India Says It Will Lower Rate Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The world's third-largest carbon polluter has submitted its long-range plan to curb greenhouse gas admissions in advance of December's Paris climate summit. India does not commit to an absolute reduction in carbon emissions, but does promise to ramp up renewable energy to help slow global warming.
In Delhi, the biggest form of pollution comes out of tailpipes. Eight million cars, trucks, buses and three-wheeled motorized rickshaws all belch carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and dangerous particulates — smog so thick on a winter day that it can block out the sun.
The World Health Organization says the air quality in the Indian capital is among the worst in the world. But aspirational India wants cars. The Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment says residents are adding 1,400 vehicles a day to the city's already jammed roads. And it's making many people, especially children, sick.
A three-year study by a Calcutta-based cancer institute found that nearly half of Delhi's 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from poisonous air. The WHO says India has 13 of the world's 25 most polluted cities. The country's reliance on coal-burning power plants — and wood-burning stoves for cooking in much of the countryside — is exacerbating the health menace.
Yet India is adamant that to pull its 1.2 billion-strong population out of poverty and off the farm, it must transform into a manufacturing hub. Climate change expert Navroz Dubash of New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research says continued pollution is inevitable.
"Given the pace at which the Indian economy has to grow if we are to meet the development needs of our people, coal-fired, power-fired power plants will also have to grow," he says. "There is really no way around that for the next 10 to 15 years."
For now, India says it's in no position to commit to an absolute reduction of its emissions. Instead, it will slow the release of greenhouse gases. By 2030, India expects its economy to grow seven-fold compared to 2005. Carbon emissions, officials say, will grow only three-fold, as a result of the plan unveiled today.
In unveiling India's climate change plan today, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar stressed the country's ambitious pledge to make renewable energy a cornerstone of its carbon mitigation.
"We are raising our non-fossil fuel share of our energy mix by 33 percent," he said. "That's a huge thing. If someone doesn't appreciate, I can't help. Fact remains, we want to walk [a] cleaner energy path."
India is banking on solar power playing significant role in its next generation of renewable energy — in ways that could make the country a model for others — for example, in Africa — says social entrepreneur Harish Hande.
"Today, even after so many years of independence, we have 300 million people without electricity," he says. "And we can actually leapfrog in many ways and provide energy access through solar, pico-hydro, micro-wind, biogas, a mixture of sustainable technology that's environmentally friendly, socially sustainable and financially sustainable for the countries themselves."
Dubash, however, says that India's targets on goals such as renewable energy may be overly optimistic. "The key for civil society in India and for people in the global community," he says, "is to watch the implementation."
Historically, India's attitude about climate change has been to put the onus on the wealthy West, saying that its excessive consumption has brought the world to the precipice of global warming. Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, says India has rightly brought the issue of a less consumer-oriented world view to the fore.
"The developed world consumption will not be the benchmark," he says. "If that is the benchmark, then we all should forget about saving the planet."
India released its climate plan to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Mahamata Gandhi — the abstemious spiritual leader who urged the nation he led to independence to reject excess and honor nature.
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