We need conversations at COP26, not lectures

7 mins read

Gautam Adani is the founder and chairman of the Adani Group.Less than a decade ago, no one could have envisaged that social media, once regarded as a panacea for the democratization of information, would manifest itself as an ouroboros, the ancient serpent eating its own tail.Information, verifiable fact, and balanced, fact-based commentary, once staples of old-fashioned newspapers of record are now conspicuous only by their absence.The spread of fake news at unprecedented speed to unprecedented numbers of people on social media is compounded by a dangerous failure to moderate content or take responsibility for its effects. As the journalist and recent Nobel laureate Maria Ressa has said, “when you allow lies to actually get on the same playing field as facts, it taints the entire public sphere.”For instance, there was an outcry on social media in India over coal shortages. Several countries were affected by an energy crisis caused in part by a post-pandemic surge in demand as the global economy shook itself awake from its COVID-induced slumber. In India, the demand for power rose by 20%, just as there was a 40% fall in coal imports due to soaring international prices.Exacerbating this shortfall were lower-than-usual stocks of domestically produced coal in thermal power plants because of heavy monsoon rains. Instead of a constructive public dialogue, we were mired in squabbling, our ability to argue in good faith constrained by the need to make our points in 280 characters.A large part of the mainstream media chose to cover the invective being swapped on social media, thereby showcasing that the speed of news distribution had clearly overtaken the quality of research and content.Some climate change activists seemed to be arguing that stopping thermal power generation altogether is of more pressing concern than the consequence that it would plunge a nation into darkness, while other activists would rather drag corporations like ours through the mud than consider the complicated question of how to balance the energy needs of people in a developing country with the task of combating climate change.I am often asked if the Adani Group is prepared to work toward becoming net zero and my answer is “yes, we are already on that path.” However, this journey will need to be aligned with our national policies and a feasible technology road map. The current technology road maps remain too rudimentary to give confidence that economical alternatives to eliminating fossil fuels exist in the immediate future.The Indian Government has already set an ambitious target to generate 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 and we have visibly demonstrated our support through our investments. What must also be kept in mind is that the foundation of any business that manages to successfully span generations is ensuring that its stated commitments become moral and ethical obligations.It is now evident that world leaders will find it difficult to reach binding agreements at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, in Glasgow. With due respect, all I see are broad statements being made by various entities about transformative emissions reductions with no obvious path toward the achievement of these so-called targets.As the frenzy over coal shortages highlighted, even the world’s most advanced economies cannot meet the burden of their energy needs through green sources alone. And lest we forget, while India currently contributes less than 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, we make up over 17% of the world’s population.Being lectured to about our emissions — fewer per capita than the global average and historically negligible — while developed economies continue to fail to meet their pledge to even provide $100 billion per year to help the world transition to green technologies is, to say the least, ironic.The Adani Group has committed to investing 70% of its energy-related capital expenditure in green technologies. This will specifically amount to $50 billion to $70 billion of investment in renewable value chains over the next decade. We are already the world’s largest solar energy company with a generation and contracted capacity of 25 GW.
Adani Green Energy solar power plant at Pavagada, India: the group is the world’s largest solar energy provider with a generation and contracted capacity of 25 GW. (Handout photo from the Adani Group)

Our investments in renewable energies are being made with a view to producing the world’s cheapest green electricity within the next decade. We hope to make the production of green hydrogen so inexpensive that we can help India become a net exporter of green energy rather than an importer of fossil fuels.This is not greenwashing. It is recognizing where we are and the example we want to set as a company. These investments and declared intentions show just how much we believe in the role we can play in providing solutions to climate change. Our target is to align ourselves with India’s objectives as a nation and to ensure we do our part to put the country on the road to successfully meeting those objectives.India will soon have the biggest and youngest middle class in human history. We need the reliable supply of electricity that enables small businesses to flourish, that gives us access to primary health care, and to the education and information necessary to better our quality of life.Such progress is the foundation for sustainability. Whatever the posturing and virtue-signaling on social media, no growing economy can allow itself to be arm-twisted into withholding economic opportunities from people. Degrowth might be a buzzword in certain circles, but it cannot mean denying people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty.No developing economy should be put in such a position.

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