Cut carbon, not growth

Are countries which have not been responsible over decades, perhaps even over centuries, for huge greenhouse gas emissions, promoting global warming now obliged to cut on their CO2 emissions in global interest? Even if they were, aren’t Western industralised countries morally and politically obliged to provide technology and funds to enable India and other industrialising countries to meet their goals — self-imposed or otherwise — of emission cuts? India’s recent promise, for example, to lower its emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels is expected to cost around $2.5 trillion. India about just cannot afford it.

In 2009, the United Progressive Alliance government made a bold policy statement, on cutting India’s CO2 emissions in response to continuing worldwide concern on global warming. Historically India was not responsible for carbon emissions and its per capita emissions was one of the lowest, not warranting any mitigation action.

Yet, the government declared its intention to reduce CO2 to GDP intensity by 15-20 per cent in 2020, with reference to 2005 levels. A “National Action Plan for Climate Change” was also brought into being along with eight major missions, including missions for energy efficiency, solar, agriculture, and sustainable habitat.

The present government’s equally bold, recent declaration of its “intended nationally determined contributions” towards climate change mitigation are both ambitious and realistic. It has now agreed to CO2 emission cuts by 33 per cent to 35 per cent in 2030, from 2005 levels, and aspires to achieve 40 per cent power generation from non-fossil fuel sources. The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) also recognises the need for adaptation in agriculture, water resources, health and disaster management. It makes it clear that emission cuts will not affect government’s commitment to “sustainable development”.

India is at a crucial stage in its developmental trajectory. Its the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter after China and the US, although its per capita emissions (two tonnes per capita) are well below those of the US (20) and China (9).
For example, India’s per capita electricity consumption is a measly 800 kilowatt per hour as against that of China (3,500 kWh), the US (13,000 kWh) and Brazil (2,500 kWh). Nearly 50 per cent of our rural households lack access to electricity. Clearly we will take a long time catching up with Brazil, let alone the US and Europe.

So how does India achieve its twin objectives of sustainable development and lifting millions out of poverty, while at the same time not significantly adding to global carbon emissions?

Does development necessarily imply an energy infrastructure that is totally dependent on coal and oil? China paid a heavy price for such a growth model as several cities in China have disturbingly poor air quality escalating mortality and morbidity rates.

This is in addition to the thousands of deaths from coal mining disasters. We are already witnessing the rapid deterioration in air quality standards in Delhi and other metros here in India.

Can we explore an alternate development paradigm which decouples growth from carbon emissions? In a recent study, for the first time we explored such a paradigm in Karnataka by collaborating with leading national and international research institutions, including Global Green Growth Institute, South Korea.

Read the full article from The Asian Age here.