As part of the planet’s big three in carbon emissions, India’s place in that triumvirate has become much lonelier since November.
The U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, made headlines last month when they announced a joint-pledge to limit and reduce their carbon emissions by 2030. Together, the nations produce almost half (45 percent) of all man-made greenhouse gases, and it is a political as well as a scientific fact that no move to limit such emissions will be effective without both countries’ consent.
India comes in third on the world’s “biggest polluters” list, but the effects of its pollution hit its citizens perhaps hardest of all. Black carbon and ozone produced by motor vehicles, industrial emissions and chemical solvents have lowered India’s crop production by an estimated 50 percent, killing some $1.3 billion worth of food, or enough to feed 94 million people. Illnesses from smog are on the rise in the country, with Delhi ranked as the world leader in air pollution.
To give you some idea of how bad that is, Beijing’s air quality is so tainted with coal-borne microparticles that it has cause lung cancer rates to spike among city residents. In Beijing, smog-induced lung cancer rates increased over 50 percent between 2002 and 2010. The World Health Organization reports that Delhi’s air quality is even worse.
So clearly India needs to clean up its act, and the government knows it, too. However, India is a large country, and a populous one, and some 400 million of its residents lack access to any electricity at all. Narendra Modi, the country’s new prime minister, has ambitious plans to add 15 gigawatts of clean energy over the next five years, but in the meantime coal is still its most plentiful and cheap source of fuel.
During this month’s COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru, India has been in the spotlight – and thrown into ever-greater relief since the announcement of the U.S.-China agreement. And while Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, has no commented on when his country will set emissions limits, he did present an aggressive renewable energy budget of $100 billion, to be used towards projects such as wind and solar.
The paper Javadekar presented also suggests that India may set an emissions limit closer to the Paris 2015 climate conference. Even so, India’s emissions are forecast to double by the end of this decade. While it’s true that no climate action will be effective without the U.S. and China, it’s equally true that India, perhaps the world’s largest developing country, is an integral piece in the global climate puzzle.
As Anjali Jaiswal, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, explained to Bloomberg, “Having the largest democracy in the world, the second-fastest growing major economy, and the second-most populous country engage in these discussions demonstrates a willingness to work toward a global deal. You can’t reach a deal without India.”