UN Secretary-General Calls on India to Take Lead in Global Transformation to Renewables

United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, called on India to take the lead in transforming global economic, energy, and health systems to save lives, create inclusive economies, and avert the threat of climate change.

Guterres was addressing the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture, an annual lecture series initiated by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 2002 in the memory of the institute’s founder and noted technocrat-industrialist, Darbari Seth.

Guterres spoke on ‘The Rise of Renewables: Shining a Light on A Sustainable Future’ and stressed India’s role as a global leader. He said, “India can become a true global superpower in the fight against climate change if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

The Secretary-General outlined how switching to clean energy could benefit millions worldwide at a time when the pandemic puts sustainable development at risk, which will further worsen with climate change.

Guterres highlighted India’s progress in the renewable energy sector as the country’s spending on solar energy last year eclipsed coal-fired power generation for the first time, and the number of people employed in the industry has risen five-fold since 2015.

Guterres also lauded India’s role in embracing technology that will power a sustainable future despite significant challenges.

Solar Leadership

According to Guterres, the advantages of India’s renewable energy resources are self-evident- it’s cheap, protected from volatile commodities markets, and offers three times the job potential of fossil fuel power plants.

“Despite the significant challenges the country faces in bringing shared prosperity to its population, it has, in many ways, embraced clean technology and a sustainable energy future. I applaud India’s decision to take forward the International Solar Alliance in the form of One Sun, One World, One Grid,” he said.

He further added, “I commend India’s plans for a World Solar Bank that will mobilize $1 trillion of investments in solar projects over the coming decade. India has 37 GW of installed solar electricity to date. I am inspired by the Indian government’s decision to raise its target of renewable energy capacity from the initial 2015 goal of 175 GW to 500 GW by 2030.”

The Secretary-General was optimistic that the Indian government’s decision to attract more international investors, such as the sovereign wealth funds and pension funds like the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec or the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

He further said, “I call on India and all its innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to spearhead the global search for a solution to solar cooking at the household level. India can be the business hub to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7.

Coal Subsidy

However, the Secretary-General also commented on fossil fuels, such as coal, which still receive subsidies around seven times higher than subsidies for clean energy. “The situation is the same in many other parts of the world, something he found “deeply troubling,” he said.

“I have asked all G20 countries, including India, to invest in a clean, green transition as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. It means putting an end to fossil fuel subsidies, placing a price on carbon pollution, and committing to no new coal power plants after 2020,” Guterres added.

The Secretary-General was pleased to learn that during the pandemic, the proportion of renewable energy rose from 17% to 24%, while coal-fired power declined from 76% to 66%.

Renewable energy’s share (including large hydro projects) in the installed capacity mix inched up to 36.3% during the second quarter of 2020, according to the data from the Central Energy Authority (CEA), and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). The country’s overall installed power capacity also rose slightly to 372.9 GW during the quarter, up from about 372.1 GW in Q1 2020.

Guterres stressed on progressively phasing out coal while helping renewable energy growth.

He stated that the cost of renewables had fallen steeply, and it’s cheaper to build new renewable energy capacity than operate with 39% of the world’s existing coal capacity.

“This share of uncompetitive coal plants will rapidly increase to 60% in 2022. In India, 50% of coal will be uncompetitive in 2022, reaching 85% by 2025,” Guterres said.

“Today is the time for bold leadership on clean energy and climate action. I call on India to be at the helm of the ambitious leadership we need,” he said.

According to Mercom India Research’s Q2 2020 India Solar Market Update, more than 70% of India’s total power generation is from thermal sources.

Image credit: UN