In a message pointed to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, UN secretary general António Guterres warned that investing in expansion of fossil fuels industry such as the coal mining sector would mean more deaths and illness and rising healthcare costs.
Secretary-General António Guterres delivers his speech to the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture. Photo: United Nations Secretary-General
He stressed that India must end its reliance on polluting, financially volatile and costly fossil fuels and instead invest in clean, economically resilient solar power. Scaling up solar energy would help solve two of India’s key development priorities: alleviating poverty and bringing power to 64 million Indians still lacking energy access.
“Today, as we endure the twin crises of COVID-19 and climate change, this effort has never been more important.”
Speaking at Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) on Friday, Guterres said ongoing support for fossil fuels around the world was “deeply troubling”. India is subsidising fossil fuels seven times as much as clean energy.
Modi recently launched an auction of 41 coal mining blocks to private investors. The prime minister said this would create hundreds of thousands of jobs at a time of economic fallout from Covid-19 and reduce India’s dependence on imported coal.
But Guterres warned rising temperatures caused by emissions from coal and other fossil fuels, would see India endure more intense heatwaves, floods and droughts, increased water stress and reduced food production if global warming edged over 1.5C by the end of the century.
“This strategy will only lead to further economic contraction and damaging health consequences. It is, simply put, a human disaster and bad economics,” he said. “Clean energy and closing the energy access gap are good business. They are the ticket to growth and prosperity.”
Guterres, who has championed a green recovery to the pandemic, has become increasingly direct in his climate rhetoric. He is demanding the world’s largest economies, known as the G20, end fossil fuel subsidies, put a price on carbon pollution and commit not to build any new coal power plants or mines after 2020.
India, the world’s third largest emitter, has committed $8.9bn to fossil fuels, with $6.8bn of that to coal, compared with $1.2bn for clean energy.
And yet, renewable generators have proved more resilient than coal, which bore the brunt of the collapse of energy demand caused by coronavirus restrictions, and is struggling against increasingly competitive solar prices.
Analysis by think-tank Ember found India’s share of wind and solar in electricity generation rose from 3% in 2015 to nearly 10% in the first half of 2020, while coal’s share fell from 77% to 68% in the same period.
Half of India’s coal will be uncompetitive in 2022, reaching up to 85% by 2025, Guterres warned. “This is why the world’s largest investors are increasingly abandoning coal,” he said. “The coal business is going up in smoke.”
Ajay Mathur, director general of Teri, told Climate Home News a number of Indian businesses and financiers understood that investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency provided both “short-term profitability and long-term sustainability”.
Guterres also insisted investments in renewable energy would generate more jobs than in the fossil fuel sector and boost India’s recovery.
Guterres’ message, said Mathur, comes at a time when Indian financiers are “starting to consider the possibility of a renewable-based future” – something unimaginable just five years ago.