New Delhi: India will need to accelerate its pace towards clean energy despite its gauntlet that its per capita emissions of Earth-warming greenhouse gases (GHG) will never exceed those of the developed countries, energy analysts have said.
Although India produces only 1.8 tonnes of emissions per person, compared to 22 tonnes per person in the US, its absolute emission levels are high — India is the fifth largest emitter in the world after China, the US, the EU and Russia.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh iterated today that India was “simply not in the position to take legally binding emission targets”, at a meeting attended by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton who said “no one wants to in any way stall or undermine economic growth”.
The point and counter-point, restating known positions, were made before cameras, apparently aimed at the Indian audience. Ramesh added that India would never allow its per capita emissions to exceed the figures of developed countries.
However, several climate change analysts and energy experts interviewed by The Telegraph pointed out that India’s per capita emission of 1.8 tonnes was very close to 2 tonnes estimated as the ideal global average beyond which sustainable development would be untenable.
“If India allows its per capita emissions to grow to 5 or 6, it would push itself and the world further away from sustainable development,” said Vinuta Gopal, climate change campaigner with Greenpeace, the environmental group.
Given its population, per capita emissions of 6 tonnes for India would translate into more than 6,000 million tonnes of emissions per year — approaching or even exceeding the current US emissions.
Energy experts said that even if the developed countries were to reduce emissions to zero today, disastrous climate change consequences would be unavoidable. “China and India will need to reduce expected emissions if the world is to avoid the worst impacts,” said Sarah Ladislaw, a fellow in the Energy and National Security Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.
A study by the International Energy Agency shows about 56 per cent of the growth in emissions between now and 2030 will be from India and China, said Namrata Patodia, a research fellow at the Pew Centre for Climate in Washington DC.
Energy analysts estimated that India’s electricity, transportation and industrial sectors would together gobble up a billion tonnes of coal annually within a decade — more than double the current 450 million tonnes.
Indian officials have said energy consumption would have to grow to such levels if the country is to maintain economic growth and reduce poverty levels.
India wants the developed countries to cut their emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, and has said it is seeking a convergence of the per capita emissions between the developed and developing countries.
“This is a reasonable assertion which does not imply that India’s per capita emissions would necessarily reach levels of the developed world,” said Leena Srivastava, executive director of The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi. “Depending on the pace of correction in the developed world, India’s per capita emissions will have to peak at relatively low levels,” Srivastava said.
Environment scientists said the solution to the impasse would lie in reconciling economic prosperity and low carbon growth — the pursuit of economic growth through reduced dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
“An emphasis should be put on decoupling economic growth from emissions growth,” said Remi Moncel, an associate and member of the international climate policy team at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in the US.
India’s National Action Plan on climate change has proposed several missions on solar energy and increasing energy efficiency.
“But the pace of action has been quite slow,” said Greenpeace’s Gupta. “The ideas need to turn to action,” she said.
“What is now needed are implementation strategies, time frames and goals,” said Patodia.
Clinton appeared to echo WRI’s Moncel’s remarks when she said in Mumbai on Saturday the US hoped that India would not make the same mistakes made by the US and other developed countries.