As the world speeds towards its goal of a “green transition”, India must look into what this entails for people, communities, and the social structure
Energy transition from fossil-based energy generation towards a cleaner scenario dominated by non-fossil sources such as renewables is already underway. There exists substantial evidence to suggest that India is expeditiously moving forward on its energy transition journey.
India crossed the 100-GigaWatts mark for installed renewable power generation capacity on 12 August. With this, the share of renewables stands at approx. 26 percent of the total installed power generation capacity. If other non-fossil-based energy resources such as nuclear and hydro are accounted for, the share of non-fossils in the cumulative installed power generation capacity stands at 39 percent, which is very close to the 40 percent target enshrined in the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
Although the country is closer to its targets than ever before, yet a framework to facilitate a ‘just transition’ which puts people at the heart of the transition is missing significantly. Instead, the policymakers, environmental activists, sector experts, and other relevant stakeholders seem to be lost in estimations, figures, and numbers to measure the success of the energy transition journey.
Although the country is closer to its targets than ever before, yet a framework to facilitate a ‘just transition’ which puts people at the heart of the transition is missing significantly.
The table below lists down some crucial quantitative figures pertaining to energy transition, both at the global-scale and the national-level.
|Targets for India
|Reduce emission intensity of GDP by 2030 on 2005 levels
|33 percent to 35 percent emission intensity
|Share of non-fossils in cumulative installed power generation capacity
|Capacity of carbon sink to be created by means of increasing tree cover and forest area
|2.5–3 billion tonnes of CO2
|Capacity of renewable energy power generation to be deployed by 2030
|Investment / Finance
|Funds need to be mobilised to attain India’s NDC goal of reducing 33-35 percent emissions intensity of GDP
|US $2.5 trillion
|Finance needed to meet India’s requirement for supporting clean energy technologies in upcoming two decades
|US $1.4 trillion for next two decades
|Investment required in renewable energy sector to meet India’s 2030 target
|US $500 billion
|Savings on decommissioning of coal assets older than 25 years with a total capacity of 35 GW
|INR 377.5 billion
|Global job losses by 2030 in fossil fuel-based industries owing to adoption of climate policies
|Global job creation by 2030 if right climate policies are adopted
|24 million (including 2.5 million jobs in renewables)
|Number of people employed in India’s coal sector
|Number of people employed in India’s renewable sector (only direct renewable energy jobs as of 2017)
|Job creation if India deploys 450GW of renewables by 2030
|Job addition in India’s renewable energy sector by 2042 under an “optimistic but realistic scenario”
However, the key challenges and their manifestations on the lives of the people on the ground cannot be simply explained by such numbers. There are important questions regarding the processes and intentions that govern the actions of various stakeholders involved in any type of transformative change or transition. Some of the indicative ones include:
For the incumbent strategies regarding energy transition in India, the fault line begins at the very first basic point of inquiry. There is wide disarray and disagreement within different stakeholders regarding the form, shape, and nature of energy transition which is being pursued nationally. Environmental groups, local communities, and often energy sector experts have pointed out their respective concerns against blatantly chasing higher and higher levels of renewable energy capacity. Similarly, coal mining unions, coal companies, and other stakeholders in the incumbent coal-based energy sector have expressed their displeasure over the existing “coal is bad, green is great” mindset that appears to be governing the clean energy transition. Thus, either these voices are not given the importance that is due, or they have been deliberately kept at bay while celebrating newer milestones of investments and renewable energy capacities. This points to the lack of social dialogue in the very first stages of planning and articulating the vision of energy transition, if that ever even happened.
Environmental groups, local communities, and often energy sector experts have pointed out their respective concerns against blatantly chasing higher and higher levels of renewable energy capacity.
