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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Do you want to be a coal baron or a climate warrior? The Incredible Growth of Asia’s Wealthiest Man

Four decades and billions of dollars separate Gautam Adani from the aggressive dealer he became at age 15, when he skipped school and travelled to the diamond district of Mumbai.

However, he is still in a rush. Mr. Adani, an Indian billionaire, has seen his net worth increase by 1,440 percent over the previous five years, to over $120 billion, making him the richest man in Asia and one of the four richest persons on the planet.

A significant chunk of this wealth has been generated by the mining, transporting, and combustion of coal, as India has doubled down on the fossil fuel to affordably and reliably feed its quickly expanding economy and raise millions of people out of poverty.

Mr. Adani has pledged tens of billions of dollars to create renewable energy in addition to his investments in coal, positioning him to be a significant player in India’s green future. A great deal depends on how successfully he finds a balance.

The administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — with whom Mr. Adani has longtime relations — announced last year that India would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070, a major milestone for the country, although decades behind the goals of other big countries.

The nation has made progress toward this objective. India’s solar power capacity expanded by more than 100 times between 2011 and 2021, propelling it to the fourth position in the world. Mr. Modi has stated that by 2030, India, the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, would get around 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and green hydrogen, up from approximately 40 percent at now.

However, due to Mr. Modi and Mr. Adani’s shared focus on economic development, India will continue to use increasing volumes of coal for decades to come. This has prompted worries about the role the nation, which is predicted to be the world’s fastest-growing energy user in the next decades, will eventually play in efforts to cut heat-trapping emissions and prevent a climate disaster.

Mr. Adani, 60, embodies the robust self-assurance of a nation capitalising on a global power shift in the wake of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, resisting criticism of his expanding development in coal while attempting to transform his image into that of a climate fighter.

In an interview at his residence in New Delhi, Mr. Adani said that it would be unjust to force India to suffer disproportionately for global climate objectives. Over the ages, countries such as the United States and Europe have been significantly more prolific carbon emitters and have realised the development benefits.

“India must go from developing to developed, and energy is comparable to food,” stated Mr. Adani. He stated that his business provides “what my nation and its residents require: inexpensive, dependable electricity.”

The Adani Group has started manufacturing its own solar panel cells and wants to design the other materials in the supply chain over the next several years. In addition to being a wind energy distributor through its extensive transmission lines, the corporation is also constructing its own turbines. It intends to build two battery plants and invest heavily in green hydrogen, a major element of Mr. Adani’s renewables strategy.

Mr. Adani grew up in a lively mediaeval neighbourhood in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat. After leaving for the diamond trade in Mumbai, he went home to manage his brother’s modest plastics industry. As India’s economy started to liberalise in the early 1990s, he looked to imports.

In an interview with The New York Times, he said that he learnt the importance of managing supply chains when his family’s plastics industry had a severe polymer shortage. In the late 1990s, when India was opening its economy and confronting a serious energy shortfall, he reportedly utilised this expertise. Up until the early 2000s, between 300 and 400 million Indians did not have access to electricity.

By producing solar panels and other equipment in India, the Adani Group and other enterprises want to alter this. However, the conflict in Ukraine has strengthened the case that India’s most influential leader and wealthiest billionaire have made for coal. India has its own supply, and Adani’s abroad mines can cover the majority of the shortage.

David Faber
David Faber
I am a Business Journalist of The National Era
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