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‘No good reason’ to invest in coal for COVID-19 plan, says UN chief as India launches auction process

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the auction process for 41 coal blocks for commercial mining on June 18, a move that opens India’s coal sector for private players.

SNS | New Delhi |

A week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi  announced his plans to take out coal sector out of ‘decades of lockdown’ with the auction process for coal blocks for commercial mining, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said there is no reason for any country to include coal in their COVID-19 recovery plans and investments should instead be made in non-polluting energy sources.

Guterres on Thursday presented the United Nations Response on COVID-19 that documents not only the action taken by the world body over the last three months of the pandemic, but also offers a roadmap toward recovering better.

“We cannot go back to the way it was and simply recreate the systems that have aggravated the crisis. We need to build back better with more sustainable, inclusive, gender-equal societies and economies,” Guterres said in remarks during a virtual press conference.

“There is no good reason, for example, for any country to include coal in their COVID-19 recovery plans. This is the time to invest in energy sources that don’t pollute, don’t cause emissions, generate decent jobs and save money,” the UN Chief said, adding that the United Nations is strongly committed to leading the renewal.

While Guterres did not name any country, sources in the UN said the remark was in reference to the decision by India to launch the auction process for coal blocks for commercial mining. India’s decision raises concern as other countries could also use coal to meet energy requirements as economies come out a COVID-19 lockdown, they said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the auction process for 41 coal blocks for commercial mining on June 18, a move that opens India’s coal sector for private players, and termed it a major step in the direction of India achieving self-reliance. However, the move comes when climate activists and scientists have been urging world leaders to invest in cleaner fuels. A recent report released by International Energy Agency (IEA) has advised wind and solar power should be a top focus, for countries alongside energy efficiency improvements to buildings and industries, and the modernisation of electricity grids.

Launching the auction of mines for commercial mining, that is expected to garner Rs 33,000 crore of capital investment in the country over next five to seven years, the prime minister had said India will win the coronavirus war and turn the crisis into an opportunity, and that the pandemic will make India self-reliant.

Presently, despite being the world’s fourth largest producer, India is the second largest importer of the dry-fuel, Modi had said. India is also the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world after United States and China.

“Allowing private sector in commercial coal mining is unlocking resources of a nation with the world’s fourth-largest reserves,” he had pointed out.

He had said that the launch of the auction process not only marked the beginning of unlocking of the country’s coal sector from the lockdown of decades, but aimed at making India the largest exporter of coal.

India’s step to invest in coal mining also comes at a time when executive director of the IEA, Fatih Birol has warned “This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound.” In an interview with The Guardian IEA chief has warned, “If we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”

In Bangkok last November, Guterres had stressed on the need to stop the creation of new power plants based on coal in the future, adding that there are still several new coal power plants for electricity production foreseen in the future in East Asia, in Southeast Asia and in South Asia. “There is an addiction to coal that we need to overcome because it remains a major threat in relation to climate change,” he had said.

Since creating jobs and reviving the economy is the priority for countries, the IEA in its report has showed how investing in green fuels will also procure the desired result without harming the environment. The IEA analysis shows that targeting green jobs, such as retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, putting up solar panels and constructing wind farms, is more effective than investing into the high-carbon economy.