India can lead the world's transformation to clean energy and become a ‘global superpower’ in the war on climate change, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday.
"India can become a true global superpower in the fight against climate change, if it speeds up its shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy," he said in TERI's Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture that he delivered virtually from New York due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The main focus of his message to India was to stop developing electricity generation plants using fossil fuel, especially coal, and switch to clean renewable sources in order to fight global warming and pollution and simultaneously reap economic benefits.
Charting a global role for India, he said: "India can be the business hub to achievea the UN Sustainable Development goal of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.
"India is a pioneer when it comes to driving innovation for access to electricity and on clean cooking. I call on India and all its innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders to spearhead the global search for a solution to solar cooking at the household level."
He praised New Delhi's initiatives to help bring solar energy around the world. "I applaud India's decision to take forward the International Solar Alliance in the form of 'One Sun, One World, One Grid'.
"And I commend India's plans for a World Solar Bank that will mobilize $1 trillion of investments in solar projects over the coming decade." Darbari Seth, in whose honour the annual lecture is organised by TERI which he co-founded, "was a climate action pioneer". Guterres said.
"India has all the ingredients for exerting the leadership at home and abroad envisioned by Darbari Seth. The drivers are poverty alleviation and universal energy access - two of India's top priorities. Scaling up clean energy, particularly solar, is the recipe for solving both."
The world is facing the twin crises of Covid-19 and climate change with the danger that more people are being pushed back into poverty, Guterres said. The solution to both the problems as the world recovers from the pandemic is to channel investments to renewable energy, clean transport and energy efficiency, he said.
"India is already pushing ahead in this direction," the UN chief said, giving examples of the nations efforts.
He welcomed the Indian government's decision to raise its target of renewable energy capacity from the initial 2015 goal of 175 gigawatts to 500 gigawatts by 2030. In the short term, he said: "I was inspired to learn that during the pandemic, Indiaa¿s proportion of renewable energy rose from 17 per cent to 24 per cent while coal-fired power declined from 76 per cent to 66 per cent."
That trajectory should continue, he said. Guterres made the economic argument for investing in renewable energy comparing its falling cost compared to fossil fuel-fired plants.
"In India, 50 per cent of coal will be uncompetitive in 2022, reaching 85 per cent by 2025a and it "makes no sense" to invest in "coal business going up in smoke," he said.
As India switches to prioritising renewable energy, he said it will attract more and more international investors, such as the sovereign wealth funds and pension funds like the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec or the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
Guterres referred to the Leadership Group for Industry Transition India and Sweden launched last year at the Climate Action Summit at the UN in New York. It brings together the public and private sector organisations in areas that account for 30 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases to make a commitment to achieving net zero emissions by mid-century.
He said, "companies such as Dalmia Cement and Mahindra are driving innovation. But we need many more to join them".