Finger at India’s coal focus

An international forestry research agency has accused the world's biggest users of coal, including India, of continuing their emphasis on coal-fired energy and thus threatening global efforts to curb Earth-warming greenhouse emissions.

The Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has bracketed India with Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Colombia and America as countries whose continued focus on coal is putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

It has said these countries' pursuit of coal is denuding forests, thus also reducing the planet's capacity to absorb emissions.

The energy options that countries choose in the coming years are key to whether the world can reduce its emissions and avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

Government officials and ministers from over 190 countries had been in Paris to complete a global agreement towards that goal.

More than 180 countries have pledged their own domestic action plans – from improving energy efficiency to expanding renewable energy and adding forests – to reduce emissions.

India has announced a plan, among several other initiatives, to expand renewable energy to 175,000MW, including 100,000MW of solar power, by 2022.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told the climate change conference in Paris on November 30 that future prosperity in the developing world now rested on initiatives such as solar energy.

But the CIFOR report says coal is a "cornerstone" of the Indian government's development strategy, citing how coal production in India rose during 2014 by 6.4 per cent, the highest rate of increase in the world.

The report said that each month, a new coal mine opens in India as part of a relentless drive to double coal output by 2020 and bring electricity to the 300 million Indians who live without it.

An environmental organisation called Ecofys has predicted that if countries, including India, go ahead in building large-scale coal-fired power plants, the achievements in renewable energy may be lost. And the world will be on course to having an average temperature rise beyond 2°C, raising the risk of disastrous climate-change impacts.

The Indian government has, however, in its climate action plan conceded that coal will continue to dominate power generation but asserted that the country has taken several initiatives to improve the efficiency of coal-based power plants and reduce their carbon footprint.

"The contrast is startling. On one hand, India has promised to generate 100 gigawatts solar power by 2022; on the other it also plans to generate 110 gigawatts of additional power from coal almost during the same period," Joydeep Gupta, an environment expert associated with the Earth Journalism Network, told The Telegraph in Paris.

An analysis by India's Centre for Science and Environment, released in Paris, shows that 70 per cent of India's energy mix is based on coal. India's coal dependency is second only to China's, and India's gross coal consumption in 2014 was only behind those of China and America.

"We demand control on not only coal but all kinds of fossil fuels. All developed countries including the US and the European Union must stop coal use immediately," said Arjuna Srinidhi, an analyst with the non-government CSE.

However, a senior Indian government official said there was no contradiction in India's position.

"We need coal to generate more power as expanding renewable energy will take time. There is no ambiguity. Please keep in mind that we have to provide energy to 300 million people who are currently not touched by the power grid," the official said.

The CIFOR report has warned that coal mining threatens more than 1.3 million hectares of forests in Australia, more than 1.1 million hectares in Canada, 850,000 hectares in Indonesia, and more than 250,000 hectares in India.

The report has lauded India's Forest Rights Act, introduced by the former UPA government, to protect the rights of local forest-dwelling communities. But it criticised what it says is the Narendra Modi government's attempts to dilute the act.

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