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Fears are mounting that India could stage a vast expansion of its coal fleet following the COVID-19 crisis, while neighbouring countries instead look to renewables as part of their economic recoveries.

Prime minister Narendra Modi has unveiled his new economic plan for a “self-reliant India“, which would open up 40 coalfields in some of the country's most ecologically-sensitive forests. This is intended to reduce a reliance on expensive imports, with Modi signalling his aim for India to become “the world's largest exporter of coal“.

The plan would see hundreds of thousands of acres of forest felled, destroying villages and displacing indigenous communities while threatening an abundance of plant and animal life. This is despite India being the world's cheapest producer of solar power, with analysts finding that the industry could generate up to 1.6m jobs by 2022, far more than coal does.

“The government needs to support rooftop solar and other forms of decentralised renewable energy solutions that reduce the demand for coal-based electricity,“ Greenpeace India said in a statement. “A choice has to be made between a system that has been exposed as unviable and ineffective, or move towards an economically and ecologically just, sustainable and resilient future.“

In neighbouring Bangladesh, minister of power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid has suggested that the country could scrap 90% of its coal power pipeline – one of the world's largest. This would mark a major pivot away from Chinese-funded coal in Bangladesh, with up to 26 out of 29 power plants, accounting for 28GW of capacity, potentially being put under review.

“At present, we are aiming for 40 to 41GW of total generation capacity, where only 5GW is coal based,“ Hamid recently said during a webinar run by the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

Meanwhile, to the west in Pakistan, government officials have unveiled a plan to boost the share of renewables in the country's electric power mix to 30% by 2030, up from about 4% today. This will mainly involve wind and solar power, along with geothermal, tidal, wave and biomass energy.

However, the plan also protects the building of seven more coal-fired power plants as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, again highlighting ongoing geopolitical influences in the region.

Image credit: iStock