Mining India's troubled history of coal and politics
India drew multiple headlines at COP26, but its role in the pledge to only ‘phase down’ coal highlights a deep-rooted and corrupt political relationship.
The Indian delegation won many plaudits in Glasgow – demanding sufficient climate finance for developing countries, updating its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for the first time in six years, and setting its first ever net-zero target for 2070, a date with ample room to be brought forward.
But, in the final moments when the text of the agreement was thought to have been agreed, India revised it with Chinese backing and the pledge to ‘phase out’ coal became one to only ‘phase down’ its use instead. Many countries – especially island states such as the Maldives facing existential threat – were palpably furious at this late move.
Many justifications were given for India’s move to water down moves to curb the use of coal, such as its earlier proposal that ‘developed country parties must take the lead in phasing out all fossil fuels’, its historic and per capita carbon emissions being vastly lower than more developed countries, and that it still needs access to some coal-fired power to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. India also called for greater clarity regarding climate finance for transition.
Those arguing against India’s position focused on the domestic impact of its continued coal usage, most notably pollution which reportedly killed 1.7 million people in the country in 2019 and shortened the lives of millions more.
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