Secondly, the quantitative numbers are often delusional when it comes to their manifestation on the quality of life of the people concerned. For instance, while several reports have highlighted that the green jobs which will be so created by this clean energy transition will be significantly greater than the coal jobs that might be lost, there is a significant fault line which is measuring each job as an equally dignified one. Common sense suggests that the majority of jobs which will be generated in renewable power projects will be construction work, which are seasonal, extremely precarious, devoid of social security, informal and often plagued from ills like child labour, modern slavery, and other practices. Not to suggest that there are no issues with the coal-based jobs, but celebrating the replacement of bad jobs with equally bad or even worse ones is detrimental to the ‘social justice’ we are searching for in the just transition framework. The entire sustainable finance lobby should seriously monitor the quality of jobs that their investments are creating. Merely being a renewable energy project does not guarantee a job that is well-paying, has scope of skill and income enhancement, is safe from occupational hazards, promotes collectivism amongst workers and provides the social safety net required for leading a dignified life. On the other hand, just because coal sector is painted grey on the environmental front, does not mean that its footprint on jobs, livelihoods, and community can be painted black or white. An unbiased exploration of the nature of jobs in the outgoing as well as incoming sectors is required so that the transition weeds out the ills of the past and does not repeat them while reimagining the shape of the energy ecosystem.
Thirdly, another devilish detail that mere quantitative indicators in isolation fail to exemplify is the lack of transparency, accountability, and social participation in the decision-making processes related to clean energy transition and decarbonisation of the existing coal and coal-based energy fleet. As per several ground reports, the processes of land acquisition pertaining to various solar projects and wind projects in various parts of the country has been evasive of public concerns and lacks public participation. Locals are hardly aware of even the basic distinction between any private project and public project, especially when the entity acquiring their land is the State. In many instances, this information asymmetry has been used by the private parties to voice down, sometimes using the force of law and local police, any dissent or resistance which came up while the land acquisition or project construction was being done.
The majority of jobs which will be generated in renewable power projects will be construction work, which are seasonal, extremely precarious, devoid of social security, informal and often plagued from ills like child labour, modern slavery, and other practices.
Similarly, in case of public utility lands, the ‘public’ which was utilising such land for livelihood, agriculture, and other purposes is hardly informed and consulted before acquiring their lands. In several cases, when they are consulted, it is more of a moot-staged hearing with public representatives and local influential leaders who drive the consultation process on behalf of the people, often for material gains like construction or logistics contract in what appears to be a quid pro quo between such leaders and the private company. In one of the recent cases, the Supreme Court cancelled the allocation of one such land for a Solar Plant in Jaisalmer District of Rajasthan by virtue of the land being a public utility land. The locals still complain of no action being followed and being continuously harassed by company officials with local administration pushing for continued construction activities despite the court’s order against the same.
This relates to the next challenge in the clean energy transition which is shadowed by the glorified quantitative indicators. Often, the locals are cheated on by being given promises of preference in jobs but without any written assurance for the same by the renewable energy companies. Mostly, the company only hires locals for unskilled jobs like being watchmen and security guards. Companies often come up with written regulations (as opposed to unwritten promises of jobs) which by design exclude the locals from getting preference in jobs once the plant commences operations. These could relate to stringent quality standards on services (cars being required to be serviced every month for being contracted in the company), or foul play with firing regulations (firing any employee by fabricating any criminal case against them), or never engaging locals as full-time permanent employees but always keeping them employed through a contractor so that they can be easily shunted or fired. Thus, with the motive of profiteering on any cost, the green energy projects seem to be treading the same path that various exploitative industries and capitalists have been treading for a long time now.
Workers, environmental activists, sector experts, local administration, police, line departments, nodal agencies, power plant developers, community-representatives and think-tanks, amongst others, need to come together on a platform and collectively shape the facets of energy transition.
Hence, to truly make the energy transition a ‘just’ one, unbiased, inclusive and rigorous dialogues are required to hear the historically unheard voices from the ground. Workers, environmental activists, sector experts, local administration, police, line departments, nodal agencies, power plant developers, community-representatives and think-tanks, amongst others, need to come together on a platform and collectively shape the facets of energy transition.
And prior to this collective social dialogue, each and every stakeholder must introspect, drop their respective biases, come clean about their own motives and then listen carefully to the concerns of each other so that the dialogue does not become a war of words, but a constructive and forward-looking strategy-making process. This will actuate the optimal usage of one of the most important and often overlooked pillar of the just transition framework - social dialogue.
In the run up to an action-packed year of climate change and energy transition, such a framework will truly ensure a transition which places social, environmental, and economic justice at its heart.
The authors are independent public policy consultants working on issues at the intersection of sustainability, inclusive economy and resilience.
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Sarthak Shukla is an Independent public policy consultant working on issues around sustainability inclusive economy and resilienceRead More +