intensive sectors. The bigger challenge for just transition will be to address the human question and the fossil fuel-associated economy… Another important aspect will be to define the differential responsibilities of the central and state governments. A lot of partnership technical support and guidance will be required for the states to make a low-pain transition,” said Odisha Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena, who was also present at the event.  

Jharkhand and Odisha have one of the largest coal reserves in the country, according to government data.

Also Read: Climate change could jeopardise energy security if renewables not doubled by 2030, says UN body

National & state-level frameworks

The reports recommend two separate state and national frameworks for a just transition. The national framework should focus on policy issues like phasing coal mines, coal based power plants, repurposing coal mine infrastructure, developing “green infrastructure,” and strengthening labour laws, among others. 

The central government should also appoint a Just Transition Committee including members from ‘at risk’ sectors,  which can make national level policy decisions “in coordination and consultation with stakeholders.”

The state framework, on the other hand, “will primarily guide the formulation of just transition plans, aid regional development, enable the convergence of programmes, facilitate negotiation with industries and labour, and help to implement and monitor just transition measures in a participatory manner,” the report says. 

The report further recommends setting up state and district Just Transition Action Plans, which will align with national ambitions. 

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: Rich-poor divide on clean power is getting wider and hurting the climate fight


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