Here are some frequently asked questions about Coal and the National Day of Action on 10/11/12.

Why challenge coal when 66% of India’s electricity comes from coal?

This is what makes it a very difficult, yet important challenge. Coal provides India with electricity but also contributes to more than 60% of our carbon emissions making us the third largest contributor (country-wise) to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. We have also come to realize the dangerous effects of coal on human health, water, land and the overall environment. And most importantly, there has been considerable improvement in renewable energy that provides a great opportunity for India to transition towards a clean low carbon development pathway.

What is a day of action? Why November 10th?

350.org has been organizing big days of action where through the support of hundreds of partners around the globe, we mobilize thousands and lakhs of people around the cause of climate change. For example, in 2009, we organized our first global day of action with over 5000 distributed events across the planet which CNN called the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history. Again in 2010 and 2011, and now in 2012, we are trying something different with a national day of action in India around coal.

November 10th has been chosen considering the various festivals, holidays, student exams etc across India, while also trying to choose a date at the earliest possible — there is not time to lose in this effort.

Why take on coal now?

Scientists have clearly stated that the more we delay, the lesser are our chances to mitigate and arrest climate change. More dependence on coal will only make matters worse. James Hansen, NASA’s foremost climate scientist has stated that our dependence on coal has to stop completely by 2030. With our current energy projections in India, we are set to develop on coal with 50% of our energy by 2032 coming this dirty fossil fuel.

What are the harmful effects of coal?

Besides being the single biggest contributor to climate change, coal has an extreme impact on various aspects of our lives. The coal mining processes in India have lead to ecological devastation with millions of hectares of forests having to be wiped out and along with it the lives and livelihoods of many tribal communities subsisting on the forests. Studies have shown the negative impact of mining and power generation on human health, agriculture, water, air, land and the climate. With such devastating impacts, we absolutely must create the alternatives and fast!

What are the alternatives to coal?

There are multiple alternatives to coal in India. Here are a few:

  1. Energy efficiency – India needs to dramatically improve its energy efficiency, including an upgraded grid system, incentivizing smart building design and more. This needs to be coupled with higher energy efficient appliances and more. This will lead to overall reduction of energy and less burden on coal or any other energy source.
  2. Reducing aggregate technical and commercial power losses(AT&C). It stands over 30% in India which includes loss during transmission and distribution of power along with low metering efficiency, theft and pilferages. It is estimated that 30-40% of electricity demand can be reduced just by bringing our power sectors efficiency up to international standards.
  3. Renewable energy – Prices of solar and wind have fallen dramatically and are now almost on par with coal prices across the world. Greater investment in decentralized solar and wind and adoption of new technology is paving way to an energy revolution that India desperately needs.
  4. Energy equity – We need to work towards bridging the extreme gap between the energy for the rich and the poor. Irrespective of what energy source we use, working towards an equitable distribution and consumption of energy in the long run will make us sustainable!

What are not the alternatives to coal?

We should not forget that there are certain non-solutions that are often promoted as replacements to coal to support our growing energy demands.

  • Nuclear energy – Often promoted as a greenhouse gas free solution to climate change and a clean source of energy, nuclear still does not provide the real answers to our energy problems. Some of the best studies indicate that even with advancement in nuclear technology, with the given resources at hand, we would still only be able to provide 6.2% of the country’s total energy demand in 2030 from nuclear. This is far too small an amount to invest billions of dollars into without looking at decentralized renewable energy options.
  • “Clean coal” – Coal will never be clean. It is possible to make coal emissions cleaner. In fact, we’ve come a long way since the ’70s in finding ways to reduce sulphur-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions, and more progress can be made. But the nut of the clean-coal sales pitch is that we can also bottle up the CO2 produced when coal is burned, most likely by burying it deep in the earth. That may be possible in theory, but it’s difficult in practice.

Isn't India already investing a lot in renewable energy?

The answer is yes, somewhat, but we are also investing a lot more in coal and this needs to change. If we are serious about climate change, energy access for all and healthy local communities, then an effective plan has to be made to transition away from coal.

Can renewable energy substitute the entire energy coming from coal?

Yes, but not immediately. The potential for renewable energy is clearly immense with studies indicating the potential to even exceed our current capacity generation of 200 GW’s. This will require a sustained effort to support the growth of renewable energy and disincentivising or not subsidizing coal while taking the energy needs of the poorest into consideration. The possibility of a clean energy future for India can definitely be realized.