For better or worse, India is a major coal producer and consumer. Coal is the primary source of power generation in India with more than 70 percent of the total electricity generated coming from coal-fired power plants. With a growing population that is become more middle class, there will continue to be enormous demands on energy in a country where over 400 million citizens lack electricity. India will not be getting off of coal anytime soon, (same as the U.S. and China), but there are reasons to be hopeful.
Last year the Indian government proposed a $1 levy on every ton of coal mined in the country or exported in an attempt to fund a national clean energy fund. Already committed to reducing its carbon use by 20-25 percent by 2020 (from 2005 levels), the government needed to find a way to offset carbon emissions. The coal tax will generate funds to finance clean energy technologies. However, the government hasn’t yet specified how much it has raised or how the money will be used since announcing the tax in February 2010. Hopefully they will toe the line and start funding clean energy projects, and in particular I would like to see the government do more to support decentralized renewable energy systems.
Regarding coal’s impact on wildlife, Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister of Environment and Forests, acknowledged that increasing iron and coal mining activities in some states (mainly Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh) posed the biggest threats to elephants in the country. He said that a way of extracting mineral resources without devastating the elephant population will have to be found, stating “We need to mine iron and coal but resources should be extracted without devastating the elephant corridor.” (India has 88 elephant corridors.)
In an encouraging move, he launched a mass campaign called Haathi mere saathi, that means “elephant my companion” and calls for involving people in elephant conservation. India is home to over 25,000 Asiatic elephants.
The day before, at the launch of the UN’s Decade on Biodiversity in New Delhi, Ramesh stated that “Conservation is a national imperative for us as lives and livelihoods of millions of rural and urban people are dependent on its sustainable use.” The decade is an effort to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity. At the event, Ramesh unveiled the slogan – Prakruthi Rakshathi Rakshita – which means ‘Nature protects if she is protected’. It seems that Ramesh understands the delicate dance of balancing energy demands and nature, but it will be a challenging effort for all of us, wherever we live.