India, the world's third largest CO2 emitter, depends on the "black diamond" for 70% of its huge energy needs.

But this week, the United Nations climate experts (IPCC) warned that without a "rapid, radical and most often immediate" reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors, it will be impossible to limit global warming to +1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era, not even at +2°C.

The world's second most populous nation behind China, like it, reluctant at the COP26 summit last year to commit to phasing out coal, has a current generating capacity of around 211 gigawatts. based on fossil fuel, according to the Central Electricity Authority.

A new 55 GW facility is under construction and none of the Indian power plants have the carbon capture and storage technology advocated by the IPCC to enable "negative emissions".

Coal stored at the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) plant in Dadri on April 6, 2022 in India Prakash SINGH AFP

"The carbon sequestration technology is being used on an experimental basis in one of our power plants. If it proves successful, it will equip all the power plants," B. Srinivasa Rao, general manager of the power plant, told AFP. National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh.

1.1 gigatons of CO2 per year

NTPC is India's largest electricity producer and its six-unit coal-fired power station, which covers 1,200 hectares in Dadri, supplies Delhi's electricity in particular.

It has taken some steps to reduce its emissions, including using agricultural waste patties as fuel.

The chimneys of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) power plant in Dadri on April 6, 2022 in India Prakash SINGH AFP

In addition, like other NTPC facilities, the Dadri complex has a solar thermal power plant with a capacity of 5 megawatts.

It produces a total of 2,500 MW.

According to Rao, the plant recycles 100% of its fly ash, which comes from burning coal, and has implemented a zero liquid discharge (ZLD) system.

But much remains to be done to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in India, of which coal-fired thermal power is one of the biggest emitters, to 1.1 gigatonnes per year, according to the Center for Science and Environment. .

Residents of the Dadri power plant complain of exposure to coal dust which threatens their health.

A vendor shows coal dust on food packages near the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) power plant in Dadri on April 6, 2022 by Prakash SINGH AFP

"It burns our eyes and hurts our lungs," confectionery seller Rinku Rana told AFP.

“But if the factory closes, we will be deprived of our livelihoods. So, in a way, it is a necessary evil,” adds the 29-year-old shopkeeper, wiping a thick layer of gray dust from her hands. packets of cookies and candies.

Need for international help

Rinku Rana thus summarizes the dilemma of his country, which needs this cheap fuel for its booming economy and to allow millions of inhabitants to emerge from chronic poverty.

For Harjeet Singh of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, India cannot continue to depend on coal, especially given the dangerous levels of air pollution plaguing it.

Solar panels near the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) power plant in Dadri, April 6, 2022 ena Prakash SINGH AFP

However, the country is "perfectly entitled" to invoke climate equity and justice.

"The current climate crisis is not due to the industrialization of India but to the Western industrialization of the last 15 years", he recalls like the Indian authorities.

"Rich countries must cut emissions much sooner than expected so far...while helping developing countries move away from fossil fuels."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has set ambitious targets for the development of renewable energy, intends to increase this capacity to 500 GW by 2030.

But coal will still remain the dominant fuel in India, as its energy needs over the next 20 years are expected to grow faster than those of any other country in the world, experts say.

In this context, Mr. Modi declared that India would reduce its emissions to zero only in 2070, that is to say twenty years after the objective advocated at the COP26 summit.

A truck carrying coal ash leaves the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) power plant in Dadri on April 6, 2022 in India Prakash SINGH AFP

While the cost of renewable energy has fallen by 90% over the past decade, Mr. Singh points out, India still needs hundreds of billions of dollars of investment to begin the transition.

But "international aid (...) is long overdue".

© 2022 AFP