STRANGELY there wasn’t much hoopla and eyeballs when India launched the Global Biofuels Alliance (GBA) at the G20 Summit on September 9. But in terms of footprint and both economic and environmental impact, the GBA will be huge – a crucial and critical step to ease the transition to sustainable energy sources. In the long run, it could well be bigger and larger than the India-Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) impacting as it does the entire planet.
The US, India and Brazil –the three founding members–contribute about 85 per cent of the global production and about 78 per cent of the consumption of ethanol. “The launch of the Global Biofuels Alliance marks a watershed moment in our quest towards sustainability and clean energy. I thank the member nations who have joined this Alliance,” Prime Minister Modi post edon Twitter at the launch.
Surprisingly, the GBA unlike the IMEC wasn’t something that happened overnight. Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Hardeep Puri has on multiple occasions spoken about this platform and how this will be one of the major agenda issues at the G20.
The foundation document on the alliance was launched at Goa where India hosted the 14th Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in July on the margins of the G20 Energy Transitions Ministerial Meeting. Two months later the Alliance became a reality at the G20 in New Delhi.
At last count 19 countries and 12 global institutions were on board –a mix of G20 members and non-member countries. Apart from the three founding members of the alliance, the GBA has nine initiating members, including India, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Bangladesh, Italy, Mauritius, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates. Canada and Singapore are observer countries.
Seven of the 19 countries are from the G20, four are G20 invitee countries, and eight are neither G20 members nor invitees (Iceland, Kenya, Guyana, Paraguay, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Finland.). Notably, key international organisations such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, World Economic Forum, International Energy Agency, International Energy Forum, International Renewable Energy Agency, and International Civil Aviation Organisation have also pledged to join the alliance.
As the third largest oil consumer at close to 5.5 million barrels a day (behind the US and China), India’s thirst for liquid gold is galloping at 3-4 per cent a year in the country. It is estimated that at this pace India could well be needing close to 7.5 million barrels a day in under ten years.
Although the country had banned the export of Ethanol some years back, it is now working on a roadmap to allow biofuel exports and trading. According to the International Energy Agency, if the world has to meet the net zero emissions target by 2050 then the output of biofuels would need to triple by 2030. With plans to put up a dozen biofuel refineries in the next five years, the country is systematically ramping up the production of biofuels.
The government has targeted a 2025- 26 deadline to achieve 20 per cent ethanol blending in petrol. The 10 per cent target was achieved in June 2022, some months ahead of the November 2022 deadline.
The GBA in many ways is a replay of the India-driven International Solar Alliance that was launched in 2015 by India and 120 signatory countries in Paris. Its objective is to create delivery mechanisms for clean and affordable solar energy for everyone. The biofuels alliance will replicate that blueprint.
The fact of the matter is that biofuel production costs are high and therefore not as competitive. But the assessment is that with this alliance there will be a greater impetus to share best practices, set up a format to transfer technology and create over time a robust global market for biofuels. In the Indian context, the blooming biofuel industry will help the rural economy with farmers getting another income stream and the deadly burning of husk coming to an end.
Tailpiece: The Mint in a piece in July when the G20 Energy Transitions Ministerial Meeting was scheduled in Goa asked for comments from various embassies. A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in New Delhi in an emailed response said, “We don’t know where the information comes from. It might be a rumour,” the paper reported.