India’s low-carbon growth strategy

Rich countries must stop lecturing developing countries and accelerate their own efforts to cut emissions

Written by Kirit Parikh | Published on:June 8, 2012 2:08 am

Rich countries must stop lecturing developing countries and accelerate their own efforts to cut emissions

There is no shortage of people telling India what to do on low-carbon growth,but there is a shortage of understanding of what India is doing. Even the UNDP in its recent Asia Pacific Human Development Report urges emerging economies like India to do more for climate change.

If one appreciates what India’s emissions are compared to others,what India has contributed to the build-up of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere and what it is doing about climate change,one would stop lecturing India.

India’s CO2 emissions in 2008 were 1.3 tonnes per capita. Global average per capita emissions were more than three times,China’s four times,the US’s 14 times and the EU (27)’s six times as much as India’s. Taking into account growth since 2008 and other GHGs,India’s emissions per capita are probably around 2 tonnes CO2e (CO2 equivalent).

What accumulate in the atmosphere as GHGs are the global emissions in excess of what the global environment absorbs,which is some 15 billion tonnes of CO2e per year in oceans,etc. If this absorptive capacity is allocated to all human beings equally,each person would be “entitled” to emit around 2 tonnes per year. India’s is only just reaching 2 tonnes per capita CO2e.

Given this,what India is doing for climate change should be recognised and should inspire and shame some industrialised countries to do more. India’s prime minister announced on June 8,2007 at Heiligendamm that India is determined to see its per capita emission levels never exceed the average of the per capita carbon emission levels of developed countries. This declaration places a self-imposed restraint and is a voluntary commitment.

But one must also look forward. Annual global emissions are close to 50 billion tonnes CO2e per annum. This must reduce to below 35 billion tonnes in 2030 and below 20 billion tonnes in 2050 if the world is to have a reasonable chance of holding temperature increases to 2°C above the 19th century — the level internationally agreed upon as a sensible upper limit at the UNFCCC conference in Cancùn in December 2010,and above which scientists have rightly warned that global warming be seen as “dangerous”. India’s total emissions are now around 2.5 billion tonnes CO2e and will likely double in the next 10 years towards 5 billion tonnes. That will still leave India way below per capita emissions in rich countries and below the 12 billion tonnes CO2e that China will be emitting 10 years from now. But India and China together would,in 10 years,be emitting around half the global carbon budget for 2030.

If climate change is to be managed successfully,all countries must embark on a different path now. If they do not,the hostile environment we will create will likely reverse development and destroy the prospects of overcoming poverty. In the language of Rio+20,“economic sustainability,social sustainability and environmental sustainability” are inextricably intertwined.

Recognising the importance of the issue and that India is vulnerable to climate change,in 2008 the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change …continued »

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