A year after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the country's National Action Plan on Climate Change, India appears poised to reject a proposed coal mine that brings together two of the country's most pressing environmental issues: tiger conservation and climate change.
The Adani mine in Maharashtra State is located in a sensitive wildlife corridor connecting the nearby Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) to tiger habitat located outside the sanctuary.
Although it is not clear when a final decision will be handed down, it is increasingly unlikely that the mine will go ahead, following comments by Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh that he will not approve any mining near the Tadoba Reserve. In all, about 80 tigers live in the Chandrapur district where TATR is located, about half of them inside the reserve, according to the Bombay Natural History Society.
Recent reports also indicate that, in the future, the ministry will only allow mining in degraded forest areas, with moderately and densely forested areas off-limits.
If confirmed, the cancellation of the Adani mine would represent a positive indicator of the government's intention to implement the National Action Plan, which specifically mentions the importance of preserving wildlife corridors to prevent habitat from becoming fragmented.
With India being particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and also a growing contributor to CO2 emissions through its increasing use of coal, the National Action Plan represents an ambitious and comprehensive approach. It consists of eight "National Missions" to move India towards increased use of solar power while also promoting energy efficiency, attempting to mitigate the effects of global warming, and also preserving forest cover and biodiversity.
Greenpeace India's Climate Campaigner Vinuta Gopal says her organization welcomes the fact that a plan is in place but is concerned about details.
"While the intention seems to be for sustainable inclusive development, exactly how they will achieve that and what that means for reducing the number of coal plants they plan to build is not quite clear," she said.
"However, now they've gone public with a Solar Mission and with an Energy Efficiency Mission. Now on these two missions we believe that the ambition is in place, but are again concerned about the details."
On the subject of Jairam Ramesh's comments, Gopal said that they are positive:
"Because a lot of the coal mines that would need to be explored in India would either be in tribal belts or in forest areas, if India is not going to explore these coal belts, then it's even more of a reason why they should look at sustainable and renewable sources like solar and wind, and tidal, rather than building another 75,000-plus megawatts of coal which they plan to do in their energy plan as of now."
The concept of social justice between rich northern and poor southern countries is central to the National Action Plan, and in many ways climate change seems set to become the defining social justice issue of the 21st century. This implies the need for wealthy nations to help finance developing nations to transform their economies to low carbon usage. One example is the world's largest solar power facility planned for construction in Gujarat State. With 5,000 MW of electricity generating capacity, the project is to be funded by the Clinton Foundation.
India's energy use per person is still very low, and the Indian government's official position is that as India develops, it will not exceed that of developed countries.
As a result, India's coal production is expected to increase as the country's teeming population struggles to emerge from poverty, which will require more electric power. Coal India, the national coal company, recently announced it had received an award for being the world's largest coal producer. Despite this, according to the World Coal Institute, India is now one of the world's top 10 importers of coal.
The country produces over 69% of its electricity by burning coal and its coal consumption could rise from 433 million tonnes in 2005 to 758 million tonnes by 2030. The International Energy Agency states that as of 2007, India with 1.1 billion of the world's 6.6 billion population used just 3.3% of the world's total electricity.
The challenge faced in implementing the National Action Plan's goal of preserving forest cover is underscored by the fact that India's "coal belt" states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa also have high forest cover of over 30%. The challenge of human development is also emphasized by the large number of people displaced by coal mines in these regions, who are often Adivasis (Indian tribal people).
According to one study by a subsidiary of Coal India, up to 1 million people are expected to be internally displaced by coal mining in India by 2025.
Displaced people are often marginalized, and with the lands where their families have farmed for centuries destroyed, also provide recruits for India's grinding Maoist-Communist insurgency. The insurgents, known as "Naxalites", are particularly active in rural areas in India's coal belt.