Saving the planet Earth

India has pleasantly surprised the global community by setting rather ambitious emission reduction targets. Ahead of the December climate summit in Paris, the Government has committed to reduce the greenhouse gases by 30 to 35 percent by 2030 from the 2005 levels. How this is to be done has not been fully explained but there is no denying that the commitment has helped avoid recriminations between India and the West. India was one of the last countries to file its submission with the environmental body ahead of the Paris conference. Though the per capita carbon footprint of India is pretty low, but given the size of the population it is the third largest polluter after China and the US. India claimed that it had cut emissions by 12 percent since 2005. The proposed action plan also includes a commitment to vastly expand the forest cover by 2030, aimed at absorbing three billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.

At least on paper, the Prime Minister’s decision to increase manifold the target for solar power fits in well with the commitment on the reduction of the greenhouse gases. If these targets are to be met, India would have to meet well over one-third of its power requirement from non-conventional sources, including solar, wind, biomass and hydro. Where the funds would come from to realise the highly ambitious targets for non-conventional energy remains unclear. But there is no denying the huge opportunity to generate optimum solar and wind power, especially given our tropical climate.  However, India’s commitment to cut the emission of greenhouse gases by 2030 is at odds with its domestic obligation to lift a sizable portion of the people above the poverty line. Without providing electricity to nearly a fourth of the people who are still without power it is hard to see how the poor can be helped out of their misery.

Besides, India aims to grow at an annual rate of eight to ten percent in the foreseeable future to raise the socio-economic level of the population. That too would need more electricity. That India is pressing ahead with an equally ambitious programme to vastly augment power generation from coal-fuelled plants raises another question about the viability of its 2030 emission targets. The use of coal, gas and oil, all conventional fossil fuels, is on the rise in the Indian economy. Hopefully, a successful implementation of the solar and nuclear energy programme would help India keep its carbon footprint in line with the global targets. On its part, the international community has failed to keep its commitment to help the relatively poor countries with financial assistance to reduce their carbon emissions. The $100-billion Green Climate Fund, which was supposed to be funded largely by the biggest polluters, that is, the developed nations, has fallen far short of the target. Though the decision was taken at the 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 and it was finally approved in the 2011 UN Climate Change Conference in Durban in 2011, only a little over $ 10 billion has been firmly committed.  Advanced nations which are most shrill in demanding tough emission reduction targets from the developing countries have failed to cough up the committed funds to compensate the weaker economies for switching to costlier alternative sources of energy.

Indeed, the West continued to merrily grow at a breakneck speed without any consideration for greenhouse gases, but when the global warming assumed a real threat it has sought to pressure the relatively poor nations into cutting emissions regardless of whether that hampers their own growth. The developing world is right in holding it against the rich nations that it is being made to pick up the bill for the environmental excesses of the rich nations. Equity and justice demand that the Paris climate summit devise a formula whereby the developing countries, including India, are duly compensated for undertaking reduction in the greenhouse emissions as per the size of their populations. Per capita emissions ought to be a key standard for determining national obligations for environmental protection.  By that yardstick, the West continues to be by far the biggest polluter. It should do more to mitigate  global warming.

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