A just energy transition roadmap

How the demand for coal is transforming the environment and the people who depend on it (Image: Wilson-Centre, Environmental Change and Security Program, Flickr Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
How the demand for coal is transforming the environment and the people who depend on it (Image: Wilson-Centre, Environmental Change and Security Program, Flickr Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the run-up to COP 26, International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST), the Delhi-based environmental organization, launched India’s first ‘Just Transition’ Centre at a virtual event on June 29, 2021. India Just Transition Centre (IJTC) has been set-up as a platform to work comprehensively on the issue of Just Transition in India and other developing countries.

The 2015 Paris Agreement has made just transition an important part of the climate change agenda. Just transition has been gaining momentum worldwide. Developed countries are building capacity and knowledge on how to implement a just energy transition roadmap to meet net-zero targets. Developing countries like India need to build capacity at all levels on policies and plans for a just transition.

India has major challenges of just transition. Three-fourth of India’s primary energy need is met from fossil fuels. There are 120 districts that are significantly dependent on fossil fuels and related industries for revenue and livelihood. At least 20 million workers, a large majority of them being informal, are dependent on fossil-fuel and related sectors.

In addition, there are issues of finances, revenue substitution, the capacity of communities and regions to adapt, and preparedness of governments and industries.

The IJTC will bring stakeholders together to work on various aspects of just transition in India. Envisioned as a Centre of Excellence, IJTC will also build a South-South collaboration to improve the understanding of developing countries and emerging economies on just transition and strengthen their position at UNFCCC.

The inaugural session of the launch event was attended by Member of Parliament (MP) Jairam Ramesh; Jayant Sinha (MP); and Vinod Kumar Tewari, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Coal. At the event, a new report titled “Five R’s: A cross-sectoral landscape of Just Transition in India”, was also released.

Speaking at the event, Jairam Ramesh, emphasized the need to create capacity in India on just transition. “There is a need to create independent research capacity which will be the base for advocacy and eventually a larger policy change. The IJTC will have an important role in creating this capacity and bringing the expertise together”, said Ramesh.

Jayant Sinha, who is from Hazaribagh constituency, a key coal district of Jharkhand, emphasized the need to start planning for a just transition in coal mining areas. “Phasing out coal over the next two to three decades is essential to meet climate goals. The planning for this must start now. The IJTC will play an important role in bridging the gap between state and national policy and the ground realities,” said Sinha.

“People will be central to this transition and planning for it must be participatory and transparent. They must be given alternatives for livelihood,” he added.

Presenting the vision of IJTC, Chandra Bhushan, CEO of iFOREST said “IJTC will be a platform to bring stakeholders together to work on various aspects of just transition in India. Envisioned as a Centre of Excellence, IJTC will provide thought leadership, support policies and planning, provide technical support, promote best practices, and build the capacity of various stakeholders”.

“In fact, the need for such a Centre is already being felt in coal-dependent states, such as Jharkhand where 50% of coal mines are temporarily or permanently closed due to reasons of unprofitability, among others. Many of the mines are being closed without proper mine closure and plans for the mining areas' socio-economic transition. IJTC will work with stakeholders to develop policies and plans for just transition in these areas”, he added.

IJTC is planning to launch a resource centre for just transition in the coming months. “By launching IJTC, iFOREST has made a long term commitment to work on a just energy transition,” said Bhushan.

Speaking at the event, Vinod Kumar Tewari, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Coal said, “Fossil fuels like coal have a finite life and hence a transition is inevitable. There is already a momentum to move towards cleaner sources of energy with even public sector power units like NTPC looking at building renewable energy capacity.”

Coal India Limited (CIL), has also started investing in renewable energy. Recently, in April 2021, the company has announced establishing of two wholly-owned subsidiaries—CIL Solar PV and CIL Navikarniya Urja Limited—for undertaking solar PV manufacturing and renewable energy projects.

A new report of iFOREST, titled “Five R’s: A cross-sectoral landscape of Just Transition in India”, released at the launch event, brings out the urgent need to start planning a just transition in certain key sectors like coal mining, thermal power and automobile.

Presenting the report, Srestha Banerjee, Director, Just Transition at iFOREST said that five factors will be very important for planning a just transition in India in the coming years. These are - Restructuring of the economy in fossil fuel-dependent districts and states; Repurposing of land and infrastructure that are with various industries, such as coal mining and power plants; Re-skilling of workforce; Revenue substitution; and Responsible social and environment practices during energy transition”.

“While fossil fuel sources dominate our primary energy supply, particularly in developing economies like India, we cannot afford to continue further in this pathway. For India, it is time for us to start moving away in a carefully planned fashion from coal,” says Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, FRS National Research Professor in the Foreward of the report.

The report highlights 3 major sectors which will need just transition planning in the next 10 years. These are- coal mining, coal-based power, and road transport. Other carbon intensive sectors, such as steel, cement, brick, fertilizer, petrochemicals will also have to plan for a transition in the next two to three decades.

The report highlights 60 districts, many of them in states like Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, where industrial restructuring will be required to avoid social and economic disruptions due to ongoing energy transition.

The report provides an objective assessment of the social and economic realities of the coal mining areas and its people such as in Ramgarh, Jharkhand. The analysis while recognising the importance of coal, tries to identify pathways to move away from coal dependence, considering opportunities in hand and those that can be harnessed.