In developing countries such as India, the concerns for climate change parallel the concerns for meeting energy demands for developmental works.
Total emissions in India are the fourth-largest after the US, China and Russia, but its per capita footprint is 1.2 tonnes a year, against 20 tonnes in the US and the world average of 4 tonnes
Consider this. The country’s largest electricity generator National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has also been identified as the third largest polluter among the world’s power generation companies by the Washington-based Center for Global Development.
At the same time, India faces acute power shortage that leaves more than 400 million, mostly rural, people without electricity every day. Nearly 7 million Indians use firewood and animal waste as fuel for cooking. The country needs to expand power generation capacity by 160,000MW over the next decade.
Analysts estimate that if 1.02 lakh family type biogas plants are installed within a year, the move would save 1.4 lakh tonnes of fuel wood and 14 lakh tonnes of organic manure. Biogas fuel can be used for cooking, heating and lighting, space cooling, refrigeration and in dual-fuel or 100% gas engines for motive power. When attached with alternators, it can generate electricity. The government is close to achieving its target of installing 1.02 lakh biogas plants.
Arun Mohanty of Parivesh Unnayan Parishad, an NGO that works towards environmental causes, feels that while development cannot be compromised, justifying environmental damage in the name of progress is inexcusable. The solution is to find a middle path. He says every citizen needs to be aware of the importance of a balanced ecosystem, and shouldn’t wait for the government to take steps.
“Where is the problem if every individual takes the initiative towards a greener environment? Even the educated ones living in the cities are not aware enough. Tell them that the river Ganges is going to dry up in two to three decades and they will laugh it off as a joke,” he says.
That said, energy security is a key to sustaining India’s 8%-plus economic growth.
India’s consumption of petroleum products is around 112mt per annum and it imports 78% of its energy needs.
By the government’s estimates, energy consumption in the country is set to quadruple over the next 25 years, inevitably expanding Indian emission of greenhouse gases.
But the current figures show that the Indian per capita carbon footprint remains a fraction of that of the industrialized world — the average American produces 16 times the emission of the average Indian. This fact empowers the central Indian argument for its right to consume more, not less, energy in the future.
India points out that it contributes 4.6% of the world’s greenhouse gases although its people represent 17% of the world’s population.
India has pledged to ensure its per capita emissions never exceed those of the developed world. It has consistently tackled pressures to set targets for reducing emissions, arguing that it has neither been a significant polluter nor yet able to spread modern energy to millions of its poor.
Power generation across India has been stepped up, with the government promising to extend electricity across rural India over the next five years, but that, too, is a mixed blessing. The old-fashioned coal-fired power plants in India are among the biggest polluters in the country, according to a survey released recently by an American environmental group, Carbon Monitoring for Action.
“The key is to find the rich and the poor, the developed and the developing, and the large and small polluters in a deal, if we want to leave behind a healthy liveable environment for our children,” contemplates Mohanty.