India's Dilemma: How to Continue
Economic Growth While Reducing Carbon Emissions
Nov 27, 2007 - Voice of America
The United Nations wants its upcoming
conference on climate change in Bali to devise a uniform
strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. India,
with a booming economy and a billion-plus population,
is on track to become the third largest carbon emitter
behind the United States and China. As VOA correspondent
Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, India is looking
at how to maintain domestic growth while stabilizing
its greenhouse gas emissions.
In India's cities, sales of electric
appliances are booming. This washing machine salesman
touts the features on one of the latest imported washing
As hundreds of millions of households
in India move into the middle class and buy their
first appliances and automobiles, the downside of
economic growth is beginning to emerge.
Billions of appliances and cars consume
huge amounts of energy. And nearly all that energy
is derived from carbon-based sources, primarily coal
Leena Srivastava, executive director
of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), says
India's long-term challenge is to meet rising energy
demand and make electricity affordable while minimizing
"We have about 400-plus million people
in this country who today do not have access to electricity.
And if we are to bring these people into the clean-energy
mode, then we have to be able to provide low-cost
energy options to them," she said.
Srivastava says with electrical demand
forecast to grow as much as five-fold in the next
quarter century, the government is planning to build
more plants fired by coal, the dirtiest pollutant.
"Total power-generating capacity will
probably be closer to a 1,000 gigawatts. This translates
actually into a coal import requirement for this country
[annually] of almost a billion tons of coal, which
is huge," added Srivastava.
Still, India is resisting international
calls for binding emissions cuts.
The director-general of the Power Ministry's
Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Ajay Mathur, says India
will be able to stabilize its carbon consumption,
but achieving its self-imposed targets is going to
take a long time.
"The prime minister has committed that
the per-capita emissions of India will never exceed
those of developed countries," said Mathur. "And assuming
that all of us are moving towards a target of about
two tons of carbon dioxide per person per year by
2050, 2060, 2070, we should be at that level."
Environmentalists are pressing for India
to turn to alternate energy production instead of
additional conventional power plants.
Greenpeace India executive director
G. Ananthapadmanabhan believes both the Indian jet
set and those hoping to trade in their hand fans for
air conditioners can be part of the solution.
"We're not saying don't have air travel,
don't have air conditioners. We are saying do it in
such a way that two things happen: you pay the true
price of it, which is common sense, which is good
economics," said Ananthapadmanabhan. "The second thing,
do it in such a way that you reduce the carbon footprint
associated with it by changing the way you produce
Greenpeace also wants the government
to impose mandatory efficiency standards and carbon
Nuclear power is another option. At
present, nuclear power accounts for only about four
percent of India's energy needs. If the country gets
access to advanced technology and is allowed to import
the needed fuel, something that would happen under
a controversial civil nuclear deal with the United
States, then India might achieve its goal of increasing
nuclear power generation ten-fold over the next 25
But many environmentalists do not want
India relying more on nuclear because of the long-term
environmental risks and hazards.
Greenpeace's Anathapadmanabhan says
a partial solution could be as simple as changing
to more efficient light bulbs.
"In one shot by changing all the lighting
in India, five percent of India's emissions can be
cut by changing simply the way we do household lighting
- essentially, the single-point lighting in the form
of incandescent bulbs," continued Anathapadmanabhan.
"Replace them with efficient compact fluorescent lamps."
If the predicted results of climate
change for India - flooding, drought, extreme weather,
famine and disease - come true, the country could
face a devastating human and financial toll.
Already, says Energy Efficiency Bureau
boss Ajay Mathur, India spends 2.5 percent of its
gross domestic product on alleviating the impact of
"You can imagine that as climate change
impacts become more visible, this would only rise.
So in a sense our greatest challenge is the adverse
impacts of climate change," said Mathur. "We need
to reduce the vulnerability of people and ensure the
development that occurs is quote, unquote, 'climate
And for that, contends Leena Srivastava
of The Energy and Resources Institute, India needs
"To be able to contribute positively
to the problem of climate change we will need financial
and technical assistance," she said. "And that is
something that we haven't been able to work out between
all the countries in the world."
The dilemma facing India will be starkly
apparent at the upcoming United Nations climate conference
in Bali. The president of the host nation, Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono, has warned that governments must
answer the public demand for what he calls "concrete
and bold action" on climate change.
But, the Indonesian leader says, that
should not come at the cost of jeopardizing development.