Why India matters to climate action

The human race is at a crossroads of survival and growth. We are at a point where important decisions with long lasting outcomes will be taken to determine the form of development of the future. Indian economy will drive the bulk of this decision making, as it is set to emerge as the fastest growing economy with the highest energy consumption by 2030.

With great power comes great responsibility. With great growth comes great pollution. And with pollution comes climate change. It is already here, and India is one of them most vulnerable to its impacts.

Scientists estimate that if not controlled now, climate change can cause enough havoc by 2100 to displace half of the world’s population. Migration will threaten national security, which may lead to chaos in many parts of the world. We could very well be in a situation where for the first time human race may face extinction. But all is not lost. The predictions also estimate that by acting now, we may limit the damage by staying within the 2 degree average rise in global temperatures from post industrialisation levels. The only way to control the impacts of climate change is to minimise the rise of carbon emissions in the medium term to an absolute reduction in the long term. Is it too much to ask for?

As development shifts from the West to the East and global pollution rises, India, along with China, has an added responsibility which the developed world didn’t have to bother with – Saving the world.

When Europe developed, climate did change, but not in our minds. While Asia develops, climate change is everywhere to be seen. Both angles are true, and that is why India and China have to demonstrate a kind of leadership never seen before – Growing while saving the environment. The good news is that we have the technology to sustain this style of development. Low carbon growth is now a reality. The cost of producing electricity from renewables is coming down at a fast rate. It is expected to reach parity with coal based electricity production by 2019. However, it is not enough to meet India and China’s vast energy requirements. The two countries will drive future coal based electricity production. There is good news, again. And that is the presence of technologies such as carbon capture storage (CCS), gas based electricity plants and clean coal extraction. India should deploy these technologies in great amounts to reduce carbon emissions in the long term (by 2050). Open source energy scenarios tools showcase that with the right policies and frameworks in place, India can achieve a low-carbon growth pathway. It could very well limit the average rise in temperatures to a point of return. So there is hope. However, the West, which is the custodian of cutting edge research in green technologies, must support the needy with these technologies, at a price which is fair to the principles of a free market economy. The world has to come together to commit support to each other in the fight against survival.

At the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP 21) last year, 195 countries signed up to a global agreement which commits action to bring down global emissions in order to stay within the 2 degree celsius limit. This was a historic and unprecedented deal which could not have been finalised without the proactive efforts of India and other like minded nations. The developed and developing world came together to transition towards a low-carbon economy. It has now initiated the process of decarbonising the global economy, and Paris will be remembered by future historians as an important date when the world agreed to reach a level of net-zero emissions.