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Unprepared for Paris

Failure of thermal power plants to meet emission standards does not speak well of India’s climate commitments.

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February 10, 2017 12:06:18 am

A week after the finance minister waxed eloquent about the Centre’s commitment to promote clean energy in his budget speech, the government has developed cold feet over emission norms for thermal power plants. The norms, set in December 2015, are critical to the Clean Coal Policy, a lynchpin in India’s strategy to meet its targets under the Paris Climate Pact. Coal, a major culprit for climate change, powers more than 80 per cent of the electricity consumed in the country. In the run-up to the Paris climate change meet in 2015, the government stressed on reducing the share of this fossil fuel in the country’s energy mix and using it in a climate friendly manner. The latter meant reducing the emissions from thermal power stations. Over 140 such stations were assigned targets for improving energy — and thus, emissions — efficiency. That the government now finds these standards too stringent could raise questions about India’s commitment to its Paris targets.

The accord, ratified last year, hinges on voluntary targets, or the Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs). Though India’s INDCs lay great store on renewable energy, the country will still require thermal power plants to generate 60 per cent of its energy requirements in 2030. That makes reducing emissions from these coal-fired plants crucial to the country’s Paris commitments. But the lack of coordination between different government agencies that has bedeviled almost every environment-related initiative in the country has dogged the endeavour to reduce the climate footprints of thermal power plants. In June 2015, when new emission norms for thermal plants were being discussed, the National Thermal Power Corporation reasoned that these norms were too strict. The government set aside the objections of the biggest player in the sector when it submitted its INDC document to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change. The environment ministry is also not without blame. It gave clearances to new plants without specifying the new standards, well after it had the norms in place.

There are still three years before India has to comply with its Paris climate targets. The failure of thermal power plants to comply with the emission norms does not show the country’s preparedness in good light. Most thermal power plants in the country work at efficiencies below 33 per cent. While there has been much glib talk on emission targets for these plants, the technological inputs required for the purpose have received very little attention. It is time the country braces for the challenge.

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